COMMENTARY: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” – Albert Einstein
The effort to kill curiosity in public schools is the problem in our educational system. Curiosity doesn’t survive the always-testing public schools. Our nation takes normally curious young people and uneducates them by focusing on testing, which is of no interest to students.
Worse, we spend incredible amounts of money on testing and administrators. We are spending money to have a problem. The teachers know that the system is corrupt and does not serve the students but can’t be heard over the administrators feathering their nests.
The new accountability numbers are out from the New Mexico Public Education Department and, like all years before, we in the public know nothing after seeing the numbers. To most people it is a list of monkey points that each school has earned with no understanding of what the numbers mean.
Schools go up and down on the scale, and it is the average of the school, so it doesn’t really tell us anything about individual teachers or classes. After looking at the numbers I know nothing about any school.
At the core is the notion that administrators can improve the education of students by making them spend most of their time learning how to juke the testing system. We see the administrators say that testing is only a couple of days a year, which is false.
Testing is every day and all day. It is the “be all and end all” of every data meeting that teachers must attend. Testing holds no interest to students. Day after day, hour after hour students are preparing to take tests that mean nothing to them about subjects in which they are not interested.
Teachers have a personal battle to try to keep something interesting in their classes while being pushed to only focus on tested material. Want to talk dinosaurs? Forget it; it is not on the test.
If America had an enemy that got control of our educational system they wouldn’t do anything different with American education, since the administrators have made the enterprise as bad as it can be.
What is maddening to thinking people is this thought exercise that I have suggested many times: Since there is the notion of testing the teachers by testing the entire school, let us swap all of the adults at the five highest-scoring elementary schools in Albuquerque with the five lowest-scoring elementary schools.
Two years later the five highest-scoring schools will still be the five highest-scoring schools and ditto for the five lowest-scoring schools. This is despite all new teachers, administrators, cooks, librarians, janitors and crossing guards. The adults lauded as the best become the worst by being moved to a different school. The whole testing mania is bogus.
Just as bad is the new push to get every student to go to college, starting in kindergarten. We need to give all students basic education and let them follow their dreams, not ours. Tell me this: When a smelly sludge comes back flowing out of your biffy, what are you going to do? Call a plumber or a philosopher? The learners need to be in practical education if that is what sings to them.
In junior high school I took six semesters with some practical education classes. One semester it was electrical wiring, one was woodworking, one was tools, one was metal work, one was welding, and one was automotive. The rest of my life I have been relatively handy because of those three years. And it didn’t change that I got a Ph.D.
Primarily we need to refocus education onto the students.
Students every year need these things:
- First, engage their curiosity.
- Next, give them literate and numerate tools to satisfy that curiosity.
- Third, they must enjoy the passage of time in school. It doesn’t have to be a carnival, but if they hate every moment, they will come away with little.
- Next, the education must be appropriate to their brain development.
- Finally, they must retain their dignity at all times.
School years in a testing-centric school environment are toxic for students. Let’s wake up and focus on the students.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.