“We’re not really motivated to learn to gain knowledge,” Ranganathan said. “We just want to memorize it and get a good grade and get into a good school.” In a sense, she said, the educational process has been corrupted. “Especially after the final exam, you just forget it afterward.”
That’s a quote from a student in an interesting article from the Washington Post that covers the “other” education movie making the rounds these days, “Race to Nowhere.” And while the rest of the story is worth the read, that one quote speaks truth more than any other. We’re testing and standardizing ourselves to death in the name of a whole bunch of “corrupted” ideals (“higher student achievement”, “international competition”, etc.) that have little or no relation to real learning. We all know it: teachers, administrators, parents. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, it’s hard to escape that this is what we do.
But here is the other majorly compelling quote from that article. At one point during a discussion after a local screening of the film, the parent who put together the movie, Vicki Abeles, noted that while some schools are beginning to take steps to reduce the testing pressure on kids, “I think it feels scary to make these changes alone” for both parents and schools. She’s right on both accounts. On the school side, beneath the “yeah buts” as to why we can’t make changes (budgets, lack of technology, lack of time, etc.) is this nagging sense of fear, fear that parents will push back, fear that students won’t do as well on the tests, fear simply of being different. I hear it in just about every conversation I have with school leaders when we get to the “well, what are you going to do?” part of the conversation.
And on the parent side, that fear is there, too. I know lots of parents who aren’t all that thrilled with the system but who are assuaged by the idea that the schools their kids are in will at least push them along to success on the traditional path. Opting for something else is just too hard, and to be honest, too “untested.” (No pun intended.)Â It reminds me of the story I read somewhere this summer about a father being all for his daughter’s desire to pursue her own learning path after high school, as long as she understood that if she got into Harvard, she was going.
I’ve written here before that my kids know that we don’t care that much about the test, that we constantly try to turn the “what did you get?” question into the “what are you learning?” question. Too much of the time, I get the feeling my kids are learning to take the test. They do the homework for the sake of doing the homework, not for the sake of going deeper into something they have an interest in or a desire to learn. Both my kids know that they are not necessarily on the college track, that we’re not going do Grade 13 if they don’t have a real sense of what they want to become. No doubt, college can be a very valuable learning experience, but it’s just one of many, and at this point, despite the statistics that say otherwise, we’re open to the idea that there may be a better path to “success.” (All depends on how you define it, right?)
But this all takes on more relevance in the context of the “What to do About Schools?” conversations that we’ve been enduring the past couple of months. The “problems” we face with schools are right now are less about the schools themselves and more about a lack of vision and a fear of change. Put simply, the age-grouped, subject-delineated, 8 am-2 pm, September-June, one-size-fits-all system that we have makes the process of education easy. The realities of personal, self-directed, real problem-solving learning in a connected world are anything but.
Still, the hardest reality right now is that there is no groundswell to do school differently, not just “better.” Seems it’s easy to see a path to “better.” “Different” is just too scary.