Thursday, August 27, 2015

REPOST FROM DIANE RAVITCH'S BLOG:  Testing in Kindergarten: Too Much, Too Soon

As you read this kindergarten teacher's description of administering a "vocabulary test" to these 5-year-olds, you will cheer the children for their spontaneity, laugh at loud at some of their blurted comments, AND cringe at the tears this exercise evokes.  You will applaud the good sense of the teacher, her unwavering focus on the children and their well-being, and her extraordinary courage in speaking to her state's officials about the harm these tests are doing to children and their development.  And, once again, you will sigh or grow angry or want someone to investigate who chose these tests, who is making money on them, and whether they have ever known (or been!) a five-year-old.

What I was struck by in reading about these children is the lack of reverence for the child.  When we first hold a new baby, we are awed by the mystery of this little person -- someone new in our universe --  a being we have not known and could not have previously imagined.  How is it that a mere five years later, a child is a data point, a "classroom management" problem, a circler of frowny faces?  What would our schools be like, our decisions about those schools be like, if we took a deep breath and marveled at all that has happened in just five years since someone first held this child?  How did she develop a sense of humor so quickly? When did he learn to ask such goofy -- and insightful -- questions?  How did they learn to be a friend?  They just got here!

A reverence for the child would extend to a sense of the classroom as a sacred space where each child's mind encounters the wonders of the larger world, curiosity and respect among the other children, and a deep sense of being protected.  Of being safe.  Albert Schweitzer's slim book, The Teaching of the Reverence for Life, now long out of print, isn't just a philosophical treatise intellectually removed from the practical.  It provides a grounding for the practical, for every-day interactions in the physical and social world.

The real "test" of our vocabulary may be whether we risk using words like reverence when we make decisions about the children.  It jars the presumed inevitabilities of technicist assessments of children and intercepts the accepted wisdom of what absolutely must be measured lest the known (educational) world fall apart.    Under that current system, many children's lives are in danger of falling apart. What would it mean if, like this kindergarten teacher, we stood in awe of the children and then took from them our courage to speak on their behalf.

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