I have been avoiding writing this. Shocker, I know. I (still) feel like I have to justify my writing, put out the disclaimer that it might not be that good, so that if it ISN’T that good, I already prepared myself and won’t be let down. Or something. But anyway.
I wrote Learning Rambles the other week, and more and more thoughts are swirling in my mind. I finished reading Your Brain on Childhood, and we just finished two horrendous weeks of administering MCAS (state testing), and all of that combined is making me think.
Our education system is SO messed up. For all students. And/but especially for mine, who are all special ed students.
During MCAS, my students were required to sit in a room and read grade-level texts, and answer grade-level questions, when they often aren’t at grade level. My 7th grader struggled through the reading comprehension part. She reads at a 2nd grade level independently. She got frustrated. Yes, I could read out loud to her. No, that didn’t help. She has a language disorder among other learning disabilities. The point is that there is this push toward getting all kids on grade level. And this push is doing more damage than good.
There is SO much research to state that kids don’t learn best when they are stuck in a classroom all day. Many studies, even other countries who do it better than we do, demonstrate that less homework, more time outside, more free play time, and more time to focus on what they’re interested in, make happier, more creative kids. AND, most importantly, it does NOT hinder development of intelligence! That’s the problem. That’s the fear, the false belief. Neuroscience, psychology, it all shows that kids are meant to learn and develop in one way. And our educational system is forcing them into another way.
And we wonder why anxiety, depression, attention issues, etc., are all on the rise?
Grade level shouldn’t be the goal. That’s not to say that learning isn’t important, that acquiring new knowledge isn’t important.
Grade level doesn’t mean anything. I’m sorry, I know that’s a bold statement, but it doesn’t. Many of my kids are nowhere near “grade level” but have far more skills in various other areas of intelligence than I do. “Grade level” does not equal happiness. It does not equal success. It does not equal a future.
“Grade level” is an idealistic term, a way of trying to cram every student into a box, when in reality, most students don’t fit in that box. “Grade level” is why I hear parent after parent of elementary and middle school kids stress in IEP meetings, saying, “If she isn’t reading at grade level, how will she ever graduate high school or go to college?”
Along with the “grade level” issue is the “teach to the test.” I wrote, a few weeks ago, about how my students seem to learn more, and are happier and calmer, more creative and more interested, when we are learning about things THEY want to learn about, things they naturally stumble upon. And oh, how I want to do that all day every day. But I feel like I’m in a constant battle. I can’t NOT teach them how to answer inferential comprehension questions from random reading passages, because that’s what’s required for them to pass MCAS, and to graduate high school. And even for those parents, and there are so many of them, who have similar opinions as I do – what are they supposed to do? We are in the minority. What will we do – band together and decide to boycott MCAS and extracurriculars and homework? Sounds pretty ideal and great to me – except when, because the system is so flawed, these kids aren’t going to get into college, because despite being clearly intelligent and creative, they don’t have a high school diploma (not from not learning, but from not passing a standardized test that in no way captures what a student actually knows and is capable of), nor do they have 100 hours of extracurriculuar activities to “prove themselves”.
I just don’t get how that is fair. I don’t get it at all. It frustrates me to no end because I feel stuck. I have these beliefs and what I know are truths – and I also have the system. And I’m not strong enough to fight against the system.
If you have made it through this incredibly disorganized and not even remotely logical rant, kudos to you. Dare I say it, I want to hear what you have to say.
Do you understand what I’m saying? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have a way of explaining what I’m trying to get at that’s much more succinct and cohesive than how I said it? Is this an uphill battle that isn’t worth fighting?
What do you think?