Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Opposite of Excellence

It's not really news, and it has certainly been commented on a million times, but I don't think we can be reminded too many times. We've heard it, but it's a slippery well-greased pig of a fact, a detail so unbelievably stupid that it literally numbs the mind and slips away like a half-remembered dream. Unconsciously, our brain's filter says, "Well, that can't be right," and we go back to arguing about bigger picture details.

But at the root of everything-- the attempts to measure teacher effectiveness, the programs to regulate student advancement between grades, the declarations of college readiness, the shutting down of public schools because they aren't good enough-- is a simple definition.

Excellence is high scores on standardized tests of reading and math.

That's it. That is how the current corporation-serving high-stakes test-driven reformster status quo defines excellence for every single child in America (well, almost every child-- as always, children of the rich are exempt).

Think about that. Think. About. That.

If you are a teacher, think about every student you've ever taught that you would have called excellent. The outstanding musician who went on to a creative career entertaining and uplifting thousands. The gifted welder who was in such demand that he had his pick of cities to travel to. The student with such exceptional people skills you knew she would be an awesome doctor. The student who could jump higher and run faster than anybody, or the student who competed athletically on the state level. The student who was a genius at coding.

None of them can be called excellent-- unless they also score well on a standardized math and reading test.

If you are a person living in this world on this planet, think of everybody you know who you would call excellent. The single parent who manages to raise several healthy, happy, capable children while working hard to provide them with a stable life. The married parents who make an awesome team while creating a home for their children. The community volunteer whose donation of hours and time and sweat makes your corner of the world a better place. The local politicians or business leaders who set aside their own lives to work at making everybody's lives better. The doctor. The lawyer. The garage mechanic. The chef. The artist. The ambulance driver. The plumber. Hell, even the teacher.

A vast tapestry of people bringing varied, rich, awesome talents and accomplishments to make the world a better place to be. A great gallumphing mass of individuals who let us understand what it means to be fully human, to fully realize what we can best do with the precious moments given to us. to show the myriad ways in which we grasp our lives and create bright beautiful displays of who we are, what we are, what we can be, what we can settle on for our own purpose, even as we help other people realize their own unique vision for their own unique future.

And the best we can come up with for measuring everything great and excellent in human beings is some scores on a standardized reading and math test (and not even good tests, at that).

Reformsters like to talk about raising the bar and really creating high standards for our young people, because, you know, young people, you may have all sorts of dreams and aspirations and talents and hopes and strengths that you want to realize and express but, really, you know-- what you need to be thinking about is your standardized test scores.

Raising the bar, my ass.

What CCSS and its attendant clamoring kudzu of reforms really offers is a tiny, cramped vision of humanity. We should be taking our young people to the edge of the Grand Canyon and saying, "Your life is out there somewhere. Let's go explore." Instead, reformers hold out a suitcase and say, "Okay, get in here. Just curl up and make yourself as small as possible."

Human beings are huge. We contain multitudes. CCSS and its various slices of baloney are devoted to making students small, to measuring them with the tiniest of rulers.

Remember. When they talk about highly effective teachers and excellent schools and proficient students, all they are talking about is the scores on a standardized math and reading test. That's it. It would be a joke if it weren't twisting American public education out of shape. Because if life really is a multiple choice test, it's one with a gazillion answers, and every one of them could be correct. But reformsters want us to bubble in just one. And that is the opposite of excellence.

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