Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Soapbox #2

The other crisis our country is facing, is that of education. If you don't have children in the public school system, you might not realize just how bad it has gotten. But I have two, and I can assure you, that the educational needs of our children are not being met. Not by a longshot.

There are a plethora of problems, but the most prevalent problem right now, is reliance on standardized testing as a barometer of success for the public school system. The Georgia benchmark test is called CRCT, but every state has one. And every kid, from kindergarten to high school, dreads taking it.

Standardized testing has made the classroom more like boot camp and teachers have become drill sergeants. They are not teaching our kids to learn, they are teaching our kids to take tests, and there's not much they can do about it. The good teachers still try to make learning for learning's sake fun and exciting, but they are fighting a losing battle.

I actually think that the premise behind these tests is a sound one; making sure kids have the skills they need to advance to the next level of education. As a trouble shooting tool, I think it's fairly effective. But as the be all and end all of educational standards, it can't even begin to address all the variables that occur when one static unit of analysis is applied to a group of individuals.

That's what has been overlooked here.

Our children are being treated and educated as a collective.

But children are individuals; as widely varied as flakes of snow, or seashells on the beach. And like children, intelligence is a highly individual thing. It is not easily defined or quantified and it cannot be measured by the ability to fill in bubbles on a piece of test paper.

Also, these tests fail to take into account the value and importance of creativity, imagination and visionary thinking. In the American public school system, children who are unconventional learners, out of the box thinkers, and/or creatively inclined, are either ignored, or forced to fit into an ideal by which they can be labeled for later acclimation into a world of worker bees; unthinking, unquestioning drones who take direction well.

Other nations are making sure their children are schooled not only in reading, writing and 'rithmatic, but also receiving a comprehensive education in art, music, and language. Why? Because studies have shown that students who receive instruction in those subjects are stronger students as a whole. They receive higher test scores in all areas because these disciplines encourage free thought, inspire imagination, and celebrate the individuality that each person brings to the creative process.

They are being taught to think, not just learn.

But our kids? Nah. As long as they can fill in a bubble, we call it an education.

This has got to change.

I know you've heard it before, but my boys are both extremely intelligent; albeit in different ways. However, they share a distinct handicap when it comes to math. Neither cares for math, neither excels at math. They are competent when they apply themselves. When they don't, they lag behind. This doesn't seem to matter one bit to either one of them...they simply can't see the importance of math, when neither of them plans to be an actuary or an accountant.

I can't say I disagree. I struggled with math my whole life, and even had to repeat basic algebra in high school. I haven't used algebra once since then. When I've needed to perform more complicated feats of computation, I simply pulled out my handy dandy calculator. These days, people with math handicaps can rely on technology to make up for that deficit. Why...the iPhone even has a tip calculation app you can download. Even I can calculate 20% of a bill to within a few pennies, but now? I don't have to.

But I digress....

This year, in 5th and 8th grades, both of my boys were in a position where they had to pass the math and reading portion of the CRCT to go on to the next grade.

Pubescent One failed math every single quarter this year. But he passed the math portion of the CRCT.

Diminutive One got passing grades in math and had resource math as well. But he failed the math portion of the CRCT.

Pubescent One will be allowed to move on to 9th grade. Diminutive cannot move on until he can pass.

Does this make sense to anybody?

Let me explain further: Pubescent One and Diminutive One are probably about equal in terms of math ability. Both can perform at grade level if they apply themselves. They have to work a little harder than most kids; because they are both right brained individuals and they both suffer from ADD/ADHD. Typically, math is more difficult for kids with this disability. But they can do it.

The difference?

Pubescent One tests well. For a variety of reasons, Diminutive One does not.

Pubescent One failed math because he did not turn in work. Some he did, but lost in the abyss of his locker. Some he did halfway. Some he blew off completely. But he knew the material, because both of my kids retain information very well. So he passed the test. And he gets to move on.

What does this say to my son, people??

I'll tell the mind of a 14 year old boy, this just confirms his belief that homework is unnecessary bullshit. It's a belief I happen to share, but that's irrelevant. The point is, he is being taught that he can be lazy, undisciplined and unmotivated, and still get where he needs to go. This is not a lesson that is going to serve him well as an adult.

Diminutive One is an entirely different story. I won't go into all the reasons why he doesn't test well; that would take an entire treatise on "The Pathology and Psychology of Diminutive One" and we don't have time for that.

It all boils down to the fact that we, as his parents, had to find a way to help him pass that test. Because if he doesn't, he will not be allowed to advance, despite the fact that he is a fantastically intelligent and creative child, who is clearly gifted, clearly leaps and bounds ahead of his peers in the way he approaches learning and problem solving, but who struggles within the parameters of a conventional classroom setting.


What to do.

Well, he was eligible for summer school at no cost to us; three weeks, three hours a day. But the dynamics did not change, only the setting. He would still be one of 30 children in a classroom, being taught to as part of a crowd, a collective. His individual needs would not be met. It wasn't very hard for us to conclude that we needed another option.

We chose Sylvan.

People...I am paying Sylvan $2,000 dollars so my son can pass a test.

Now, in a variety of ways, Syvlan has been worth every penny. It has boosted his confidence by showing him that he can do math and he can learn. Failing that test did inestimable damage to his self-esteem, but Sylvan has taught him that he can learn anything he puts his mind to learning. Pubescent One, despite his intellectual gifts, has always thought of himself as the dumb kid. Slowly, he is realizing that he is not a dumb kid.

They haven't taught him a great deal of math. They have helped him become stronger in basic concepts and to not be afraid of math. They have addressed areas where he was weak (mostly newer, pre-algebraic concepts that were just introduced at the end of this school year). But the bulk of what he has learned is how to take the test.

