“Yes, Yes, I Know She Is Quite Smart, But I Want to Know How Her Soul Is Developing”

June 17, 2007 @ 11:16 pm | Filed under: Education News & Issues

This article by a California teacher with 30 years’ experience in the classroom appeared in last week’s San Francisco Chronicle.

"The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of
the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is
spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the
joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay,
Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of
interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them,
under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and
pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs."

Let children be children
Is your 5-year-old stressed out because so much is expected?

by Penelope H. Bevan

I was watching one of my second-grade girls try unsuccessfully to tie her shoes the other day, and I thought, "This is a person who is supposed to be learning plural possessives?" I think not.

We’ve just finished test time again in the schools of California. The mad
frenzy of testing infects everyone from second grade through high school.
Because of the rigors and threats of No Child Left Behind, schools are
desperate to increase their scores. As the requirements become more stringent,
we have completely lost sight of the children taking these tests.

For 30 years as a teacher of primary kids, I have operated on the Any Fool
Can See principle. And any fool can see that the spread between what is
developmentally appropriate for 7- and 8-year-old children and what is demanded
of them on these tests is widening. A lot of what used to be in the first-grade
curriculum is now taught in kindergarten. Is your 5-year-old stressed out?
Perhaps this is why.

Primary-grade children have only the most tenuous grasp on how the world
works. Having been alive only seven or eight years, they have not figured out
that in California there is a definite wet and dry season. They live in high
expectation that it will snow in the Bay Area in the winter. They reasonably
conclude, based on their limited experience with words, that a thesaurus must
be a dinosaur. When asked to name some of the planets after he heard the word
Earth, one of my boys confidently replied, "Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Jupiter and
Canada!" to which a girl replied, "No, no, no, you gotta go way far outer than
that."

Research has shown that it takes approximately 24 repetitions of a new
concept to imprint on a young brain. The aforementioned plural possessives come
up twice in the curriculum, yet they are supposed to know it when they see it.
This is folly. 

Currently, 2 1/2 uninterrupted hours are supposed to be devoted to
language arts and reading every morning. I ask you, what adult could sustain an
interest in one subject for that long? Yet the two reading series adopted by
the state for elementary education require that much time be devoted to reading
in the expectation that the scores will shoot up eventually. Show me a
7-year-old who has that kind of concentration. Show me a 64-year-old teacher
who has it. Not I.

The result of this has been a decline in math scores at our school,
because the emphasis is on getting them to read and there isn’t enough time to
fit in a proper curriculum. Early math education should rely heavily on messing
about with concrete materials of measurements, mass, volume and length, and
discovering basic principles through play. 

There is no time for this. The teaching of art is all but a subversive
activity. Teachers whisper, "I taught art today!" as if they would be reported
to the Reading Police for stealing time from the reading curriculum, which is
what they did.

It is also First Communion time in second grade. Yes, I teach in a public
school, but First Communion happens in second grade, and it is a big deal, the
subject of much discussion in the classroom. The children are excited. 

A few months back one of my girls exclaimed, "Jeez, I have a lot to do
after school today, Teacher. I gotta do my homework, go to baseball practice
and get baptized." I laughed to myself at the priorities of this little to-do
list, so symbolic of the life of one second-grader. But there was a much larger
issue here. What is happening to their souls? You may ask, what business it is
of the schools what is happening to the souls of these little children?

I will tell you. Any fool can see that those setting the standards for
testing of primary-grade children haven’t been around any actual children in a
long time. The difference between what one can reasonably expect an 8-year-old
to know and what is merely a party trick grows exponentially on these state
tests. 

Meanwhile, children who know they are bright and can read well are proved
wrong time and again because of the structure of these tests. Teachers spend
inordinate amounts of time trying to teach the children to be careful of the
quirky tricks of the tests when they should be simply teaching how to get on in
the world.

Twenty years ago, I had a conference with a parent, a Sikh, whose child
was brilliant. I was prepared to show him all her academic work, but he brushed
it aside and said, "Yes, yes, I know she is quite smart, but I want to know how
her soul is developing."

