My daughter Laura skipped four days of school this week. So did Noah. They were accompanied by dozens of other kids from all over the globe who met in Boise, Idaho to participate in the Special Olympics World Games Global Youth Summit. I know that Laura and Noah are grateful to their teachers for supporting them on this one. Laura did her homework on the plane, and Noah shared his accomplishments with his classmates upon his return to school on Friday. In the end, I wish their teachers could have come along with us. I wish that their students could have too. I wish that all schools integrated this kind of learning into EVERY student’s schooling experience. If they did, I’m thinking that all kids would be less eager to skip as often as they do.
It’s time that we all stop using standards and testing as an excuse for poor schooling. I’m sorry, but if we’re all going to wait around for these things to disappear before we start investing ourselves in what we’ve been called to do, it’s never going to happen. And while I tend to be very patient when people tell me that the tests are ruining schools, I guess I’m running on empty at this point. I’m no fan of testing, but I’m no fool either. It’s not the tests that are ruining schools. It’s the adults who are running them.
Last week, I watched a handful of KIDS lead over one hundred other kids–many of them with intellectual disabilities—through five solid days of rigorous academic work. They met in sessions to learn about policy, confront social issues, create responses, and advocate for change. They read. They wrote. They listened. They spoke. They created things that mattered. And more importantly, they took action, and they were heard. My kid and every other kid she hung out with last week sat in sessions from sunrise to long after sunset working their tails off, and in the end, their parents had to drag them onto planes to bring them home.
Laura may have skipped school last week, but she learned more than she ever bargained for. And so did I.
I’m thinking that if a group of hardworking college kids can inspire this kind of self-motivated learning all on their own, skilled teachers can too. I’m also thinking that this group of kids were up against some larger constraints than their misperceptions about what it means to prepare kids to meet standards and perform well on tests. They accomplished a ton, and what they accomplished served them better as learners than anything many schools seem to be serving up lately. It was humbling. It was also very frustrating.
Why can’t our school experiences look like this?
Why can’t classwork look like this?
Why can’t teaching look like this?
And why aren’t more parents asking these questions and demanding more than better scores and nice teachers from their schools?
I’ve heard plentyof excuses, but in the end, if each of us were stranded on an island with a class of one hundred kids and nothing in the way of resources, I’ve gotta believe we could still do a good job of making meaningful learning happen. So the fact that most of us are provided plenty more than that and accomplish less than what we should makes it hard for me to put the blame on NCLB, class sizes, limited funding, bigbad administrators, or unsupportive parents.
I say this as a teacher who has confronted all of those things. I say it as a professional development provider who is heartbroken by the fact that many good teachers hide their expertise for fear of being judged or ridiculed by their peers. I say it as a parent who has learned that “being supportive” typically means that I am expected to nod, smile, and never question….anything.
It’s time we all stopped pointing fingers and started pitching in. And it’s time for those who call for change and added support to accept the help that is offered. Last week, I watched what can happen when everyone who is eager to work is invited to the table. I get to work with eager teachers and parents every day. We all need to make room for them. We all need to invite them to the table. We all need to get out of our own way.