Becoming Our Personal Bests


I was driving home in the dark after spending the evening helping my grandsons complete a Geometry test review. It had been a long day and I was quite tired so I needed some sound in the car to keep me alert during the fairly long journey. I keep my radio tuned to NPR and just as I had hope there was an interesting program on the air. All of the guests were speaking about the idea of giving humans a small nudge to motivate them to do something difficult. It seems that there is a right way to get people to take risks and a wrong way that makes them complacent and uncomfortable with trying new things. Unfortunately much of the parenting and guiding and teaching that we tend to do is often exactly the opposite of how best to inspire humans,

As a mom, grandmother and long time educator I found myself instantly fascinated with the topic, so I turned up the volume and listened intently to a parade of experts giving pointers on how to create adults who are willing to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. It seems that every single theory was grounded in the idea that making mistakes can be a powerful tool for learning as long as it happens in the right kind of environment. If the emphasis is on personal growth rather than ranking, an individual is far more likely to demonstrate a willingness to venture into uncharted waters. There is something in our human natures that wants to be adventurous, but we throw on the brakes of caution whenever we realize that we are being compared and judged. We don’t want to be embarrassed by our mistakes and so all too often we quietly give up rather than endure the pain associated with failure.

One of the guests discussing this issue spoke of an horrific childhood experience that she had with a teacher who seated children in the classroom in order of IQ, from highest to lowest. Aside from the personal humiliation associated with such an arrangement she noted that it created artificial barriers to learning in which those lowest in the ranking began to believe that they didn’t have a chance to improve or master new concepts. It also segregated the students from one another by making them believe that those at the front of the class were smart and part of an exclusive group and those at the end were hopelessly doomed to uninteresting lives. The woman who was subjected to this horrible situation still shudders at the psychological damage it did to her and her peers.

My own high school experience was not much better. We were grouped according to an entrance exam and previous grades. Each six weeks a list noting our class rank was posted on a bulletin board in the main hall. We gathered together each time it appeared to determine where we were in the order, trying not to look at the very bottom because we somehow understood that there was indignity associated with being last. To this day I shudder at the idea of such shameless and ignorant humiliation that the listing created and the fear that it planted in me.

As humans we are born with a willingness to try different things. As babies we innocently explore and develop. Nobody thinks it odd that each little one grows at his/her own pace. It is the natural way of things and generally there is no worry unless the child shows signs of some type of extreme difficulty. In those early years our curiosity is at a peak. We want to know about and try everything. Learning is natural and fun. It is only when we begin to impose the artifices of tests and grades and competitions that many children begin to waver. When they feel that they are being judged badly because they are not quite as good as their peers, they sometimes slowly become and less and less inclined to participate in the process. In fact, even those at the top reach a certain comfort level and sometimes stop exploring lest they fail and lose their status.

As adults we want to encourage our young to be the best versions of themselves and so whenever they succeed at an endeavor we tend to praise them not so much for the attempts as for the outward judgement of their accomplishment. In other words we celebrate a good grade more than we cheer on effort. We pin our hopes on winning rather than a willingness to try. There is a kind of invisible ranking by IQ or ability that destroys a young child’s natural instinct to try things out. It deadens their souls just a bit, and in the worst case scenario convinces them that their possibilities for life are severely limited.

Sometimes it has the most deleterious effect on those children who started out at the top. They become so accustomed to being the best that they come unglued at the first sign of a challenge. They question themselves and withdraw from the race. They choose easy pathways that allow them to maintain their status, but their interest in reaching higher and higher is stifled. This is particularly true whenever a child suddenly fails after a lifetime of seeming perfection. We sometimes neglect to show them how to rebound from disasters.

The world will no doubt always be competitive but during the formative years the ideal is to instill a growth mindset into our young. We must strive to praise hard work and progress as much as mastery. We need to break learning down into doable chunks and celebrate the achievement of reaching particular milestones as much as we do high marks.

I have learned from watching my grandsons in swimming and track that each effort that they make is measured in personal improvements that may be little more than a tenth of a second. The focus of competition is with themselves. They understand that by beating their own records they move closer and closer to besting those who run with them. Races are generally won with very small but important differences. My grandsons work hard to close the gaps and they begin with themselves. Even if they do not gain a medal, they feel excited when they learn that they have shaved just a bit more time off of their own records. Improvement is a slow but focused process that they keep chasing because they are willing to stay in the race.

