We used to laugh at students in many Asian school systems who attended their public schools during the day only to enroll in tutoring schools in the evening to cram for the high stakes tests the results on which in many countries determine a young person’s educational and economic future. American students were allowed to be children, with time for recreational activities, friends and families. There was a balance in their lives between school and home. Without challenging the endurance of our children, without tying their self-worth exclusively to their academic prowess but with a much more determined effort to develop their ties to their communities and nation and with a very conscious effort to provide they with opportunities to find out who they were, the United States managed to maintain the world’s premier economy with a highly productive workforce. We knew that “the child is father of the man” and acted accordingly, trying to cultivate the development good people, good citizens and a good society.
Now we don’t laugh at the drone children of our Asian competitors. We emulate them. More and more we teach to high stakes tests, increasingly blurring the distinction between education and training in the process. Our communities are awash in after-school tutoring services that promise higher grades on everything from basic reading comprehension to the Graduate Record Exams. There are three such places just in the office building in which our union office is located. Our public schools are increasingly urged by ever more anxious parents to provide before and after school extra help to our youngest elementary students to ensure that they have every competitive edge they can get in the race to nowhere. At a recent meeting of our board of education, parents implored the board to provide Saturday and or evening high school math classes in trigonometry for fear that their children might miss a question or two on the ACT examination.
The United States will be no safer if our children do are doing school work during most of their waking hours. Kids fighting with their parents over homework that parents only half understand will not ensure the economic supremacy of the nation. Suppressing what we have learned about the psycho-social development of children will surely not produce happier, better adjusted children with a strong sense of responsibility to others. We can’t test, tutor or academically bludgeon our way to a better, more equal, more wholesome society. We can educate ourselves to a better place, if we choose to.
More and more people are choosing to do so. The rapidly growing opt-out movement is effectively challenging the use of high stakes tests. In more and more communities parents are questioning why their children are doing homework to the exclusion of a real home-life. I meet more and more parents who tell their children, “That’s enough homework for one day.” We need to demand that teaching be done in such a way as to devote the time necessary to meet students’ needs rather that slavishly following test driven pacing charts. Kids shouldn’t need extra help because teachers are forced to move on even though they know that their students haven’t mastered their lesson. We need to remind ourselves that really good schools are about the education of human beings, not the training of economic units. We need to understand that the cost of what we are doing today will be far greater than the reformers would lead us to believe.