A while ago, there was a video of Matt Damon defending teachers. One thing that slipped under the radar in all of the commentary was this bit:
Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that….
I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.
Which brings me to this Salon article about school dropouts and boredom:
Whatever the cause, bored students take notice and are not showing up to class — especially poor kids of color. A February 2011 report by Youth United for Change found that boredom was one of the greatest factors driving students in Philadelphia to drop out — just 63 percent of students graduate within six years. The students who conducted the survey use the term “pushed out” to highlight the forces driving young people out the door.
“It’s so much time put into the testing, and it gets boring,” says Romeo Rodriguez, a 21-year-old who left a number of Philadelphia schools and a study author. “To sit there and read constantly, the same questions that they ask every year.” Young people interviewed for the survey said there was too much test prep and too few extracurricular activities, arts and vocational training….
“The research is not clear,” writes Ravitch, “but a great deal of anecdotal evidence suggests that affluent districts are preserving a balanced curriculum, while poor and minority students are likely to have larger classes and a bare-bones curriculum.”
…Bob Peterson, a 30-year veteran teacher from Milwaukee, argues that poor kids are most in need of a well-rounded education.
“Those are the kids that most need a robust education because their parents don’t have the money to fund those things after school and in the summer,” says Peterson, a longtime activist who recently took office as president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association…
A 2010 study by the National Art Education Foundation found some improvements in arts curriculum development since 2002. But art teachers had an overwhelmingly negative attitude toward No Child Left Behind. They reported decreased staffing and funding, higher teaching loads, and students being pulled out of class for remedial work and test prep. A June 2011 study from the Center for Arts Education found that New York City lost 135 art teachers since the 2006-07 school year, and that about 23 percent of city schools have no licensed art teacher at all.
It’s not standardized testing alone that’s causing this neglect of the arts and humanities–you know, the stuff that makes us human–but it’s a huge contributor. And this attitude doesn’t help either:
“The bigger pressure, I think, is making sure that kids are ready to graduate high school and have the possibility to go on to college,” writes Kelly Centolella, a 7th grade math and science teacher at a Los Angeles charter school and Teach for America alumnus. “If the decision is between a seventh grader taking an extra math class to make him or her ready for algebra or taking an art elective, I would be hard-pressed to not pick the extra math class.”
What that fails to understand is that many kids really like the electives–that’s the stuff which makes them excited to go to school. And any time an educator views art as optional, then we have failed. Of course, science and math are vital, but so are the humanities.
We are educating citizens, not drones capable of navigating a meritocracy.
Or maybe not.