Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sausage maker? Not this girl.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”                           
~Nelson Mandela

I believe if you listened carefully enough, you could hear the collective gasp of the world when news was shared that Nelson Mandela had passed.  Such a wise man and this quote, one of my all-time favorites, was so simple, yet incredibly brilliant. 

Funny, with so many recognizing Mandela’s insight on the world, no one ever seems to take note that he never said that robotic teaching with rote, scripted lessons is a powerful weapon; never a mention that test prep simply to improve scores, solely for use against teachers & schools, is the way to go if we are to change the world.  

Recently, I read a letter written by the head of schools at the Montessori school where the children of a certain leader in New York State education attend  (hmmm, thought provoking that the Commissioner believes so much in public education that his children attend a Montessori school).  She spoke of attending a conference where Dr. Yong Zhao, (professor at the College of Education, University of Oregon) spoke and compared schools in China, his native homeland, to schools in the U.S.  Zhao is quoted as saying, “In U.S. schools we attempt to take curiosity, passion and creativity, multiple intelligences, cultural diversity and individual differences and squash them through a “sausage maker” school system, zapping these qualities into what we think will be an employable worker.” 

So, I began to wonder just how we change people’s do we get people to understand that we are heading into incredibly dangerous territory by providing modules and manuscripts for teachers to spit out at kids, where there’s a right and a wrong, where you just “do” and not think.  We not only do NOT encourage creativity in kids, but it is rare to see in teachers.  Zhao spoke of how China “out tests” the U.S. (for the past 50 years or more) because their kids are trained to take tests (hmmmmm....this is sounding eerily familiar), but how the Chinese are very concerned that the United States puts out more innovators than them, so much so that the Ministry of Education in China has recently taken steps to “reduce the academic burden of primary school students”.

He asked the question, “What is the best way to kill curiosity in students?” Answer: “Give them all of the answers. Cramming and covering vast quantities of information kills curiosity.”  I’m always intrigued when researchers, in education, say these things and yet, no one seems to listen.  I find myself becoming more and more frustrated with education, the mandates, and the “Kool Aid” – where we drink up every bit of propaganda we hear.....I’m floored when I hear people I once respected as innovators in education begin to spew out nonsense, “It’s good that we all do the same thing” or “they have to be ready to take these tests”.  I have never felt more different, as a teacher, than ever – yes, I march to my own dang band, but I feel like I’m living in a foreign land.  Kids begin school as creative little beings, bursting with the gift of discovery, full of wonder, asking “why?” more than any other time in their lives and little by little that joy, the wonder is stripped away.  I’ve seen it with my own kids and it kills me to watch – joy dissipates, burden sets in, disinterest follows, and soon they’re completely disengaged in the ownership of their learning.  Although the “youngers” aren’t able to express this, my son, now a high school graduate, is a master at calling it – like his Momma, he won’t be confined to a box and I am impressed with the degree he understands what is happening in education – because he was the victim of it and I’m sad to say that the other kids experience it too.  Learning is not connected, depth of understanding is out of focus, questioning of ideas doesn't happen; wondering “what if” is obsolete.

Do we really want to raise a generation of test taking minions? Unrelated fact spewers?  Does it really matter most who earns the highest score on a test where norms and numbers and cut scores are changed on a whim from year to year?  Where NOTHING diagnostic comes out of a test that some spend hours, days, weeks, months preparing for?  Are we happy with being so focused on teaching from a module that tells you what to say and when that we miss those teachable moments?  Or do our kids deserve more? 

The head of school ended her letter with a final quote by Zhao, Test scores are a poor reflection of what our students could be learning and distract teachers from the real work of helping students to discover, be curious, work collaboratively and interact with each other in meaningful ways.”  Perhaps the Commissioner and those "who know best" should take a big dose of Zhao's advice.

I won’t apologize; I have NOT poured my heart, soul, passion, and love into being a sausage maker.

post signature


  1. Wise words from a front line combatant in the war against making horrible decisions affecting our children's future. Support Melissa here, support our teachers in the classroom, support our administrators like Peter Dewitt, and write your state legislators and let them know how you feel about this. Nothing will change if we don't make it change!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I thank God every day that both of my children get to say you were their teacher. Thank you for these words and for everything you do every day.