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on Creativity and testing and poetry

Yesterday, I was touched when I read a letter by a retiring principal in Diane Ravitch’s blog.

In his letter to parents, Don Sternberg (Wantagh Elementary, Long Island, NY), shared that he felt he was abandoning my students at a time that they might need my voice the most.

Sternberg writes of his concern that educational reform is heading is a place where non- educators (politicians, statisticians, and big business) are in control.

That while pockets of reform are necessary, not all schools are in need of reform and that one-size-fits-all reform movements treat the metaphorical broken leg and hangnail with the same remedy.

He notes

the rigors associated with the national Common Core standards are outstanding and will serve all of our children well. Common Core is starting to approach the rigor of an International Baccalaureate (IB) program which I believe should be the basis of all school academic experiences. However, I am seeing and hearing about more and more students who do not want to come to school or who are manifesting the stress of these new requirements in the form of stomachaches and the like. Add the additional pressure from all the mandated assessments associated with the Race-to-the-Top funding and you have a groundswell of emotion-based malaise. I find this deeply troubling.

The issue that most upsets me, and that I see as counterproductive, is the desire to record, in a quantifiable fashion, the educational development of our children. There is clearly a ‘quota system’ being applied to schools, school children, teachers and principals — and it is negatively impacting our children! . . .

I shiver when I see and hear students asking their teachers, “Is this the way you want it?” or, “Did I do this the right way?” We are systematically testing our kids at multiple times every year to a point where they think that the only measurement of success is a state assessment result! Often students cannot think critically or are afraid to be creative and produce something independently . . .

Right after reading Dr. Sternberg’s letter, Shannon just happened to run into the library eager to share the poem she wrote to share at tonight’s Slam, a little afraid that it wouldn’t be okay with me.

Her fear itself echoed that letter.

Though we are all touched by the assessment movement, our school is one in which creativity does flourish. And it is nurtured by teachers who highly value artistic expression.

In fact, last November, inspired by her self-selected study of poet Sonya Renee Taylor, Shannon organized and hosted a well-attended, after-school Skype reading with the poet in our library.

Shannon’s poem speaks volumes, offering a lens on how creative kids across our country see standardized testing and standardized writing.  Their legs are all broken.

Paradox of Interests

by Shannon Lawn

An introduction

Maybe a short lesson, some notes, a thesis or two

To make the subject matter clear to the class

The topic is my favorite, one that I have a special place for in my heart and soul

I am eager to share my knowledge with the class

To show my peers how beautiful this matter is, to show them how important our education is.

A lesson is given, homework assigned, my pen feverishly flows across the page

Expressing all of my passion for the thesis and throwing

Everything I have into the assignment in hopes that someone will recognize my insight

Choose between two topics for your essays. You must use twelve direct quotations

And four outside resources

Touch on three topics we have discussed in class,

And don’t forget everything you have learned during the lessons.

Pardon me,

I don’t want to be rude

But where is the creativity?

Vomiting information

Copied from a board

Onto a page

Studied from the page

Thrown onto another page

Which is turned into a number

Which is put on yet another page.

What for?

How am I learning to function in the real world if my

Creativity is being neglected

Intelligence shot down

Passions disencouraged?

Why would I write if not to flex my own innovative process?

Maybe my opinion is different from yours, but that does not

Mean that it is invalid.

The youth of today will be the government, the teachers, and the



and creators of tomorrow.

But how can we do this if we are taught to walk and talk the first

two years of our lives,

and told to sit down and shut up for the next sixteen?

An introduction. A body. A closing.

I am a radical.

I want to learn.

I learn a lot on my own.

I am not a letter grade. I am not a GPA. I am not a percentage point,

or a class ranking,

or a statistic on a standardized test.

I am a student. A pupil. A pioneer in discovering the past, the present, and the future.

I can think. And I can learn. And I can prove it.

Why don’t you let me show you sometime?


(You may also want to re-see Ken Robinson’s Schools Kill Creativity)

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Martha Bogart says

    I just LOVE this poem! So well done. Could I perhaps print it and share it with others? I would cite the author, of course!

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