We can do so much much better with our young, but for now it is a difficult battle as long as tests are used to rank them, their teachers, their schools, and their communities. We are killing the natural instincts and curiosity one mistake at a time. Instead of encouraging our children to develop a love of reading we force them to submit to comprehension tests having little to do with how we humans enjoy the written word. We make the world of mathematics terrifying and far more difficult than it needs to be. We mystify science and insinuate that only a select few will ever be bright enough to work with its principles. We categorize children before they have even had the opportunity to explore and enjoy the wonders of learning. By the time we are adults we have boxed ourselves into rigid mindsets from which few of us ever escape.

It’s time for an overhaul of how we guide and teach our children. We have the know how and potential to use our most precious resource to the fullest. We just need to begin.


A Matter of the Heart

automaton.jpg.pngWhen I entered high school placing students in particular tracks had become all the rage. Based on grades and an entrance exam I ended up in what was known as the Honors group. Things were a bit nerve racking for me because the principal inserted a caveat to my designation in a face to face meeting in which he indicated that I would only be part of that cadre on a probationary status. In fact he suspected that I would be removed within the first grading period because I was barely qualified for the academic rigors to which I would be subjected. Through sheer determination I hung on for four years and graduated with an Honors designation. It would not be until I was an adult that one of my former teachers would reveal that my peers and I had been part of a grand experiment that did not work as well as the adults had hoped.

Educators have a tendency to be constantly searching for what I call a magic bullet, a way of doing things that will transform the way we teach our children and result in dramatic advances in knowledge and critical thinking. Sadly as such attempts take place there is always a risk that they will not bring the hoped for advantages and may actually do damage to the students who become living guinea pigs. Thus it was with me and many of the other people in my class. Each of us became known more by our labels and less as the individuals that we were. We tended to believe that sets of numbers defined us, and in my own case I worried that everyone would learn that I was a fraud. Because the principal had so clearly indicated that I did not have the intellectual acumen to be a member of the elite Honors class, I was constantly stressed and uncertain of my abilities. Little did I know until that fateful reunion with my teacher that I was not alone in the emotional trauma that the untested methodology unleashed. The fact that the plan that had driven the daily routines of my class was eventually changed to address its blatant problems was of little comfort. The damage had already been done and it bothered me even though most of us had managed to overcome the difficulties perpetrated by faulty methodology.

As a teacher I understand the need to find the best practices for reaching students. Still I have watched a parade of bandwagon theories that have ultimately been rejected long after they have had an ill effect on the youngsters who were used to determine effectiveness. I don’t suppose that we are able to tell whether or not something will be successful until we try it, but for the group that is subjected to massive changes it can be disastrous. We watched the new math of the seventies be rejected because it never really clicked with either the teachers or their pupils. We worry about that the constant standardized testing and the thirst for hard data has somehow ignored the heart and soul of each individual. We sense that numbers alone are incapable of measuring the content of a mind. We try different styles of note taking, tutoring and delivery of lessons, only to realize that there is no one size fits all way that works for everyone. We labor to individualize learning and teaching but then insist on scripting lessons. We’ve tried cooperative learning, behavioral modifications, and on and on. All are noble and well intentioned efforts but instead of taking an entire group and radically changing the way they are taught, why can’t we try such interventions in small doses until we are certain that they are effective?

There is a trend in many schools today to modernize teaching by using technology with a nod to B.F. Skinner. Students watch educational videos or read lessons at their own paces. If they fully understand the concept they are free to keep moving forward. If they are confused they ask questions of the teacher who becomes more of an interventionist and less of a direct instructor. Interactions between teachers and their pupils are thought to be more targeted and thus more effective, but for many it has become a frustrating venture leading them to confusion and a loss of self esteem. As someone who has always understood that there is never one best way, I have to wonder what proponents of such radically different systems were thinking when they decided to abandon all of the traditional ways in favor of a grand experiment. Why not instead insert such changes in small doses and then measure their effect on each student? It would make much more sense to see what happens in a trial run rather than simply accepting that all of the old ways should be left behind. It really is possible to teach in a number of different ways and still get phenomenal results.

I would like to propose that teachers select the methods that work best with a particular set of students rather than tossing out the baby with the bath water in favor of new ideas that are still untested. We should instead tread lightly with innovations, use them sparingly until it is evident that they truly are effective. It’s never a good idea to overuse any practices. They can become too routine and boring to students. Variety truly works well and provides opportunities to try the latest educational ideas. The most important thing is for teachers to still be teachers, not just conduits of information. In other words the goal is to help every student to attain mastery of concepts. That takes patience and creativity because sometimes the secret to unlocking a mind lies not in how information is presented but in how an educator touches a heart and turns on the magic that lives inside everyone. There are truly some aspects of learning that have little to do with data points.

