Yesterday my aunt brought me this precious photo of my mom’s high school class. (She hasn’t been hiding it for years; it was given to her just this week by a friend.) I’ve posted it on my Caddo blog, as well as FB in an effort to identify as many people as possible. I know the names of the people who went on to graduate without mom, but I’d love to match them with their faces.
My mom didn’t graduate with her class, never went back to school after she and Dad moved to California to make a new life together. I always got the impression that while she was somewhat apologetic about not having that piece of paper, the eleventh grade was more than enough schooling for her. She never really liked school that much. An odd statement about someone who lived the rest of her life supporting and encouraging everyone and everything remotely associated with education.
Mom also spent her life reading and writing and helping others to read and write. She loved to do research and write informative articles that helped and encouraged others. She was smart enough to help local college students edit their term papers. So why was she unwilling to complete her own education?
I think the standard method of education was the antithesis of what Mom needed as a young woman. The formality, the timing, the testing, the expectations, even the group setting was not suited to her personality or nature. She didn’t mention it often, but she disliked doing anything under the pressure of a deadline. She didn’t perform well on tests. And she often wandered away from a required topic in order to explore something more interesting. When I think back to the conversations we had about my own education I realize that I often suffered from the same problems, but her understanding helped me find the determination to continue.
As a teacher I have always been troubled by our notion that education can be a “one size fits all” solution to our nation’s social and economic problems. And while I favor the new shift toward national standards and expectations, so that our transient population can expect a more comparable education in any and every state, I am against demanding that every child complete the same requirements in the same time frame with the same results. That isn’t equitable, fair, or even rational. Children aren’t blueberries!
I love the analogy of the manufacturer who makes the world’s best blueberry muffins. The reason they taste so great is because he uses an old family recipe and only the best blueberries from each year’s crop.
Well, not only do we have to educate ALL of our little blueberries, even the ones who would be left at home in other cultures, but we try to use the same methods for all of them. Then we wonder why some drop out or fail!
Like my mom, many students know what they know, but they don’t perform well on tests. They don’t answer quickly enough for timed tests. They don’t remember information in isolated bits and pieces. They don’t know enough about the computer to perform well during online tests (which are quickly becoming mandatory). They don’t like the competition of group testing.
There are many students who don’t want to write poetry or solve algebraic equations and couldn’t care less about the War of 1812, but excel in areas that are being cut out of education: art, music, agriculture, industrial arts.
Someday we have to get back to training students for what they want to do in life. We have to support what they do best. We have to celebrate whatever talents they possess. We have to encourage them to be the best they can be, even if that best isn’t a college-bound student. There are lots of successful people in society who don’t have a diploma hanging on their wall. There are LOTS of unsuccessful people in society who DO have a diploma hanging on their wall. We have to stop being afraid to acknowledge that! We have to develop more and more diverse opportunities in education, and in the earlier grades- not continue to narrow our focus back down to reading, writing, and mathematics.
I teach what I’m required by the state and district to teach and I do my best to make sure that each of my students understands as much of our curriculum as possible before I send them on to the first grade. But I know in my heart that some of my little ones are already falling behind their classmates. I know they will have a sense of failure by the time they complete their state tests in the third grade. I know that some of their strengths and abilities will only be discovered outside the classroom…if they are lucky. I pray that like my mom, they find a path in life that allows them to achieve their goals and give joy to others.