Friday, May 15, 2015

Is That It

This has been a week.

These are all things that have happened this week.

Monday night was the end-of-the-year choir concert. The director recognized several students who had choreographed some numbers, including one who had choreographed and taught the dances to middle school students. Each senior had a solo part somewhere in the program (even those who didn't particularly want one.)

Early in the week, one of our students was pulled out of school by her father. He had to come get her to tell her at her mother had died in a car accident. Her mother was a graduate of this high school. She was thirty-three. Within the same twenty-four hours, the twenty-nine year old father of students in my wife's classroom was also killed.

This was a big week for my yearbook staff. Wednesday was our annual end-of-year picnic. At that picnic I recognize seniors, one at a time, give them a keepsake to commemorate their years on staff, and explain why that keepsake especially fits them. It's emotional for me; they come to me as raw, graceless sophomores and I get to watch them grow into responsible, reliable leaders who can spot a problem and deal with it as part of a larger team. Then the seniors announce their successors in leadership roles and pass on some token of office (some of these have been passed along for years). Then today we passed out the new books to the student body, and a year's worth of photography, layout, design, a thousand thousand careful decisions finally unveiled to their audience, to sit on shelves and eventually be read and pored over by people who aren't even born yet.

The yearbook distribution was at a school event (Homecoming-- a reverse Homecoming) at which each class fields a team for intra-class competition. Throughout the week we have voted on a Homecoming King, selected by money placed in jars, that money going (by student council's choice) to benefit a student here who is about to start treatment for his third battle with cancer.

Every night this week I've been at school for rehearsals and performances of a local dance studio (I'm the Stage Crew Guy at my school). The dance studio owner is also a former student and now long-time friend who plays piano for theater productions and the traditional jazz band I play in. This is a small town. Again, I find myself watching students act as accomplished performers, dancers and choreographers who know how to command a stage. In the meantime, my stage crew guys (freshmen and eighth graders) are mastering choosing lighting that complements the dance while matching it to music and mood, fitting color and timing to the performance on stage. I'm proud of everybody here.

If you do the dance circuit, you know the drill. Little cute girls. Older accomplished girls. Girls in the too-big-to-be-cute, too-young-to-be-very-graceful stage. All wrapped together in a show that lasts for hours.

But there is one number. A girl is discovered open stage, alone. Others run by, some together, some in groups, then suddenly all stop together, sink as of pushed down by the some crushing force, spring up, and dance together. In one moment they are united in movement, the next they fly apart. They spring up, they run, they run hard. And then a long line, turning into crack the whip-- a dancer flips off the line by herself and sinks back to the floor.

Maybe I'm a little raw this week, but it has gotten me every night.

All of this, these many moments and others like them, have contrasted with two full days of Big Standardized Testing, one covering confusing math and another featuring 54 bad reading questions and as I sit and waste my day reading bad instructions and watching students bubble away, I keep thinking-- is that it?

Is that it?

Test manufacturers want to sell these things as a measure of what our students can handle, what they're ready for, what they're capable and prepared for, who they are and what they are made of, and I look at these dry, dusty, lifeless paper stacks of bad cracked questions and-- really? Is that it?

Life is just too short for this. I mean, life is really, too often, too short for this time-wasting baloney, this clattering, clanking collection of caliginous heartless junk. Life is rich and deep and constantly unfolding in vast and varied patterns filled with crackling chaos and anchoring order.

The test manufacturers and the data-loving disciples who unendingly tout their soul-sucking standardization are people who have decided they can understand the ocean by capturing a few spoonfulls of saltwater in a paper cup. Worse, instead of recognizing that the paper cup is too small and inadequate for the job, they insist on declaring every drop of ocean that falls outside the cup is some roguish, illegitimate mistake, something to be ignored and eliminated because it is too hard for them to measure with their little cup. They would like to measure out all lives with coffee spoons, and they will not rest until every life is small enough to fit (well, all lives except those of their own loved ones).

Well, that's not it. That is just not it. It is unfortunate if life is too big and messy for them to grasp and measure, but folks-- that is a feature not a bug, to embraced and not ignored. Your tests are stupid. They do not help, and they do not add a whit (or a wit) to my students' lives.

That is not it. That is not it at all.

Oh yeah. And BB King died this week. I wonder how he would have done on his BS Test.


  1. I would call it The Is That All There Is?, Standardized Testing, B. B. King Died Blues.

  2. I, too, had to give the drone-like directions; however, I did my best to liven it up for my little 3rd graders. I read the directions to them using the different voices I use when reading to them "Harry Potter." They heard the directions given my Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonegal, Hermione, and of course Harry. Wonder if the state's gonna come "get me" for that?

  3. This column makes me think of that notion that God won't give you anymore than you can handle; to which the response is "I wish God had a little less faith in me."

    I'm sorry for such a difficult end to your school year. A few years ago, we had a student die of an undiagnosed heart problem at school on the basketball court on the day before classes ended. It's just hard, and not the kind of thing the reformists ever give any thought to.