No trips until after testing?

That is what I was told by a teacher earlier this year when I offered to book some trips for her. No field trips until after testing. For those of you who grew up thinking field trips were just for fun, they’re not, though they may be fun incidentally. Field trips are one of the most meaningful forms of learning when properly embedded in curriculum. They are the bridge between school and the world, between concept and reality, plus kids  love them and remember them for decades after the fact. If this is what testing is doing to teachers, then it needs to stop.

What is more important- a test score, or meaningful learning? With the pressure put on teachers and the inclusion of test scores in teacher ratings, it is getting harder and harder for teachers to prioritize real learning over test prep.  As always, the burden falls unfairly on low-income schools. Since income is tied to test scores, guess which kids aren’t going on trips this year?

Focusing all of our energy on reading, writing and ‘rithmetic does not appeal to diverse learning styles, it does not engage or empower children to be agents of change, nor does it actually prepare kids to do much other than solve word problems and read convoluted non-fiction passages.

Please take your kids on trips. And not just for fun when testing is over. Take them on trips because that is how we learn, by doing and experiencing and exploring the real world around us.

Farina- take a break from career readiness please.

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything, because there is just too much to write about. It’s overwhelming confronting all the inequities and absurdities in education today, plus I am teaching a new grade and have been working about 70 hours a week just to get by.

Recently, I heard Carmen Farina speak at a town hall meeting and left feeling vaguely dissatisfied. Dedicated though she may be, some of her answers were reminiscent of some of the corporate education reformers talking points. For instance, after a question about over testing in elementary school and the common core, she said ” kids need to be challenged,” and argued that both the common core and testing are giving kids job-readiness skills.

First of all, in which job do kids need to fill out 70 minute bubble tests on a regular basis? And how is that a meaningful challenge that kids can learn from? Everyone needs to be challenged, but a challenge from which you learn test-taking skills only is not particularly instructive.

Second of all, I am so goddamn tired of hearing about college and career readiness, especially when we’re talking about 8 year olds. Yes of course we should keep it in mind, but isn’t there more to education?

What about critical thinking so that we don’t continue to elect environmentally illiterate bigots to office and so people actually vote every year?

What about valuing creativity so that people have options other than going to massive debt in college so that they can work in cubicles for mega-companies?

What about teaching children to have compassion, to be able to solve problems, to be able to be happy and stewards of our world?

What about empowering children to invent their own jobs and fields?

We never know what the future will hold, so why are we so intent on creating hordes of office workers that may not even have jobs in 2030?

And when you’re talking about little kids, like 5, 6, 7, 8 year olds, can we please put job readiness on hold for a few years so that we can give these children the social-emotional skills and tools for independence that will actually matter?

What about the other important things these kids need to learn- like how to put their coats on by themselves, how to express their feelings and solve problems, how to ask questions,  how to dig in the dirt and explore the natural world, how to be healthy, how to be kind?

The rhetoric of job and career readiness should no longer be used to justify developmentally inappropriate and potentially harmful pedagogy in early childhood. I have encountered too many kids who don’t know how to play- they get overstimulated by sensory experiences, they fight, they can’t share, they can’t solve problems and they can’t cooperate. If you can’t handle play dough without destroying it or punching someone, you have a rough life ahead of you, no matter how good of a test taker you are. And let’s not forget, there is more to education than preparation for the future. Thank you John Dewey.

“We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future.”
John Dewey, Experience and Education