Then I watched my nine-year-old baby, terror in her eyes, tears flowing against her will, head in to take her first state test. I sank in exhaustion, sadness, and honestly, fire-raging fury.
What if we stopped?
We, as parents, have shouted from the rooftops that we are not obsessed or even concerned with how our kids perform on standardized tests. We know they are intelligent. We know they are hard workers. We know they love to learn. That is all we can and will ask them to be during their years of formal education.
Their teachers have taught the standards, they repeatedly encourage the kids not to be afraid, but we all know that there is the underlying tension of state funding, school scores, and reputation.
So we lay our kids out on the altar of performance evaluation we have erected as the standard for proof of education. And they are crumbling under the pressure.
What if we stopped?
Why have we decided the world will end if the 'powers that be' don't have numbers in front of them to judge success from afar? In reality, when the world actually did stop, one of the first things we threw out of the boat as a nonessential WAS the state test.
What if we stopped?
What if we talked this out? What is the REAL goal? The purpose of education is to teach kids, right? To equip them to be good citizens who take their unique skills into the world and set out to make it better because they are in it.
If that is indeed the goal, then why does half, if not the majority of their school year, move in the flow of state testing prep? Can we talk about this? Is it possible that this evaluation tool actually works against the true goal?
I am not a formal educator. My classroom experience is the 19 years I spent in school myself. I am not proposing that I have all the answers; I am simply putting some ideas and ponderings on the table in hopes of getting a conversation started. I want us to consider checking our current reality against the fundamental mission. I think we may have veered off course.
What if we stopped?
Here is my outlandish thought: What if we tested our kids? You read that right. Hang with me. What if, from an early age (end of elementary/middle school?), we utilized tests like Strength's Finders, Strong's Interest Inventory, Myers Briggs? What if we handed kids tangible feedback about their natural aptitude? What if we show them where their interests and talents collide, then give them some paths to consider as they move forward in life? What if we handed school counselors THESE test results and allowed them to use their mad counseling skills to speak life and direction into students? I went to grad school with future school counselors. We took almost all the same classes. They are GOOD at helping people put tools in their toolbox and then talking through how they are suited to use them. What if we use testing money to empower kids? What if we taught them to dream about how their natural abilities and interests could play out into careers? How many kids spend their school years struggling with traditional learning simply because they have never been encouraged to see how they can practically apply the basics in light of their interests?
I am a writer and an artist. I didn't discover these passions until I was neck-deep in student loans for a psychology degree and a master's degree in counseling. In High School, I was an honor student; therefore, I followed a college path. It never crossed my mind that taking the welding class offered in the vocational program at my high school could have benefited me. But here I am, 43 years old, and I can totally dream of sculptures and art pieces that would require those technical, hands-on skills. I will be raw and transparent. I viewed vocational training as what you did if you couldn't make good grades, which is dumb. I doubt I’m the only one. It screams the brokenness of our tunnel vision education style. Empowering and equipping people to thrive in their gifts and interest is 100% the way to succeed at the goal of education. It's time to tighten our cord to the plumb line. What is the purpose?
I took the AP classes, made the A's, but what I learned was how to be a good test taker. What if I had taken AP biology from the perspective of becoming an artist? I would have studied animals and nature and their environments to learn how they move, how they grow, how they interact. I would have looked at the amazing details of natural selection to capture it accurately with paint. I would have loved that. I would have approached learning the basics to put tools in the toolbox of my choice. I would have studied literature to ponder the author's rhythms. I would have studied how they pace their writing to lead their readers to feel things and experience things. In reality, I found cliff notes, made an A, and never considering its relevance to my future. I'm sure geometry would benefit something somehow, but it was horrible, and it's ok to have shakes still when it comes up. I would have embraced business classes if I had known to dream of being self-employed.
Let's consider the more profound social impact. How many kids are never told what they are good at? How does that affect their life, their goals, their future? We don't want to be naive: there are a lot of kids who only hear negativity at home and receive poor grades at school. What do we expect them to grow up and become if they are only told that they are bad? Let yourself stop and feel that. Let your heart break for these cycles of condemnation and discouragement.
Giving every kid words to describe their gifting could break cycles and empower the next generation to become dreamers who thrive in the unique way God designed them. It crosses cultural boundaries and socioeconomic boundaries. One way we are all equal is that we are all good at something. Finding out what we are good at from an early age allows people an alternative to wandering aimlessly.
I know there are more issues we need to address. I dream of creating pathways for people thriving in their fields to encourage kids who show the aptitude to head in the same direction. I would love mentor programs, adults telling kids what they wish they had known at their age, giving practical advice on pursuing their dreams. How unique would that curriculum be? You could have time during your school year for podcast-style learning you pick from a vast database based on your interests.
I could go on for days with ideas like this. I think we have gotten too tall for the box. Let's hop out and be creative. Let's be proactive. Our country is a hot mess: divided and angry. A lot of that stems from being disconnected from each other. What if we started dreaming together about ways to equip Generation Alpha to be a new, fresh, healthy beginning?