And let me tell you...he was not alone. Sylvan's enrollment rates typically skyrocket after CRCT results are received each June.

Sylvan even offers a crash course that they call "CRCT bootcamp" during spring break week. The course is all about how to take the CRCT. It is not concepts and skills, it is tips and tricks.

But what about children whose families who don't have the resources to pay for that kind of individual attention? Well, I guess they just go to summer school and take their chances with the rest of the underprivileged kids and overburdened teachers.

Does this seem wrong to you? It SHOULD.

How many children are being left behind thanks to No Child Left Behind????

The priorities in our public school systems are dangerously skewed. We badly need education reform...nay...complete and total overhaul...if our children are going to remain viable and valued in a global community. We need to figure out how to produce leaders and visionaries.

We can start by eliminating standardized testing and beginning to focus on educating our children as independent thinkers. Bring back arts and enrichment and put as much emphasis on their value, as that of math and science.

And for God's sake, let's pull our heads out of our collective asses and realize that intelligence is a multi-faceted jewel that can outshine any and all material baubles if only it is honed and polished with care and attention.

Off Soapbox.

Related Articles by yours truly:

Intelligence Quotient Quotient

Art Is Free

NCLB Strikes Aagain

No Hablas Engles

A Question Of Freedom


  • At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Both of my daughters tested gifted & although I love our public K-4 school, they just weren't able to do enough for them. Great staff, great teachers, but they can only do so much. 1hour twice a week for gifted enrichment isn't enough.
    Our older girl went to a private university prep school for fifth grade this year & I was shocked to see how far ahead they were than our public school. My daughter studied foreign languages for the first time, a different one each quarter. Our public schools don't have foreign lang. studies until high school. That child still managed to get straight A's.
    NCLB was a great idea in theory but sucketh in practice. One of my daughters' teachers once commented that they were told they could only teach as fast as the "slowest" (not mentally, mind you) child could go.
    I think standardized tests torment children & teachers in every state.
    Ame in TN

  • At 5:42 PM, Blogger IIDLYYCKMA said…

    I am not a fan of standardized testing because to me standarized testing is the cookie cutter method and it's a poor way of assessing how your child is really dong.

    "Facing root canal surgery without anesthetic, having your tax return audited, or taking standardized tests may carry equal aversion/terror. Each guarantees a loss of control while also threatening pain, frustration, or embarrassment" says Priscilla Vail, M.A.T. And I agree with her.

    My son was tested and identified as gifted, placed in TAG classes, and it was then and only then they recognize that he learns differently from other children.

    I was one of those kids who tested poorly and continued on through college. It was only in college that I discovered I could apply for help, and received accomodations.

    I feel for you kiddo. I really do.

  • At 6:28 PM, Anonymous gurukarm (@karma_musings) said…

    What Ame in TN said (her last sentence). I think MA was one of the first states to institute the standardized testing in response to NCLB (called MCAS - [em-cas]).

    When my daughter was in 4th grade was the first year her class had to take MCAS. She *adored* her teacher - and was SO sad when teacher had to start focusing on teaching for the test - Teacher was so stressed, and it passed off to the kids. My daughter would come home and sadly ask me why Mrs. B was so upset and angry all of a sudden.

    So. 2nd Ame's comment.

  • At 8:11 PM, Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said…

    It wasn't the social aspect, a need for religion, "bad" public schools, behavior issues, desire to teach latin or my inability to separate from my kids. My reason for homeschooling in the first place is heavily due to the fact that we now have the MCAS. I detest these tests and what they are doing to kids.

    I hope DO kicks ass on the test when he takes it again. I've heard great things about Sylvan but that is a heavy price to handle, for almost any family.

  • At 6:33 AM, Blogger Jaime said…


    and if you want an entirely different slant to this soapbox, factor in all the children who have to take these tests while they are LEARNING English. fun.

  • At 6:01 PM, Blogger margalit said…

    Maybe it's just MY town in MA, but the MCAS doesn't count for much here, You have to pass it by 10th grade or you can't graduate, but my daughter failed the math part, and in order to graduate she has to take an extra year of math (senior year).

    The reason that this amuses me and infuriates her is that she's passed EVERY math class in high school with grades that ranged from an A to a C-. So her extra year of math? Calculus. Yup. Tell me how stupid THIS is.

    Apparently her math skills are enough to get as far as calculus, but not good enough to pass the MCAS. Too freaking stupid to believe, eh?

    I hate standardized testing as much, if not more, than anyone else. But I also know how to disregard them and just pretend they don't exist. FWIW, our teachers DO NOT teach to the test, nor are they allowed to. Other than a prep class for kids who are obviously gonna fail it, the school could not care less.

  • At 7:59 PM, Blogger Sharon said…

    In California our kids take STAR testing, but it doesn't have anything to do with whether a student goes on to the next grade or not. The most frustrating thing to me is when I let the Special ED. teacher know that I have noticed that a student is really struggling in class, on. a. daily. basis., and the first thing that she does is to pull that students STAR scores from the year before and tell me that they tested "at grade level". I don't care. They are still struggling on a daily basis in the classroom, so I fight to get them tested anyway to see if they have a processing problem. or some other learning issue that would qualify them for some extra help . In other cases they show "basis" or "below basic", in some subject area, so then it gets others attention a little quicker. It's a standardized test and just a snapshot of how a student preformed on a particular day. Some kids, as you said, are great test takers, others are not.

    I agree with you on all the points that you made. Thanks for stating them so well. I wish I had some answers.


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