We have rubrics and measurements for literally everything today, neglecting to take our differences into account. Students who don’t quite fit the mold often feel that something is wrong with them. Only a talented and sensitive teacher knows how to help them to find themselves in a world that seems so intent on judging their worth based on numbers. We really do have to move beyond the test scores and grades to encourage our youth to see learning as a magical and exciting experience rather than one that places daily stresses on them. If a student does all of the steps correctly to find the equation of a line when given two points but then accidentally multiplies wrong to reach an incorrect answer, we need to be willing to give that person credit for what they did right and use the mistake as a learning tool. All too often we instead slash a big red mark over the entire effort and leave the child feeling inept. That borders on educational malpractice.

There are those who speak of today’s students as snowflakes, kids who can’t handle conflict or difficulties. Nothing is farther from the truth. Today’s children are busy checking off boxes that indicate that they are moving steadily toward success. It is an almost robotic atmosphere in which they must complete so many requirements just to move from one phase of education to another. Square pegs have to fit into round holes no matter how painful the process of doing that may be. Universities make it more and more difficult to land an acceptance letter. Students must have resumes that include rigorous courses, leadership roles, extracurricular activities and even community service. They work from before dawn until well into the late hours of night attempting to accomplish all of the expectations. Many of them are enduring mental distress in the process and questioning their worth when they falter. It is as though we have embarked on a nationwide experiment with their very lives and souls. We have become Tiger Adults who push and push and push without thought of where all of this will lead. It is little wonder that so many young adults are pushing back on the system once they come of age to make their own decisions. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to demand that schools take a long hard look at the effects of what they are doing.

I made it through my high school and graduated as the Valedictorian in spite of the negativity and pressures that were placed on me by well meaning adults. Not everyone is so fortunate in such highly charged situations, and we have to take every person’s needs into account. There are indeed great teachers who have found the keys to reaching students without destroying their confidence and we should observe them and learn from them. Isaac Owoyemi teaches mathematics for mastery, providing students with multiple opportunities for learning concepts in an encouraging environment. Seng Dao Keo understands the necessity of starting from the point where students are on the learning curve rather than failing them for not being ready for a particular idea. Chrystal Hunter deconstructs the most difficult aspects of mathematics and simplifies them so that her students will comprehend and feel accomplished. Dickie Written reaches the imagination of his pupils by making literature relevant and exciting. Lisa Sandifer understands that many students need the arts to reach their full potential. Jenny Brunsell brings the heart of an angel to her kids and they always respond. Such educators realize that while there is an element of science in teaching it is in the execution of its art that the true miracles happen. They do not rely on scripts or preplanned lessons or the latest fads, but instead select what is needed in a specific time and place. This is the trend that we need to follow. Until our children feel the joy of learning all of our efforts will have been in vain. We reach them first through the heart and then the mind follows.

Summer Reading

LordOfTheFliesBookCoverMany students will be receiving summer reading assignments in the coming weeks. The ingenuity of their teachers will play a large role in determining whether this is a pleasant experience for them or not. Sadly it too often becomes a dreaded task that young people avoid until the last possible moment instead of being a source of pleasure. In our quest for accountability those of us who are teachers all too often concentrate more on how to ascertain if our pupils have actually learned certain things from the experience and less on how much they enjoyed it.

Kylene Beers is a well known reading specialist who strongly believes that children should have much more say regarding what they will read in their leisure time than most teachers are willing to grant them. She insists that our students should have many book choices and that they be the ones to ultimately decide which ones to tackle. She also cautions teachers from creating assignments and tests that erase the satisfaction that should come from digesting a truly interesting novel or nonfiction text. She notes that much of the joy of reading is extinguished each summer by well meaning teachers who lack the trust that their students will actually choose worthy volumes and then critically read them.

Dr. Beers suggests that teachers provide students with a long list of acceptable titles and then allow them to pick the ones that are most appealing. She feels that proof of reading should be checked in creative ways of the students’ own design. Otherwise, she points out, it becomes an odious task and the act of reading is associated with very negative feelings.

