My heart is heavy. My outrage is muted and my frustration repressed. There is a sickening in me. I seem to recall some movie or show wherein the diabolical killer fills the mouth of his victim with sand, creating an ugly, unusual death. I see this every day. I see my corner of the teaching universe being plunged into senseless subjugation. Students are rammed with “rigorous” repetition of standardized tests as a remedy for failure. Teachers are totally tied up by hijacked instruction. Everyone could see Brown vs. Board. What they don’t see is the new segregation. Students who for whatever reason (family encouragement, self-starting enthusiasm, early realized aptitude, etc.) have mastered the requisite bubbling in of the sacred sheets of answers are allowed to go on to what is commonly known as learning. This strange world rewards critical thought and self expression. I daresay it may even embrace individuality. I do not teach there, so I can not accurately comment. The other world, the world of those who have not yet risen to the sacred scores and must atone for their ignorance, is the world I live in. The district, in its infinite wisdom, prescribes so many practice tests for us that the idea of teaching a curriculum seems quaint at best and ludicrous at worst. Hours and hours, days and days, go by, as teachers present to their students standardized practice tests that no teacher at the school had any part in creating. This is before the school-week-monopolizing real tests themselves come into play. We have a full time test coordinator, but no theater teacher at our school. Is this right, on any level? There is one motivation for any and all classroom presentation. “Will this be on the test?”
Teenagers are naturally predisposed to disliking school. It involves a whole lot of authority and work, two things anathema to your average high schooler. If it were not for the presence of friends, most kids would slide into downright hatred of their daily sequestering. This being said, as an English teacher, I really love to teach English and interact with the kids. I love to explore a subjective and beautiful world in which it is not always about right answers, but rather it is about support and consideration of ideas. Two plus two equals four and that is quite awesome. Math is a brilliant language that puts up skyscrapers and gives us insight into the biological construction of a flower. Math is tailor made for standardized testing. Problems can be presented and definitively decided. Like I said, two plus two equals four. But English is a bastard language. Even its spelling defies reason, logic, and any sense of decency. The knight is right and the soldier is wrong. Go phonetic on that gem and you will sound like Jack Black doing sound effects. English is so messy, so ephemeral, so undefinable, and so utterly amazing. It ranges from the rhymes of Shakespeare to the rhymes of Tupac. It stretches from the speeches of Trump to the speeches of Washington. A single word can have multiple denotations and myriad connotations. Right? No, left. Left behind is its brilliant magnificence; left behind is its edgy versatility; left behind is its ornery truth; left behind is its basic value, when it all boils down to a standardized test. If my verbosity aroused your curiosity, but not your understanding, let me say it another way. A standardized test is an entirely objective exercise. English is an almost entirely subjective subject. Perhaps, some basic terminology could be tested, but even that is problematic. Testing comprehension and analysis by selecting a predetermined “right answer” is nonsense. Give me five PhD dudes from Harvard and five PhD dudes from Yale and ask them to provide a thematic statement for Romeo and Juliet, no, Mary Had A Little Lamb, and you will encounter a nuanced spectrum with possible tangential conjecture. If you still do not follow me, let me say it another way. AHHHHHHHHH!
There it is. Here it comes. That outrage is dropping right back into place. Oh, the frustration is injecting itself back into the blood stream. This is profiling. We are not asking our kids to do anything other than get in the heads of these test makers. I had a student, last year, who told me that the reason she passed the ACT is because she took so many practice tests. Wait, did I just undermine my entire argument? Is all my angst for naught? No. I am putting the ACT and the SAT on notice, but their time has not yet come. I am taking about a state created test. To protect my anonymity, and that of my colleagues, I will name neither the state nor the test. Suffice it to say the state exam is Fully Stupid Awfulness. The entity that created it, contracted by the state, originated as a mechanism of studying/directing behavioral psychology. Good thing they do not have access to millions of minors and their personal information. I digress. No one sees the test. It is kept in a velvet lined onyx chest and guarded by two eunuchs with machetes who have sworn an oath to defend it to the death. Therefore, throwing terribly written practice tests at our students in the hope of their improvement is like continuing to toss typewriters in that dirty room and remaining confident that monkeys will eventually come out with Shakespeare. Maybe, we should let the teachers, teach. The foundational quote, which is the title of the post, is not from a surly novice teacher struggling to find his way. It is the general, and voiced, consensus of a group of experienced, compassionate, and knowledgeable veteran teachers. As for the ACT, if anybody keeps whacking an apple tree, eventually they will get an apple. Oh, did I mention the secret, poorly constructed, state test is tied to funding? Bye bye. Have a great day.