Saturday, August 28, 2010

trained assessment

Back in 1971 I was employed by Porter-Leath Children's Center 868 N. Manassas in Memphis with a variety of job titles which seemed to shift as new things were found for me to do each day. When something needed to be fixed, I was the "maintenance supervisor." If the kids needed to do art work, I was named "director of arts and crafts." I was also the amateur staff photographer, filling the bulletin boards with photos of mothers and kids, the love being palpable between them.

One day as "director of arts and crafts," I was sitting on a small patch of grass growing up through broken concrete with about a dozen students and 8 year old Leon was busy with black, blue and red crayons making bold strokes on his paper. As he darkened the page edge to edge with his harsh markings, I asked what he was drawing. "Can't you see?" he asked. "It's the Vietnam War." If I had not asked, I would have never known. But having seen the television images myself of the Vietnam War on the nightly news, I could not have done a better job myself. If I had looked at Leon's art without asking the question, I might have assumed his work to be extremely immature, just random marks on paper, but knowing what he was attempting to illustrate gave a clear view of sophistication well beyond his years. Children and their work in arts and crafts reveal a great deal to anyone willing to pay attention and take seriously what they express.

These days both political parties, and all the high dollar administrators they have hired to shape American education are obsessed with standardized testing to measure progress. In an earlier time, teachers were trusted and trained to observe the growth of their children in normal classroom activities. Instead of hiring outside experts, schools had internal expertise in the form of teachers trained to assess real time, more sensitively and without disrupting the child's learning.

So what if we gave up on standardized testing? How would we measure individual and school success? Arts and crafts provide parents and teachers insight and assurance that children are on the right track. Teachers can again be trained and trusted for that. Our national policy is to remove autonomy and judgment from classroom teaching and invest it in external standardized testing authority. What kind of idiocy is that?

Just as a child may be a craftsman, naturally compelled to learn and grow in his or her manipulation of tools and materials, teachers given a choice, will choose to do their best work. The misguided assumption by some that they are not to be trusted with autonomy to do so is a great tragedy in American schooling.

You may or may not realize I'm presenting something remarkable, and perhaps original in modern times, and who in their right mind would suspect a woodworker of that? But here is the nutshell...
Through understanding what children express in the classroom, we can safely discard almost all of the intrusive, artificial means that have become the driving force in American education.
I don't expect anyone from the Obama administration to be reading this, but still, it is past time that we do something about it. Can it be that the reason that Finland's schools are so successful is related to the idea that teachers be trained to observe the growth of their children and trusted to teach?

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