I find myself agreeing somewhat with Dr. Beers. I had to read several books each summer. Some of them were quite delightful and I am happy to this very day that I discovered them. I read others grudgingly and shutter even now at the thought of how uninterested in them I was. While Kon Tiki was a bestseller and a great adventure for some, for me it was a nightmare. I had a difficult time remembering what had happened from one paragraph to another. I simply had no desire to read such books back then. I eventually became enthralled with Into Thin Air and other similar titles but being exposed to such nonfiction in my youth did little to change my attitude. Thankfully there were enough titles on my teacher’s list that I mostly enjoyed my summer reading.

Today the favored tactic is to assign a single book to the entire class. Usually it is a classic with appeal to most students. I often wonder, however, how terrible it must be for someone who just can’t get into the story. We’ve all had that problem with one book or another. We aren’t the same and sometimes a story simply doesn’t speak to us. Maybe we need to be sure that students have a number of titles from which to choose rather than assuming that we have found one that will be acceptable to all.

One summer my grandson had a reading requirement for an American History class. There were four or five titles from which to choose. He enjoyed the first one that he read so much that he later tackled some of the others. When he had the freedom to decide his interest was piqued more than ever. Because I wanted to be able to discuss the books with him I bought copies of all of them. Like him when I discovered how great his first choice was I realized that his teacher had excellent taste and that I would probably like the others as well, which I did.

How to assess the students on reading assignments is another issue. Dr. Beers believes that many teachers find books that their student like, but then kill the appreciation with tests that ask questions about minute details that few of us would recall. Instead she recommends that the teacher should attempt to determine the student’s reactions to themes and characters. She suggests that asking students to discuss their feelings about the book is far more beneficial than having them tell what color a certain character was wearing at a particular juncture. She wants students to create questions that they may have and to list aspects that they had difficulty understanding. Just as members of a book club get together to critique a selection, so too should students be able to comment rather than being tied to an assessment that destroys their exuberance. The summer reading experience should never be a “gottcha” moment.

I am not naive enough to think that none of the students will take advantage of a teacher’s largesse if such changes are made, but there are ways to determine how much a student derived from reading without making it a laborious task. First, everyone should have a choice of titles. Assignments should be variable as well. Students can use their creativity to demonstrate what they learned. For some an essay will suffice. For others the creation of some type of object representing what they lessons they drew may be preferable. I suspect that allowing students to demonstrate their appreciation in various modes and then present their ideas to the rest of the class will result in far more interest. 

Think of how you usually decide to read a particular book. Quite often you see someone you know engaged in it. You ask him/her about it. Something about the response intrigues you. You find a copy and become enthralled. The next time you see your acquaintance you mention the text. The two of you begin a lively discussion. You share ideas. It is a pleasurable experience. Nobody is forcing you to do this. Reading becomes something that makes you happy and so you read even more.

I love the idea of having students spend time reading during their summer vacation. I like that they are often introduced to new authors and topics that they might not have otherwise discovered, but I also believe like Kylene Beers that they should have some freedom in deciding what sounds interesting enough to pursue. When the assessment is creative enough to keep that spark of enjoyment growing the experience is pleasurable and remembered forever.

I still tell people to try Things Fall Apart, The Kite Runner, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, A Separate Peace, The Lord of the Flies and so many other titles because they touched my heart. I will talk about them with anyone willing to listen, not because I had to read them, but because I wanted to. Reading should be a joyful experience. Let’s keep that in mind when we ask our children to spend some of their summer inside the pages of a book.   


Facing Our Failures

Failure.jpgThere is a trite little platitude that goes something like this, “Failure is not an option.” In reality it is a very human trait to fail at something even after exerting great effort to succeed. We all find ourselves in the midst of a fiasco now and again. It is part of who we are as people. We may fail a class even though we thought we were prepared. A relationship may sour in spite of our efforts to save it. We find ourselves being fired from a job or unable to successfully complete an important project. We wreck our car in the split second of a careless moment. We say and do exactly the wrong thing in a situation with our children. We fudge on a diet or exercise program. We inevitably make mistakes in the course of living our lives.

Perhaps instead of suggesting that there is something innately wrong in failing, we should instead concentrate on how we will behave once the genie is out of the bottle, the milk is spilled, the horse is out of the barn. Our character is often defined more by how we react to failure than how we reach success. It really doesn’t matter how many times it may have taken us to achieve a goal as much as how resolved and persistent we have been in getting there. Our willingness to keep trying often determines the trajectory of our lives. Those who adapt optimistically to their circumstances are likely to ultimately overcome even the most challenging situations. In addition, we need to teach ourselves and others how to identify toxic situations and to recognize when to walk away from them.

