Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Learning versus testing

Yesterday, a fellow homeschooler and very close friend came over with her kids for a playdate.  She brought with her a test prep book as her 3rd grader is required by state law to take a standardized test this year (for the first time).  She was a little stressed thinking about whether they have covered everything that will be on the test.  This prompted a discussion about what we hope our children will learn and who decides when a child needs to learn a specific date in history, topic in science, etc.  My kids love learning about the universe and may know quite a bit more on the subject than most of their peers and many much older children (honestly, they know more details about this than I do!).  However, they likely do not know as much about some other particular subject that someone somewhere may have decided should go on a test for kids their age.  What a blessing for my children to be able to learn what they are interested in when they are interested in it!  I love homeschooling and learning right along with my children.  Their enthusiasm inspires me as we seek to learn about what interests them right now.  I don't challenge the importance of reading and arithmetic.  These are the basics that open all the other doors.  However, once they have discovered how much those basics enable them to learn, why should we limit their opportunities to specific topics chosen by someone else?  While having a snack yesterday, my child said, "it sure is nice to know how to read!" and then read everything on the box of crackers (Annie's cheddar bunnies, which has quite a bit of information on the box).

I recently had a long discourse with my cousin about many concerns (environmental, social, medical, all those big issues brought up in presidential debates) and various political approaches to address such concerns (most of which we disagree on regarding implementation in spite of agreement on hopes for the future).  Here are a few of my comments from the email discussion about education:
I value education and freedom above all.  I trust that most individuals want to learn and will take responsibility when expected to.  On the subject of education/upbringing, what do you think most public schools currently succeed in teaching?  What do you think most important for your children to learn?  What makes people smart, curious, alert, observant, competent, confident, resourceful, persistent, compassionate, skillful, self-reliant, adaptive, inventive, intelligent, independent, polite, kind, patient, generous, forgiving, tolerant (able and willing, not just to stand people different from themselves, but to see the world through their eyes)?  Can a standardized test assess any of these?  What makes a leader? 
“Leaders are not what many people think – people with huge crowds following them.  Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether anyone is following them.  Leadership qualities are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them.  They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly.  This is the opposite of the charisma that we hear so much about.  Charismatic leaders make us think, “Oh, if only I could do that, be like that.”  True leaders make us think, “If they can do that, then by golly I can too.”  They do not make people into followers, but into new leaders.” – John Holt
I hope to inspire the above qualities with our homeschooling efforts.
I recently read an article that addresses learning versus testing from a public school teacher's perspective:

As a result of our discussion and sharing the above thoughts with my friend, she no longer feels as much anxiety over the upcoming standardized test.  I hope that this may help others to reconsider the focus of education as well.  Life is about so much more than what a test with a scantron sheet for answers can capture!

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