The other day I was doing a program for a group of 4th-6th graders at a local public library. I introduced myself to them by telling them how I had LOVED school so much when I was a kid that I basically recreate it for myself everyday as I write my books. The kids' reaction to my confession was a unanimous, vociferous, vocal expression of how much they disliked school. I was startled. After all, I've told this to children many times before at school visits. Was this because the venue was not in school and they felt freer to express themselves? Or has something changed to make school more onerous? These were privileged kids from an affluent public school district. Could it be because they had just finished a month of standardized testing? What's going on here?
This is just the latest piece of evidence that something is rotten in American education. It seems that many people in a position of power believe that education is too important to allow professional educators do their jobs because they have failed to produce a consistently excellent product of people who are college and career ready after twelve years of schooling. They believe the way to excellence is to first write a law decreeing "No Child Left Behind" or "All Children College and Career Ready" to set a policy, without consulting anyone who actually teaches children. And then to test, test, test, to see if these impossible standards have been met. Meanwhile, they are creating a population of quietly submissive students and teachers who narrow the curriculum to what they hope will be on the test while administrators are cutting art, music, physical education programs and librarians to pour more of their limited financial resources into test prep and test grading. I could go on and on but the person who has done that the best is Diane Ravitch. She has brilliantly connected the dots between history and the misguided public policies that have brought us to this abysmal state in this recent piece in the New York Review of Books "The Lost Purpose of School Reform."
Since I have autonomy and freedom as a free-lance writer, I can spend time following Diane Ravitch. She keeps coming and coming, tirelessly pointing out the failures of education policy in myriad ways, aggregating other voices, who also speak powerfully. There are also many popular uprisings, particularly from parents, who see the toll their kids are paying for high-stakes testing. Yet, the NY state legislature just passed Cuomo's new budget plan with such a punitive and draconian assessment plan for teachers that it will effectively decimate the profession. What will it take to for politicians to get the message that all of this is just plain wrong? Diane just reported that Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of NYS Board of Regents has suggested that high performing districts, like the one where I was speaking, be exempt from Cuomo's fear-mongering teacher assessment program, thus creating a two-tiered system where the rich (educationally speaking) get richer. Where is it written in our hallowed Constitution that Liberty and Justice is NOT for all? The politicians who voted with "heavy hearts" for Cuomo's plan are all too timid to stick it to the lobbyists in whose pockets they reside.
Let me take this opportunity to remind us that human beings, from the moment they appear on this earth, are born to learn. A baby is as smart as s/he will ever be. Through infancy every day is filled with wonder and discovery. And although there are hard lessons along the way, as learning progresses, so does mastery. We know from research that there are many different learning styles but eventually we all learn to walk and talk and think . As we get older, if we're lucky, we discover a passion that drives us to master more skills and contribute to society. But the skill of high performance on a test, is not an essential skill. There are many other metrics for success -- the number of patents held by Americans, for example. The current "reformers" for education are simply imposing ill-conceived laws of the state and federal governments on schools as if we were a dictatorship not a democracy.
Deep in my bones I know that I would not be creating science books for children if I had grown up in one of today's repressive schools.