I know a man who literally spent almost a decade attempting to earn a college degree. He had to work to pay his tuition and the coursework was sometimes quite difficult for him. He would joke that he was going to be the oldest graduate ever. Nonetheless, he kept his eye on the prize, never giving up, even when it seemed hopeless. The day came when he held his diploma in his hand. Ultimately it was his unstoppable tenacity that earned him a great job and his willingness to keep trying against all odds has become his hallmark. He has risen to the top of his profession, admired by peers and bosses alike as someone with a dogged willingness to get the job done. He is the go to man when the situation gets tough. Everyone knows that he will not take no for an answer.

Beethoven composed symphonies even after becoming deaf. Thomas Edison had to create hundreds of prototypes before finally finding a lightbulb that would work. Albert Einstein was thought to be a slow learner at school. Abraham Lincoln was initially seen as someone incapable of achieving much of merit. Walt Disney was told that he had no creative instincts. The list of so called failures who eventually became famous for their contributions to the world is long because the reality is that we all hit walls from time to time.

Too often we dwell on the things that we have done wrong rather than just picking ourselves up, deciding how to improve and then moving on. When we become captive to the negativity associated with failure we give up, run away. We assume that there is no reason to keep banging our heads against walls. We end up with regrets. We think of our might have beens. The go getters, instead, dust themselves off and get back in the saddle. They learn from each unsuccessful iteration and apply their new found knowledge to improving their lots. They remain unafraid to take risks.

I sometimes wonder if our society creates individuals who give in to failure because of the ways that we speak of it and react to it. In schools there is linear progression of learning with tests along to the way provide evidence of accumulated knowledge. Students mostly move in lock step from one skill to the next. For those who may take a bit longer to master concepts the process becomes a series of failures that all too often result in a feeling of hopelessness. I all too often heard the refrain, “I’m just not good in math.” The truth was that everyone of those who uttered such remarks was more than capable of becoming adept with numbers. They just took longer to grasp the ideas. With a bit of effort and encouragement they were eventually able to achieve a high level of comfort with very complex algorithms. They felt a sense of accomplishment that in turn lead to a greater willingness to explore even more difficult ideas.

When I was in middle school a gym teacher told me that I was the clumsiest, least athletic person that she had ever met. She ridiculed all of my efforts to please her. As a result I mostly traveled through life thinking of myself as a total klutz, unable to even catch a ball. It was not until I met a professor in college that my attitude changed. He convinced me that I too could be skilled if shown the proper techniques. He insisted that my old teacher had been remiss in expecting me to possess natural born abilities in sports. He taught me the fundamentals and my world as well as my attitude was transformed.

We certainly value the child who is capable of taking the school team to the championship. We send our finest debaters to the competition. Still we must be willing to provide opportunities to shine for those who are not as gifted. It is up to us to model behaviors that will teach them that improving is just as important as winning the prize. We have to let them know that they will ultimately find their pathways by participating in many different experiences.

I am particularly taken with the attitudes of my twin grandsons. They are incredible athletes but they do not measure success by the number of medals or trophies that they earn. Instead they focus on being their personal best. Their goals always involve moving just a bit closer to a better individual record. If doing so happens to give them a championship it is wonderful. If it only demonstrates that they are getting closer to their goals they are just as happy. They have already developed a way of thinking that is going to take them far. Would that we might be able to do the same for everyone.

Failure never feels good. It is a downer that we don’t want to experience but it sometimes happens. If we can analyze our situation and make improvements our mistakes will not have been for naught. We are all on a journey. How well we do depends on our ability to adapt and become stronger. That requires a positive willingness to keeping trying to find our way. If we keep the faith it will happen. Perhaps our new mantra should be, “Giving in to failure is not an option.” We would be wise to teach that to our children as well.


Science or Art?

yam.jpgWhen my grandson runs the 1600 meter race only time determines the winner. It is a feat that is as objective as any measure might possibly be. Unless there is a photo finish or one of the time keepers doesn’t do his/her job properly there is no doubt about the victor. When another grandson performs in a one act play and a panel of judges decide who the best actors were and which troupe gave the finest overall impression, the yardstick is far more subjective. Hundreds of people seeing exactly the same thing will rate it differently depending on the background that they bring to the theater. There will be questions as to the authenticity and fairness of the evaluations, thus leaving the final votes open for criticism. Most of life is more like the later, subject to preferences rather than a set of hard and fast rules.

