Tuesday, September 14, 2010

who decides what is important?

Who decides what's important and why is it important who decides? Those are important questions as we contemplate educational reform, and one of the things we've allowed to happen is for those who write the standards and devise the standardized tests to answer the important questions for us. When you write the test, you have chosen which matters of intelligence, which matters of character are important for our schools to "deliver" to our children and our communities. And you have chosen which of our children will be preselected for the greatest opportunities for success.

It is kind of a subtle thing, inexplicable, right? We all want our children to prosper. We want each to arise to his or her greatest potential. We believe that the experts know what is needed and what is right for our children. They are experts, after all. They study stuff in depth and they work hard at it. They have all the educational credentials to back themselves up. Besides, very few Americans really understand standardized tests, how they work, and what the standards should be.

But did you know that parents are quite capable of making assessments of their own? Did you know that parents could be reasonably empowered with tools for improving education without the standards and standardized testing that have come to dominate the movement toward quality education?

And so, why does all this matter? Artificially derived standards ride roughshod on individuality, diversity and creativity. They don't deliver the kinds of employees that corporations say they want. They limit the artistic options that have deeply engaged American learners. Carried to extremes they turn schools into sweatshops in which children are immersed in tremendous pressure during the stages of their development in which unstructured play is most essential.

And so that is why I propose that school assessment be made through the arts and that parents be empowered to make those assessments. I will have more on this later. In the meantime, I suspect some of my readers will not be familiar with the educational classic, Summerhill, A New View of Childhood by A.S. Neill. In this highly recommended text, teachers had been deeply concerned about one child who refused to read and spent all his time running in the woods until he decided that he wanted to become an engineer, and then quickly excelled at reading and math. As you probably know from having made a few quirky steps of your own, intrinsic motivation is a very powerful force and to assume that it is something that our children will not discover on their own is a mistake.

I had been in small alternative school study group back in the early 70's after having completed my own formal education and the problems of it were fresh on my mind. Being the son of a Kindergarten teacher and reading Neill's book set me up for a very long running interest in education.

Standards do not allow for the individuality and creativity of human expression. They don't allow for the variability of development in children. They are the collaborative efforts of a segment of society to control what happens in the future and may be the inadvertent tool of repression. And what I would like my readers to know is that despite what we may see occasionally on the news, a very small proportion of parents unable to cope, most parents have their children's very best interests at heart, and are capable of perceiving those things that bring them joy. From that position of authentic authority, parents are quite capable, given resources, of making the very best decisions for their kids and their schooling.

And of course that is why some parents and children choose Clear Spring School.


  1. Anonymous1:40 AM

    Of course, when those "standards" are decided by the powers-that-be, in the back of their minds - unconsciously - is the question "is this something that can be easily tested?" So we end up with a set of standards based not on what is vital to the well-being of children, but on what is expedient.

    I look forward to hearing more about the arts and assessment.

  2. Of course parents are capable of assessing their children! I have to comment on this because I believe that the greatest mistake public education makes is excluding parents from the process.

    Your observations are dead on here, and I appreciate you casting a fresh light onto the motivational aspect of standardized testing.

    Children need someone with inside information and an experienced perspective to speak for them. You are one of their best champions. Thank you for wading in there and fighting for them.