I've been watching my daughter and her friends come of age, with a measure of trepidation and pride. Whether I'm ready or not, I'm afraid this work begins in middle school.
Last night, I watched them in Catching Butterflies, their original two act play they describe as 'a political satire that follows the lives of four individuals as they experience the trials and preparation of career deciding state standardized butterfly catching'. I find it sweet that they chose butterflies as their theme. I feel like I'm watching them emerge from a cocoon, ready to fly in full splendor.
It's amazing that these amazing young writers, producers, directors, actors, stage hands, make up and costume artists put together a play on their very own over a short period of time. But what is most amazing is how they managed to develop a plot, characters and a theme that rings true to them, but that in the end, provided much food for thought for the adults in the room. Maybe it's because they grew up on all those movies that though meant for them, had plenty of humor for us.
Anyway, though there were some funny moments, the play was mostly dead on serious. While reminiscent of the unacceptable reality of the Hunger Games, the writers are commenting on their experience of high stakes testing and how this affects their chances at having meaningful lives in the future. Whether this means that they grow up to have professions that don't match their ideals (the lumber jack who feels for every bird and insect that loses their home when a tree falls) or that make them feel angry, bitter or lacking, the kids got it right - the insistence on standardized tests being good measures of learning is woefully inadequate and from their perspective, nearly criminal.
I hear the kids wanting to be free to pursue their passions, to be valued for being exactly who they are, for aiming for lives that are beyond contentment. Like I said, our kids are coming of age.
What I see though is a parallel with how we, their parents, might choose to come of age as well.
We can hear their pleas, and understand them as a reminder of our own coming of age, and sigh, assuming that high stakes standardized testing and the system that is created around it, is inevitable and unchangeable.
Or we can choose to be in solidarity with them, and speak up for authentic and engaged learning in our schools. The kind of learning that does not get measured by tests, but by creating environments where kids and teachers are learning together about what it means to learn, to teach. This kind of environment, sadly, is often present in private schools, where performance on tests is secondary to authentic and engaged learning.
Surely, we see great teaching in our public schools. But I know that for every teacher that is able to do this within the confines of the testing regime, there are many teachers wanting out of the system to be able to do it for the right reasons. I haven't met a teacher who believes that teaching to the test is why they chose this profession.
Some folks try to present a false choice, that its either about the kids or about the teachers. It's pretty clear to me that the kids and the teachers are on the same page. It's more about the parents, as I see it.
I see a different choice: are we standing for the right to measure or for the freedom to learn? What is, after all, the measure of a good education?