Each year when the Oscars are awarded I find myself scratching my head in dismay. I truly wonder how it is possible that Casey Affleck won the best acting prize when Denzel Washington was in the same category. I rail at the television and ask no one in particular if he/she was blind. Of course all such determinations are just a matter of opinion rather than fact. So it is with evaluating a teacher, a student or a school.

There are certain guidelines that are universal aspects of a well run classroom but we have not yet even agreed on whether teaching is an art or a science. There are those who maintain that if an individual understands and uses certain best practices, the results will be quite grand. Such beliefs rely on the idea that there is truly a science that leads to being an effective teacher, and there is something to be said for knowledge of pedagogy. Still, after spending decades inside classrooms both as a teacher and an administrator I have learned that there is something quite artistic about the process that elevates an educator to a magical level. Two people using the exact same methods often achieve very different results that can only be explained by noting that one is unimaginative while the other is an artist.

We attempt to measure educational success with numbers found in the scores of students on standardized exams. Of course we intuitively know that hundreds of factors affect the final outcomes of such attempts to quantify the teaching process. The list is so huge that it would be impossible to name all of the possibilities but a few examples might be the health of each student, the amount of rest each has had, the home environment, the presence of testing fears, hunger and so forth. None of these things can be totally controlled by the teacher and when a preponderance of them are affecting the child negatively the test score may be less than stellar. Somehow our society ignores such things in judging the value of our educational system. The numbers are king and yet they only tell a small part of the story and because of this they have a negative impact on everyone in the classroom.

Our present system of testing students at virtually every turn has created a totally unnecessary level of stress. We decide the futures of our children and their teachers even as we understand that those exam scores do not tell the whole story. Study after study has shown that most standardized tests favor middle class white males. For whatever reason all other groups do not do as well. It would be a stretch to assume that this is because the middle class white males are more intelligent. In fact, they are not, but they respond to the questions and answers differently because of their life experiences. The test items that are supposed to be neutral are far from that. They are often subject to interpretations that result in responses deemed to be incorrect. When students are given the opportunity to explain their reasons for selecting certain answers, interesting trends appear, including the fact that the questions are often more subjective than the creators imagined they would be. Given the importance that test scores are given in today’s world, it is quite distressing to realize that the element of subjectivity is often present.

As we learn these things it seems logical that we would begin to admit that our efforts to judge our students by the numbers is still rather ineffective, but in truth we appear to be relying on such evaluative measures even more than ever. The three ring circus created by this situation is disturbing to everyone involved including students, teachers and parents and yet it continues unabated. I suspect it has to do with our human tendency to desire easy answers for complex problems. Once we suggest a solution it is often impossible to rid ourselves of it even when it is obviously a mistake. Other than the realization that Prohibition was a stupid idea, we rarely turn back once we have chosen to pursue a certain path. Sadly I think that we will remain hell bent on using tests to quantify progress until we finally realize the magnitude of the damage that is being done to our educational processes.

The acquisition of knowledge should be an adventure and there are certainly gifted teachers who manage to achieve that even with the specter of testing hovering over their heads. Unfortunately far too many educators struggle under the pressure to perform. They are more like drones laboring away in a massive hive of routine. They use the prescribed methods but don’t quite know how to elevate them beyond the ordinary. They may even reach very satisfactory results but the love of learning is missing and their students feel the loss.

We have turned education into a political football. How we design curriculum and provide resources tends to depend more on which ideology is victorious in elections rather than a reasoned appraisal of student needs. If we test children it should not be to determine how rewards and punishments should be meted out but rather what educational designs are needed for each individual situation. Testing should be a positive experience rather than one that strikes fear and loathing into everyone concerned. It should be much like a physical exam at a doctor’s office, providing information on the educational health of each child and then determining what measures are needed to insure growth. We need to halt the practice of using exams as evaluative clubs to beat our children and teachers down.

I return to this topic again and again because it is so important. As citizens we have the power to demand that something be done to change the present system into one that generates a positive experience rather than a negative one. We have to admit that the way we evaluate is all too often flawed. There is a better way to determine how well our students are doing and what the results mean. If we return to the original intent of such tests we will do everyone a service. They were never meant to grade schools or teachers but rather to determine how much progress a student has made from one school year to the next and then to devise a learning plan that best suits each individual. If we manage to do this, we won’t need vouchers or children moving from one school to another. We will finally begin to do the work of educating as it should be done. We will finally enhance classrooms with both science and art.