Posted by: speakoutservices | August 17, 2011

Back to Boring Old School: Remembering When School was Fun

I wish I still had it, but I can see it in my mind’s eye.  It was a special candle that looked like an ice cream float, and I made it myself in the 6th grade.  I poured the colored wax in a glass mug, whipped some white wax for the foam, and rolled a little red ball in my palms for the cherry on top.  It looked really cool, and it was only one of several candles we made during an entire week of candle-making  in art class. 

My elementary days also included many science fairs, flower shows, and week-long trips to a historic farm.  Teachers had the time, energy, and freedom to be creative.  I had one very innovative fourth grade teacher who gave us all pretend checkbooks with a monetary balance.  If we had good behavior, she would fill out a deposit ticket and our coffers would increase, and likewise if we messed up, we had to write checks and lower our balance.  We did this for many months learning an important life skill while collecting a hefty sum for the auction she had at the end of the year.  She brought in a variety of toys, some more valuable than others, and the good stuff went to the highest bidder.

Such were the good old days when school was actually fun.

Substitute teaching and raising two children has confirmed the sad reality of the educational world of today in Ohio (and probably other states too) – school is boring.  When I show up in a classroom of 6-year-olds, I am given stacks and stacks of papers for them to fill out all day long.  Granted, they may be trying to make it “easy” for the sub (since when is asking little kids to sit all day really easier?), but this pattern repeats itself over and over, and I hear it in the words of my own children:

“What did you do in school today?”

“Filled out a bunch of stupid papers.”

So what has happened that has drained the life out of education so much that my kids (who get good grades) are dreading everyday that gets closer to the prison they know as school?  While I think there are many factors, with the poor economy being a big one, I place most of the problem on proficiency testing.  The concept of “no child left behind” is a good one, because we do not want any child going without a solid foundation of education.  But by choosing to implement this by teaching to a test, giving endless rounds of practice tests, and stressing kids and teachers out by pushing for high results, the fun in school has gone down the toilet.

And if school is a drag for kids who have healthy families, can you imagine the negative impact for the children who are suffering from situational stress or trauma?  They are already developmentally and academically behind the other children through no fault of their own, and now they have the added pressure of testing which serves as another reminder that they do not measure up.  This is another blow to their fragile self-worth that they do not need.

So how do we stop this testing which most teachers admit to me that they hate during our lunch room conversations?  Teachers are afraid of losing their jobs, so they won’t speak up.  Administrators are afraid of losing tax levies, so they won’t speak up.  So it appears that change has to come from the bottom up, and that parents must begin to do the speaking on behalf of their children.

I took such action last spring when I was probably the only parent at the middle school who refused to allow my daughter to take the tests due to the extreme stress (crying and sleepless nights) it was causing her.  I did my research and found out that I had every right to refuse this testing.  I was getting calls from the Curriculum Director at 10 pm trying to convince me to test my daughter or else she would get a zero on the test and it might ruin the schools “numbers”.

I told her that, in my opinion, school was already ruined.  I was trying to save it.

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