I heard a report the other day that gave me hope for the future of education. Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is recommending that colleges put more emphasis on community service rather than personal achievement. This is significant because among the recommendations it calls for a reduction of AP courses and making some SAT scores optional. Optional testing? This is an amazing development!
I've spent most of my homeschooling years expressing my concern over the workload students face from grammar school through their high school years. I lamented how we only saw neighborhood children for one or two weeks every year, in that nebulous space between the end of school and the start of summer camps. It seems as if children are subjected to nine to five jobs before they know their alphabet and numbers.
The same day I heard the report above, I read another article about how kindergarten has become the new first grade. This is not a surprise to me. I still remember being shocked fifteen years ago when a mother complained to me about her daughter having an hour's worth of homework in kindergarten. I see parents at the children's library who take out piles of leveled readers to prepare their children for first grade. What happened to reading for fun? What happened to reading together? Play is the work of the child. They learn through all of their senses. They need to move and explore as much as they need to sit and think. No one seems to have the time for such frivolous activities. Because of No Child Left Behind and Common Core standards, everyone is busy preparing for the tests.
I raised my kids with the understanding that the tests were done to figure out where there were academic weaknesses, but even I have started teaching to the test. I get nervous about unschooling my youngest and afraid that if she doesn't do well on the tests, I will be told to put her into school. The fear has increased since I started working part-time. So I train her, especially with math. And I end up feeling like I'm a fake because I try so hard to please the schools.
In a perfect world, tests should only be used to measure academic progress, but I wonder if that is a ridiculous concept as well. My oldest could rattle off the names of the first twenty five presidents when she was nine. But it is not vital information for her in her chosen college path, so she has long since forgotten the order. Instead, she's learned how to research, so if she has a sudden desire to know how Zachary Taylor died (recent conversation), the information is as close as a Google search. Don't knock the internet. If you learn how to use it properly and check sources, a world of knowledge is at your fingertips. Which led my daughter and I to come to this conclusion: Tests should test students' ability to look things up and find the information they are looking for, either in books or on the computer. Students should learn to discern fact from opinion and from fiction and draw their own conclusions.