Above are artworks created by some of my middle school art students this year. Keep all of this in mind as you read on about what I’m thinking about today!
It has been about a month since school was let out for the summer. I have been busy working on curriculum for a new course I will be offering this year. It is an animation/film class for seventh and eighth grade students. I am very excited about the plans I am working on for the course and I have received much needed support from my principal. However, as I sit here thinking about the excitement I will be creating and developing in this course, I wonder about all of the schools that have chosen to dismiss the arts in their curriculums to give more time for developing test taking strategies. In the infinite wisdom of our federal and state legislators, the bottom line is how students perform on a standards based test. This test is basically a multiple choice test about information that the students will probably never use in the most important parts of their adult lives. We have become a nation of test takers.
If we aren’t testing our children through these standardized tests then we are testing them for ADD and many other worrisome things to try and “fix” them. Our children are being judged daily on their fitness. They are told they are stupid and over weight. The remedy seems to be to make school even more miserable for them! In the high stakes environment of test taking our children are the human guinea pigs, chess pawns really, in the ever changing education system that tells them that they are failures on a continual basis. With each test that tells them they are not proficient how does a child cope with this news? Even in our adult lives we have become test takers. For many adults this involves being urine tested in order to get a job. Teachers take tests to prove that they are intelligent enough to become teachers even though they actually graduated from universities and colleges that gave their stamp of approval. We seem to be obsessed with testing. Unfortunately, our adult compulsion is driving our children crazy. What child wants to be stuck in a classroom where they are routinely told they are not measuring up? It is a frustrating time in education. I have said on many occasions that I am glad my child is not in school at this time. I just want the insanity to stop!
What I know to be true is that creativity is very important for the development of the whole individual. Frankly, if you are not able to think outside the box, you will not be able to invent and be innovative. Our growth as a nation has depended on the innovation and inventiveness of its people. If we teach our children that the only thing that is important is passing a test, we do them a disservice. I came across a document this past year called, “Critical Evidence…How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement”. The document basically explains that testing has been done and there is proof that the arts, such as visual arts, music, dance, etc., help improve the SAT test scores of students that are consistently involved in them. I just want to say, “Duh!” However, many people don’t understand the value of the arts in the thinking and learning process. While the document stressed that No Child Left Behind treated the arts as important as the core subjects, the reality is that in order to achieve the adequate yearly progress required of NCLB many schools left the arts and made more time for drilling students to try and get them to “learn” the material.
We have been fortunate here in Sturgis as the arts have been an integral part of our students’ learning and have been supported by the administration, board members, teachers, and the community at large. It doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling the pressure though. I have had to become more than the visual arts teacher in recent years. My evaluations will be based on student’s reading scores just like many core teachers’ evaluations. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but after all I’m just one of those creative thinkers that tends to think outside the box of legislative opinion. I do everything I can to help my students become better students, better people, and over all better equipped for their future but sadly what the legislative body wants to measure is what a student does on one particular day in one particular year of a student’s life to determine not only the student’s fitness and progress but also the teacher’s fitness and progress. From my point of view I think this is just basically stupid. I was at the 8th grade awards’ presentation last month. I noticed that many students that I had taught that are very bright did not get an award for being proficient on the MEAP. There has to be something wrong with this test when I see students that are top in their class walking away without that word “proficient” attached to their name. They have been deemed not proficient. How sad that we have labeled students in such a manner. I think most people that are not in the education system might not be aware of everything that is going on in schools all across America. Parents have been told that it’s the teachers fault that their child is doing poorly in school. Teachers have targets on their backs and I feel it even on my back although I know how hard I work and how dedicated I am to my profession and my students. From my point of view, the test making and test preparation companies are making a lot of money off education today.
I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in education today. I just think that the future innovators and creatives in our community are at risk when we expect our children to just regurgitate information on a test without regard for the art and music of life’s challenges. The divide I see in my classroom has more to do with the economic problems than anything else. Let’s face facts; students that come from economically deprived families have a bigger struggle than students from the upper middle class and wealthy parts of society. Over the past twenty years this has become even more apparent. The answer to me seems to be in fixing the economy as well as always working to improve our education system. Times have changed and with that change we should be embracing the technology of the 21st Century. Teachers that do this will probably remain relevant. Those that don’t may be kicked to the dustbins of the past. In my own teaching, I have embraced technology in my classroom and in my life. I think that living in today’s society is much more involved than just taking a state mandated test of proficiency. We will not know what this grand experiment will reveal until the students of today are the adult citizens of tomorrow. I do believe if we don’t change this high stakes testing we will create a world full of neurotic adults that will certainly keep the psychoanalyst’s sofa warmed up with their compulsions and obsessions and feelings of inadequacy.
Will all of these thoughts interrupt what I do in my classroom? I will continue to work hard on my plans for all of my classes including my new animation/film course and I will remain fully engaged and thrilled to be working with the middle school students that I feel so privileged to teach. However, this past year was extremely stressful for me. It had nothing to do with the students and everything to do with this constant testing. If I can feel it when I absolutely love being a teacher, think how the students are feeling when they are faced with stressed out teachers that are forced to jump through hoops to get their students to pass a test. It is a sad state that we surely must change.