Sunday, March 11, 2007

Vive la difference!

Okay--my apologies in advance as this post is actually a rant. The expression used as my title typically refers to differences between the genders but I am using it to refer to differences among people in general. This has been on my mind as we embark upon two weeks of MSA (Maryland State Assessment) testing in Maryland public schools. What do human differences have to do with standardized tests? Well, the pressure to have all students achieve a certain level on these tests is creating a culture of "one size fits all" education. It is depressing to see how these tests are driving every single decision that occurs in public schools. The only things that matter are math and reading. Period. I hate the thought of 6 year olds having to have 60 minutes uninterrupted of math and even longer in reading. I'm not saying that they shouldn't receive that much instruction, but it should be broken up into age appropriate time blocks. Kids cannot miss math or reading once a month for instrumental music which has a rotating schedule. Anything that doesn't support the instruction in reading and math is not considered important and takes a back burner. Are you interested in history or geography? Sorry--no time for that! Are you a budding scientist? Oops--no can do--but wait! There's hope for you because science testing becomes mandatory in 2008! Of course it will all be writing and not hands on, but, hey! That's okay! It's science! Are you a musician, artist or athlete? Sorry! You're just screwed! I mean--the arts? Ha! That's just frivolous play time!

The saddest thing is that the curriculum has gotten so academic that even the preschoolers are spending the majority of their time in math and reading instruction and they are not learning social skills. As a music teacher who teaches everyone in the school, it is easy for me to see trends in student behavior. I'm finding more and more that the younger ones just don't know how to get along, don't have basic manners and are completely lacking in the social skills that have traditionally been learned in Preschool and Kindergarten. I wonder if we aren't doing these kids a grave disservice in the long run. It seems to me that people skills are very necessary in the work world yet many of these kids won't have them.

Another curriculum issue is that curricula in all subjects is being made "teacher proof." By that I mean that curriculum is now scripted and everyone must be teaching the same thing on the same day following the same script. So much for teachable moments. What happens to the kid who can't keep up? What about the kid (and there are many) who asks a really deep question that takes the class discussion in a different direction? Oh, no. We can't allow that as we must stay on schedule. I fear that we are turning them into robots.

As a teacher in the arts, I really feel the pinch. With all the data showing that the arts help kids achieve higher test scores, why would educators want to trivialize those subjects? Don't we want kids to become creative thinkers and problem solvers? Of course I see it as one more conservative conspiracy. Teach them all to follow orders and not to think outside the box because they may rise and revolt! I also feel that the conservative agenda is one of seeing public schools fail so that we can institute a voucher program and send them all to private schools.

If I've offended any conservative readers--which I probably don't have, knowing my friends--I apologize. We need to do right by our kids. Education is supposed to prepare someone for the future and give them the skills they need to take care of themselves and, if we are fortunate, make the world a better place. I don't see that happening for my students and it makes me truly sad because they deserve so much more.

Some of us will always buck the system and I am one of those types. It gets tiring to have to fight to do what you know you should do and it takes some of the joy away. I feel differently when I'm with the kids because I enjoy being with most of them and I find it rewarding to see their musical (and personal) growth.

Okay. I'm done. Hopefully politicians will someday realize that they don't belong in the classrooms of America. Let them go screw something else up--something which hopefully won't have such major implications for our future.


  1. AMEN Sister! You need to send that to the Washington Post!

  2. Whew hew! You should come to my class on Tuesday nights. This is all we talk about. How the system right now isn't teaching kids how to think. It's teaching them rote memorization and drill and where does that leave creativity and individual differences. My professor (and one of my mentors) is always talking about the point you made at the beginning of your post. NCLB is supposed to be a "leveler", but is that really what education should do? That implies both raising kids to a certain level AND bulldozing other kids back to the same level. It's ridiculous! Education should really be about individual differences, in the sense that it helps each child reach their maximum potential - which IS NOT the same level ... but you knew all of that already ;) Seriously, I am always excited about a good old fashioned rant against our current school system...

  3. I've been poking around and checking out your archives and wow, what a great post! I am not that close to this situation as I don't have kids and am not an educator - but I can see this in the kids that I'm around. Love the conservative conspiracy tie-in - I think there is some truth in that. It just seems like this whole country has gone so conservative, it's like we're in this neo-1950s revival or something. I wasn't around for the first go-round but it seems as if that is the case. Don't even get me started on the over-scheduled kids whose parents are competing to get them into the "right" preschool. Frightening. The social skills are not there either. My husband and I are always noting out of control, rude kids whenever we are out - slamming doors in others' faces, etc. It's become the exception to the rule and a real pleasure to run across a kid that is well-mannered and can have an intelligent conversation (not to mention one who has actually read a book that they didn't have to read for school - horrific.) My husband's aunt would totally agree as well as she just took semi-early retirement after 30-odd years of teaching as she couldn't deal with the situation in the schools anymore.