Monday, January 7th, 2013...9:26 pm
I’m Afraid of Kindergarten
Long before I had to add guns pointed at six year olds to my list of things to fear about sending Nora off to school next year, I started to dread kindergarten.
This dread makes no sense, really.
I loved school. LOVED it.
I’m a teacher.
I love learning above most other things.
Yet, sending my child off to school? It scares me.
I’m not scared of her being away from me for that long – we’ve done that for almost her whole life. I’m not scared of her getting a teacher she doesn’t like – that’s part of growing up. I’m not even that afraid of bullying and mean girls and hurt feelings, although those things are somewhere on my list.
What am I really afraid of then? Testing.
What I’m really afraid of is the possibility that Nora won’t love to learn. That her teachers won’t be able to fuel her creativity. That she will see school as a place to take “assessments” (God, I hope she never even learns that word!) and not a place to explore the world.
I know too much as a teacher about what the testing system in Texas has done to our students, to our teachers, to our principals, to our parents, to a system that is supposed to be built on innovation and creativity, forward progress and critical thinking. I know too much about the testing factories our schools turn into in the spring semester, the effects on students who try and try again at tests that they should never be assigned to pass in the first place.
I know too much about how testing has taken something that I loved wholeheartedly – teaching – and made it more of a job. More of a place where I crunch numbers and less of a place where I inspire creative thinking.
Testing is making me tired.
And I’m so afraid that it will do the same thing to Nora.
Some attention is starting to build on the high school side of things – how it’s unfair students have to pass 15 tests to graduate when most states only require 2 or 3, how much time we lose to testing (I would hate to even count the days!), how much these assessments are costing an already underfunded system. (The best article I’ve read on this appeared today in the Austin-American Statesman. You can and should read it here.)
But what I have yet to hear about is what is happening in our elementary schools. I hear about it from friends with kids in third grade. Friends who have to console upset or frustrated children after they “fail” benchmarks or are pressured to write perfect essays that are test-ready even though we are still months from the tests. But there really isn’t much attention being given to what this is doing to our children. What this early test pressure is doing to their passion for learning. What this early test pressure is doing to the creativity that their teachers must feel slipping through their fingers as test-prep booklets are placed in their mailboxes as gentle hints.
“We shouldn’t teach to the test”, they always say.
And then, in the next sentence, “How we are preparing the students for the tests?”
Education can’t be about testing. Accountability? Yes. High standards across the board? Absolutely.
A one day, make or break test? No way.
This year Nora was over-the-top excited about addition and subtraction flashcards I put in her stocking. I didn’t put them there because I think she’s deficient in math skills; I put them there because right now she’s really excited by numbers and I knew she’d think they were an awesome math game.
Tonight we read three chapters of a Magic Treehouse book about a Viking mystery. When we got the the end of the chapter, not knowing what was going to happen to the monks hiding on the hill, she started to breathe quickly and insist I keep reading. She had to know what was next. (And of course I indulged her.)
Today she learned a game of opposites at school and was so excited to tell me about it that she could barely get her words out. She learned so much she said, her brain had to rethink.
This is what I want to happen. I want her to love learning. I want her teachers to be able to teach in a way that plays to the interests of the students in front of them. I want her to be challenged. I want her to feel the yearning to keep exploring.
I don’t want her to worry about test scores, benchmarks, short cycle assessments. I don’t want her to feel like she goes to school each day to prepare for an exam. I don’t want her to sit in a classroom full of numbers, full of data. That isn’t what elementary school should focus on. That isn’t what high school should focus on.
I don’t want her to ever have to worry about test scores.
And I don’t want to have to worry about them either.