Sunday, December 24, 2017

Knowing the Picture

My extended family has never, ever celebrated Christmas on December 25th, but we have always done the classic Family Picture Thing. Here's how it looked when I was 10

In 1967 we got all wild and crazy, with each kid holding a beloved object (it is possible that I triggered this requesting family picture status for my trombone. 

Yesterday, we continued the tradition. This is what all the branches of the family look like now:

Like every huge family picture, this looks different depending on who you are. If you know the full cast of characters, from the sportswriter with a new book about hockey, to the woman who just went back to work, to the couple of previous divorcees, to the girlfriend that more beloved than the family member she's dating, to the married childhood sweethearts, to the engineer and the school teacher, to the parents of the brand new baby, you see a whole batch of stories. If you know them, you know what the connections are-- who is married to whom, who are parents, who married into this family. But if you don't these people, it's just a mess of strangers, and rather than seeing their story when you look at them, you might sort by fashion or height or perusal of details, maybe sort them into your own categories (People with Awkward Smiles, People Who Are Married) or invent relationships (the red shirt people).

In other words, if you don't really know these people, you invent ways to pretend that you do, most requiring some externally imposed schema. When we really know people, we know them by their stories. When we don't know people, we create our own nonsense to sort them out.

Test-driven, data-centered ed has become like this. Uninterested in the real stories and relationships involved, they sort and classified based on whatever schema they invent, and these programs often cut away the most interesting parts of the story.

Tomorrow is Christmas, a notably unstandardized holiday on (or near) which people will gather to share stories (in various tones of voice) and tug on the ties that bind. They will rehearse family tales, celebrate family connections, and none of it will happen in ways that are data-driven or suited to meet a single standard, because that is not how live human people work. We run on stories and relationships, and we should be celebrating that during every day of school-- not just trying to see how students measure up on a sliderule that we just created. When you are looking at a gathering of friends and family, what does "proficient" or "value-added" even mean? And if we don't live by those measures on Very Celebrated Days, why arrange ourselves to those bad measures at any other time?

PS: Here's my branch of the family tree:

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