The present emphasis on testing and test scores is sucking the soul out of
the primary school experience for both teachers and children. So much time is
spent on testing and measuring reading speed that the children are losing the
joy that comes but once in their lifetime, the happy messiness of paint, clay,
Tinkertoys and jumping rope, the quiet discovery of a shiny new book of
interest to them, the wonders of a magnifying glass. The teachers around them,
under constant pressure to raise those test scores, radiate urgency and
pressure. Their smiles are grim. They are not enjoying their jobs. 

Our children need parents and teachers who, like Hamlet, know a hawk from
a hand saw, who know foolishness when they see it and are strong enough to
defend these small souls from the onslaught of escalating developmentally
inappropriate claptrap. The great unspoken secret of primary school is that a
lot of what is going on is arrant nonsense, and it’s getting worse. Any fool
can see.

(end of article)


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Comments

14 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Thanks for sharing the article, Lissa. Very insightful – makes me glad to be a Canadian! 😉

    OTOH, these problems are sneaking up to the great north as well. My dh is a teacher who’s had the wonderful opportunity to teach at a school small enough for the students to get enough attention so they don’t “fall through the cracks”. He actually had time to worry about his students’ souls. But school boards aren’t interested in such things – they are interested in economic efficiency and having the students fit into their curriculum – not the other way around.

    Sorry for the rant – again, I enjoyed this post.

  2. Thanks for the article – those sentiments were why I chose to let the dc stay home years ago….

  3. Great article. Thanks for sharing. Expresses my view of these things exactly. Though I would add that the folks who design these standards also don’t understand the meaning of the word “average”. Usually, they want all kids performing “above average”. Smart people know what happens to averages when…

  4. I’m leaping out of lurkdom to say AMEN AMEN AMEN. I’m so thankful that I can stay at home and homeschool my children. And this is precisely why I don’t think I could ever go back to teaching school.

  5. Yes, I knew they were bright and that their souls were being stifled and that’s the top reason I homeschool. I also am a public education employee and see this very thing in some of the children I encounter daily. (I’m the bus driver.) One day one of “my” third graders was bored on the bus and kind of whiny about it. I told her to look out the window and see how many different flowers she could spot. She replied that she didn’t know anything about flowers because the teacher hadn’t taught that. I almost cried. (But one really ought not operate a large, loud motor vehicle while crying.) I am also a member of the NEA (a union that makes many conservative folk cringe). Each month, this organization publishes a newspaper. Many, many articles are written regarding the trials and trauma of No Child Left Behind. It would be a good idea for those of you who are politically active to keep abreast of these policies. And for those of you who are not, it would still be a good idea to stay informed about these issues and policies. The NEA has its agenda. The state unions have their own agendas, the denocrats and the republicans have their agendas. As the author states, it really doesn’t appear that these folks spend much time with real children. Most sadly to me, is that there are many entities claiming to be advocates for children but there seem to be NO advocates for reason, no sense of subsidiarity. School boards are composed of elected persons: elect persons who are willing to make changes to the premise that children must fit the curriculum.
    Ok, done now.

  6. Thanks for sharing

  7. wow, I have to say bravo- to the article. It was so well written and I think will strike a chord with most readers because anyone involved with school age children can see the effects of the testing hysteria.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  8. It’s heartening to know that there are teachers such as Ms. Bevan in the system.

    I’m in Canada, and it’s not any better here. We don’t have NCLB, but there is definitely a testing mania, and, in this province at least, an education system that is based, believe it or not, on a child’s age and size rather than ability — the main reason we began hs’ing.

  9. Thanks for sharing that! It is a challenge in our house to balance acheivement with real soul/character development, but at least we have nothing other than our unruly selves to contend with.

  10. Just for sharing this.

  11. Hmmm …. well I *meant* to say Thanks for sharing this!

    (Keyboard! Be more not making typos!).

  12. The title of this post is exactly why I homeschool.

  13. Great post and great article — thank you!

  14. Too funny–I blogged about this article too. And now I’ve tagged you for the 8 things meme. Here’s my link.