Denis Ian is a retired school teacher from New York who has taught more than 4,000 students over his 34 year career. Since retirement he has become an educational advocate who writes about issues concerning educational reform in America, sharing a unique vision that has to be read to be believed.
By Denis Ian
This post was originally featured as a comment on Why School has Stopped Working. We loved it so much we asked Denis if we could publish it as an article. While Denis specifically mentions the American system, we feel it applies to similar systems in Europe and Australasia too.
We’re doing this all wrong.
Some day …. somehow … education will discover a proper obsession.
Until then … children will suffer these testing-despots … and too many adults will make believe it’s all okay. And it’s not.
But let’s be certain about this … there are some things in life that just can’t be measured … because they can’t even be defined. Love. Creativity. Curiosity. Courage. Passion. And those special forces that jolt the spirit and open the mind.
If you want a real thinker to blossom from childhood, don’t measure them at every turn … or condition them to shine on every command. Instead … help them indulge in their own natural curiosities … and they’ll measure themselves and shine for all of ever.
American education has become so disappointing … controlled by didactic gurus and self-imagined geniuses who share one important experience: they have no experience.
Most have never lived in any classroom for longer than a few moments. Short-stay aliens who parachute in … and then dash off … having seen enough, so they think, to deduce this or that … and to pen another bit ridiculousness … mostly for others who share the very same silliness.
Few have ever spent a morning on a kindergarten floor, or in a hot-hot circular discussion with lively seventh graders, or faced off against wing-spreading high schoolers who have suddenly come of age.
They know nothing of real-deal epiphanies … because they’ve never seen one. Or been a part of one. Or watched one unfold before their own eyes.
That’s what classroom teachers see. It’s what they help happen.
They don’t know … or care … about percentiles and modules and averages and statistics. For them, it’s all about kids and how to help ‘em grow.
But these experts make these testing mistakes again and again because … like love or courage or talent … the important things about education can never be measured so neatly … or so efficiently reduced to graphs or charts or tables.
And here’s why.
Education … real, real, real education … is all about people. And every learner, how ever old or young, lugs trunkfuls of variables to this pursuit of … of … of becoming.
Yeah ... becoming. That’s what education is all about … becoming.
But still they try to wow us … or alarm us … with their neat and tidy assessments of the state of “becoming” … with a barrage of numbers and endless inferences that they puzzled into something that doesn’t even look like “becoming” at all. Because it’s not. Not even close.
So … right from the start, they’ve misunderstood what they’re measuring … so why should we ever take them seriously?
Instead of pushing bubble-sheets in front of kids and asking them this or that … why don’t we ask them about the passions they don’t even know they have. And their talents they can’t even see Or the cleverness they take for granted. Or the gift they have for this or that.
And why don’t we just get out of their way most of the time? And stop bothering them so much. Maybe just nudge them now and again to … to become what’s inside those tiny bodies … and those gorgeous little minds.
Let them be
What the hell is so hard to understand? Stop bothering them so much. Let ‘em be.
We should give every child lots of stuff. Like chances to run and sing and dance. And fall down.
Chances to act their age … and we shouldn’t interfere with that. Or insist otherwise. Chances to sample things … and even walk away from certain things that just don’t do it for them.
Give ‘em chance to make choices … as much as possible … because life’s a stream of choices. Practice can’t hurt.
They need chances to work together … and to be left alone. Chances to drift into their own worlds … where they can imagine who they are … or might become.
They should have chances to feel safe … and to take risks. And to tell luscious-lovely lies … and fantabulous tales … that we should all take very seriously … because that works both ways.
We should let them speak marvelous nonsense … and not interrupt … because they’re just exercising their imaginations. So we should listen … and shut up … and give them the floor for a change..
And, of course, we should teach them to speak and to count and to scribble. And all of that will sprout … I promise … but never evenly enough to please those testing-tyrants … or the extra-serious beard-scratchers who just can’t leave childhood alone.
And you know what? This is what happens when the importance of teaching is cheapened … when professionals are shoved aside because some Ivy League fat-head has decided that teaching is a science … when it’s not. It’s more like conducting … or being in a play … or traveling in time. And most of all …. it’s about remembering. And becoming.
This is what happens when some of us grow too old and become too forgetting of those teachers who swerved our lives … and helped us wriggle out of our cocoons.
Those fuzzy memory-people who polished some talent no one else saw. Or who just whispered us a perfect kindness at the perfect moment …when it was so badly needed. Or who just loved watching us … become someone we never ever imagined we might be. Someone like me.
You get the point? We’re obsessed about the wrong stuff.
We’re doing this all wrong.
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Denis is a retired public school teacher with 34 years of experience teaching social studies and English. He is now an educational advocate who writes nationally about issues concerning educational reform in the United States and around the world. He lives in Westchester County, New York.