The other day I heard from a colleague who has worked in children’s books for many years. He was just back from IRA and said that this time he finally saw it: NCLB had won. Teachers really were not looking for trade books. Instead they wanted customizable sets that they could use to help prepare kids for testing. I’ve had my first taste of that in my house, as my third grader took his battery of state tests last week. And I don’t know what to make of this environment.
On the one hand, there is at least some evidence that year after year of test prep and testing improves, or at least slightly improves the overall performance of a school system. Did you see this article in the Times? tinyurl.com/qo9l3d It is about the improvement in NYC public schools. Of course you can be a cynic and say that if you teach to a test, kids will do better on that test. It does not mean they are learning more. But lets assume that on a broad baseline level this constant testing and measuring may do more to bring the basics to all students. At the very least, it matters to many stakeholders that the scores improve. And looking at it from the POV of the third graders in my son’s class — after a year of knowing the big test was coming, they got through it, it was not so bad. So perhaps they have begun acquiring some test taking skills which probably will be useful to them as they get on the ladder of college testing later on.
On the other hand, for Mother’s Day we went to the Metropolitan Museum with Marina’s mom and our two boys. By good fortune, we arrived just as two groups of kids-with-docents were about to set off. My third grader went with a teacher to explore Asian art. They sat in front of this ceramic statue tinyurl.com/ol4whu, talked about what they thought it was, and then sketched it. The kids got that it was someone meditating, they learned about Chinese art, they talked about Buddhism, they stretched their minds. The worksheets I see my son bring home treat him as stupid, as some kind of computer whose program is being tested to make sure it accurately records and transmits bits of information. The Met group treated the students as smart — as capable of thinking, weighing evidence, developing theories, and exploring art, history, culture.
Of course schools are happy if parents take their kids to museums. Great, supplement your kid’s education, they say. We will take care of the basics, you go further. Maybe. Maybe that is all that is possible now for public education which must meet so many needs with limited budgets. But it just does not feel right to have the real mental growth take place outside of the school. And doesn’t that create a new form of educational divide — between the parents who have the time, knowledge, will, and funds to supplement and those who don’t? Aren’t we once again creating a schooling for plebs who master the three Rs but not thinking and a schooling for managers taught to develop their own ideas?
What do you think?