What part of you is standard?
What part of your mind is “standardized” and operates just like everyone else’s? Yes, I mean what part of your mind is like EVERYONE else’s? Not just the people in your family, at your school or office, your community, your socioeconomic group, your political culture… I am asking you to identify which part of your mind is like EVERYONE ELSE’S in your country? …Can you imagine even coming up with a single answer to that question?
What sense does it make to hold all people – all students – all children – to the same standard of understanding the world around them? While I know that my mind works in some pretty interesting ways, even if I take myself out of the equation here, I have taught hundreds of students and even though they come from the same city and predominantly from the same communities and the same generation and social culture, I can’t begin to tell you which TWO of them thought alike on even a majority of topics. My students did not have standard ideas, thoughts, solutions to problems, opinions, problems, cares, concerns… they were individuals.
I’m a terrible test taker. I always have been. I literally became bogged down in (and disheartened by) the definitive nature of a single answer existing to match a single question. My mind – a rather non-standardized mind for sure – can argue for or against answers A), B), C) and D). They can all be potentially right or potentially wrong. I see possibility, creative reasoning and connections to all potential answers to everything everywhere. My mind believes there’s ALWAYS a way. My mind is optimistic and theoretical.
This makes me a terrible standardized test taker but this is precisely what makes me an excellent teacher, philosopher, coach, mentor, entrepreneur, problem solver, artist, creator and optimist.
But on a standardized test – for me and for the majority of students – among that short list of answers listed as A), B), C) and D), there isn’t one clear answer. Instead, there is a sense of defeat, failure and ineptitude. This, in the end, creates a labeled student (she’s just a “slow learner;” “he’s a D student – why bother?” “she can’t focus, she has ADHD;” “Don’t give him a more challenging book to read, he is Dyslexic…) with a lowered sense of himself and his value in the world. All this because, somewhere, at some point in time, the founders and leaders of our education systems decided that a student could become a successful adult if he could accurately discern the answer to a set of “standardized” test questions without debate, question or second thought, filling in one bubble and moving onto the next question. What’s worse is that the dark ugly side of this method of assessing student achievement is used to determine which students are more likely to be successful adults. We take such data and use it to track student learning plans, assess and dictate a maximum potential for learning and even prevent a student from advancing at all.
In life, there is not one clear answer to the questions and problems we face. Those who can survive the challenges in life are those who can think “outside of the box” (I know, I’m sick of the phrase too – but it will still be part of our lexicon as long as we are still kept in and operate in the boxes we’ve created) and be creative and optimistic about the potential for a finding a positive answer to even the hardest problems. Yet we raise our children in this society by teaching them that they must know how to deduce all potential answers to just one best answer – the one best answer that everyone else is most likely to choose. But in real life there isn’t one best answer that fits everyone because everyone’s personality, circumstances, ethics and cultural perspectives are not the same. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs for our nation’s children, the adults they eventually become, the society they create and for the education system we must currently work within.
We need to teach students how to ask unconventional questions. We need them to think in new and unconventional ways. Are we doing ourselves a disservice by needing them to be skilled in new ways to solve the world’s problems but teaching them to think in conventional – and standardized ways? I think so.
Bottom line? I believe in an education system that does not ask a goldfish to climb a tree just because a monkey can.