Friday, March 30, 2012

The Real Offense

The New York City Board of Education is hoping to ban certain words from standardized tests. I’m quite certain that certain words shouldn’t appear in those tests, and I imagine you can think of some yourself. But here’s a quick question: are birthday and dinosaur on your list? Because they sure aren’t on mine. Neither are some of the other words that have them concerned: religion, Halloween, Christmas, divorce, television, and over 40 others. Why? Because each word evidently has the potential to offend someone and thus create undue stress during the standardized testing situation. (I’m sure you’re curious how, so here’s the link to CNN’s story on the piece.)
I’m so flabbergasted by this that I’m unsure where to start. I mean, I’m gobsmacked. With all the issues confronting education these days, I can’t imagine that this merits the amount of time, energy, and money that went into this issue.  Notice I didn’t say thought. There probably was some, but not of the type that’s needed.
I appreciate the intent. No educator wants to create a situation which so offends a student that he or she can’t perform well, particularly in such a high-stake situation. In this case, I think the decision-makers have overstated that possibility. So points for trying.
But plenty of points off for other reasons.
Think about experiences that have helped you learn and grow significantly. For me, they involved a degree of discomfort, sometimes even pain. Yes, we want schools to be safe, nurturing places. At the same time, that doesn’t mean we want to ensconce kids in sterile bubbles. Eventually, the training wheels must come off. Plus I’ve always thought the best teachers know just how to prick and prod kids at the right time and in the right way.
                Instead of worrying about this issue, I wish these folks had spent more time reflecting on the really fundamental, huge questions about education. They could start with two. What it’s for? Is it working? Then perhaps they might see why I’m offended not by any of those words they want to ban, but by the damage caused by the standardized testing craze.

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