Thursday, February 6th, 2014...9:22 pm

Life Is The Test

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On the way to school one morning this week I listened to a story on NPR about education. It focused most on the way that schools aren’t teaching social studies any more since it is not tested. How elementary campuses are moving social studies time to more reading or math time.

“What isn’t tested isn’t taught,” someone in the story insisted.

I listened to the story and I started to get angry. I started to think about what a school without social studies would look like. What a school where we aren’t talking about our past and thinking about what that means for our future would say about our society. I started to speak indignantly at a meeting immediately following the story when I heard we no longer will require freshman to take a World Geography class. The world is flat and we no longer want our students to learn about cultures other than our own?

I felt my blood boiling with the beliefs and passions that drive me to teach, the part of me that is, at my very core, an educator.

I sat down in my classroom and listened to my first class come in excited to talk about the books they are reading. They chose them themselves and most of them have never ever read a book on their own, let alone come in ready to talk about a character as if they know them. My next class formed committees to research a current issue and present a fake report to a Texas Congressman. They took their roles very seriously. My last class researched, discussed and wrote about photography and truth. They blogged their ideas, read and commented on each other’s posts. There will never be a test that asks them about this topic.

“What isn’t tested isn’t taught,” someone in the story insisted.

If that statement were true, it would perhaps be the most depressing statement we could make about education today.

I sat at my desk and I finally realized that I’m lucky to know that it isn’t true. It can’t be. And we do a disservice to the image of public education to insist that it is. It certainly isn’t true in my classroom or the ones around me.

In my room I have a poster I made of my favorite quote from John Green (author of one of my favorite books):

“’Will this be on the test, Mr. Green?’

Yeah, about the test…

The test will measure whether you are an informed, engaged, and productive citizen of the world, and it will take place in schools and bars and hospitals and dorm rooms and in places of worship. You will be tested on first dates, in job interviews, while watching football, and while scrolling through your Twitter feed. The test will judge your ability to think about things other than celebrity marriages, whether you’ll be easily persuaded by empty political rhetoric, and whether you’ll be able to place your life and your community in a broader context. The test will last your entire life, and it will be comprised of the millions of decisions that, when taken together, will make your life yours. And everything, everything, will be on it.

As much as I get frustrated with the testing culture of our schools these days. As much as a week like this one, where I sit and watch my freshman endure 3 plus hours of benchmark testing, can kill my teaching spirit,  John Green is right.

I am not preparing the students for a test. I am preparing them for life.

I wish that we could talk about that on the radio and in the newspapers. I wish we could present stories of students challenging themselves to learn, of teachers pushing students to think creatively, of administrators thinking outside the box ( or the bubble sheets) to make a truly well-rounded educational experience possible for all kids.

We talk too much about the test. We let it dominate our discussions.

I’m going to try to change that.

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