Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Go Forth Into the World

Go Forth into the World

This is the season of graduations and graduation speeches.  Hundreds of graduation speakers will be giving advice as they send graduates off into the world.  Unfortunately the entire standards movement with its hugely heavy emphasis on testing is sucking the lifeblood out of that future.  That is happening in two ways.
First, having a rich and rewarding work life is one of greatest gifts that anyone can ever hope to receive.   We spend almost one-third of our lives at work.  I read an article recently that said Sunday evenings were a time of great depression because people hated the thought of going back to work the next day.  I do not feel that way and my heart went out to those who do.  So a day or so later I was in a lab having blood drawn in preparation for a physical.  I mentioned the article to the lab tech and asked her what she thought.  Her response blew me away.  “Of course”, she said, “everyone hates going back to work and I like my job ok.”  
I happen to think teaching is one of the most rewarding professions anyone can have.  Think about it.  Teachers get to shape lives.  They get to instill the love of learning in kids. They get to awaken kids to the wonders of reading.  They get to show them how miraculous it is when numbers line up to prove things.  They show them how science solves unsolvable problems.  They open the doors to other cultures and explain how our present was molded by the past.  They get to help kids explore who they are and who they want to become.  They get to help mend broken hearts and support fledgling dreams.  What job could be more wonderful than that!   For years teachers have endured low salaries and sometimes crowded classrooms, but the kids, the kids, -- they made up for everything.  
Now teachers’ salaries are not too bad.  Benefits have always been good.  And, of course, the calendar allows for a private life as well as the joy of hunkering down on a snow day.  But, along come standards.  That huge whooshing noise you hear is the testing and the pacing guides sucking all the bliss out of teaching.  All those special times with kids take time with kids.  Pacing guides don’t allow that.
And what of those kids?   Children need time to think and reflect and to experiment.  They need time to fail and to learn what doesn’t fit their personalities along with what aligns perfectly.  Those enlightenments do not occur on a prescribed schedule.  Having the time to reflect and to figure out whom you are and what you care most about is absolutely critical to a good education.  Students need the time and the experience to figure out what it is that sets them on fire.  How can they assure that rich and rewarding work life for themselves?  Those things don’t happen on a time clock.  Kids need time to tinker.

Perhaps these commencement addresses are coming at the wrong time.   The graduates may be commencing into the world but perhaps these great speeches should come at the beginning of an education milestone, not at the end of one.   And while we are at it, maybe some education leaders should be listening as well so this sage advice could guide the standards.

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