As I sat at the Commencement ceremonies at Lesley University's Graduate School of Education, I thought to myself, "When was the last time you saw a help wanted ad asking for a standardized employee, must be good at filling in oval circles?" Most of the help wanted ads I see are looking for unique creative thinkers that must be self-starters able to work well in teams.
It seemed as if many of the teachers in the audience who had gone on to get advanced degrees knew all to well the failings of our push towards more standardized testing. The messages from the speakers were about the value of radical approaches to education and compassionate inclusiveness; when we think about 'them', all those people that are different from us in this shrinking world, we will eventually come to understand "They are us".
Looking at things from through the lens of health care reform, a topic I've been immersed in recently, I wondered what education reform could learn from health care reform. One of the big topics in health care reform, when you get past the hyperbole about Obamacare, is evidence based research into health outcomes. What are the outcomes we are looking for and how effective are different health care procedures?
Perhaps we need to look a similar way at education, what are the outcomes we are seeking? Are we looking to standardize all Americans and make them good at filling in little ovals? Standardized testing may be good at this, but is it what we're really looking for? How about teaching creativity and teamwork? This may be more useful in helping students find jobs and be productive, but is employment and productivity the highest goal we should be seeking? Where do values like compassion fit in?
Another key topic of discussion in health care is establishing the proper level of testing. Our health care costs have gotten out of control, in part, because of an over-reliance on testing. How often should a patient have a mammography? A PSA test? A colonoscopy? When are MRIs really called for?
If a patient tests negative for a condition commonly screened for and doesn't have a history indicating the likelihood of a condition developing, perhaps they should be tested less often. Maybe we should look at the same thing with standardized testing of students.
Many of my friends are eager to dismiss standardized testing outright. It has been promoted by corporations that benefit from it, and has not been designed by teachers in the front lines. Yet I've spoken with others that defend it, particularly as a tool to address underachieving schools, often in poor urban ethnically diverse school districts.
Following the idea of testing in health care, if a school is performing well, perhaps it shouldn't have yearly standardized tests. Perhaps every three years is sufficient, maybe even less frequently, depending on the stability of the teachers, the administration, and previous test scores. Yet for school districts that are not performing well, they might be needed on a yearly basis.
By moving away from standardized testing, schools can pursue lessons that will really help students in the real world, while schools that aren't managing to cover the basics continue to work on fundamental topics. Of course, this begs the question of what the basics really should be, what really is fundamental to a good education. As we think about a core curriculum, are we really teaching what will be core to students success in the twenty-first century, or, are we teaching what is core to maintaining the profits of an educational testing complex. That's a topic for a different blog post.
The big white dog wanders contentedly outside in the early morning rain falling gently on the trees. It seems like overnight, the trees have come into full foliage. Perhaps it is because the past few nights have blended together into one giant blur. There is so much to be done.
Yesterday at work, we said good bye to a work study student heading off on his next great adventure. A week before, we said good bye to another co-worker who had also left in search of her path. Inevitably stories of my trips hitchhiking around the States and Europe and living on a sailboat afterwards came up.
On Thursday evening, I drove up to hear one of my daughters present her Masters Thesis, Don't Make Art, Just Make Something.
It provides an interesting contrast to all those commencement speeches so many of us will be hearing over the coming month; "but then the next day comes". There have been over twelve thousand next days since I left college, and what have I made?
After work, I went to a baby naming ceremony followed by a gathering of friends. I've made friends, I've helped make a family. I've made my careers. I've made many blog posts. But is it enough? Perhaps its not art, but it's something.
As a proud father, I thought Miranda's thesis presentation was the best, but there were many great presentations. They all focused on various aspects of creativity and education. What role does, or should art play in the schools? How do the arts relate to leadership? Where does creativity fit into daily life.
I've been thinking about various aspects of this for the Connecticut Health Foundations, Health Leaders Fellowship. Next month there will be a discussion at the foundation about leadership and social media. What is your digital footprint? Leaders need to think about how they are publicly visible around the issues they lead on.
I remember reading one paper about the difficulties that teens face today. The teenage years are about creating an identity, and now, teenagers now need to create not only the identity as seen in school and at parties, but also a digital identity. It isn't just teenagers that need to create this. We are all, either consciously, or unconsciously, creating digital identities. What's yours?
Writers and actors may have some experience in creating characters, but what about everyone else? And how does the fact that we are creating ourselves, and not something fictitious complicate the process?
Later today, I will head up to Middletown to participate in the Middletown Remix project.
It encourages people to 'hear more, see more'. How much do we really see or hear? How much passes unnoticed in the blur of daily life, like the sudden appearance of a full canopy of leaves? How does this relate to the creative process, to our creative process, as we create our lives?
Keep making something, every day. It is the start to making art, the art of our lives.
Slowly, the electronic devices recharge. It has been a long day. I think Foursquare may have congratulated me on the miles I traveled today. It does that too often. My first event of the day was an Institute of Medicine meeting, Achieving Health Equity via the Affordable Care Act: Promises, Provisions, and Making Reform a Reality for Diverse Patients. It was a thought provoking, jam packed day. It took place at the Mark Twain House and Museum. I've been to other events there, but this was the first time I got a chance to take a brief tour during the lunch break. I did not realize that history of publishing in Hartford, nor various aspects of Mark Twain's finances. It was an odd juxtaposition which I'm still pondering.
From there, I rushed to Orange, where the Ken Lenz declared his candidacy for First Selectman. I got to know Ken a bit during my campaign for State Representative, and I'm glad that Ken is running. He's a good guy and hard worker.
My next stop was the Woodbridge Preliminary Budget meeting. The turnout was light and there was little for comments. One person did ask about police activities beyond the motor vehicle information listed in the budget. I mentioned the What's New section of the police department website.
Now, as my devices recharge, I'll head off to bed and recharge my own batteries as well.
Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
I have been too busy dealing with the little dramas of my own life to speak up recently. My blog, which has been an important venue for my voice has not been updated in several days. But tonight, I cannot sleep. Rehtaeh is dead, and I most stand vigil. I must speak up.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?
As I read the news, it struck me how close we all are to a tragedy like this. Rehtaeh could easily have been my own daughter or the daughter of a friend or neighbor.
The first article I read started off,
Rehtaeh Parsons had a goofy sense of humour and loved playing with her little sisters. She wore glasses, had long, dark hair and was a straight-A student whose favourite subject was science.
What if Rehtaeh went to Amity? Maybe played sports or sang in the musical?
The horror of a teen hanging herself because she was raped at a friends house when she was fifteen and the school, society, and law enforcement officials doing nothing to help is striking; a pretty young white successful girl, with so much to offer.
Yet what if it were a young black kid in the city, with his dad in jail and his mother on drugs, getting screwed by a system that doesn't give kids like him a chance. What if he's in a school reformers want to privatize, where they want to focus on a core curriculum of filling in little dots on standardized test forms instead of gaping holes in his personal life and the fabric of his society?
What if it were a fifty-one year old woman, working in a male dominated department who was being bullied out of a job? Would we simply call it a 'personnel matter' and try to work out an agreeable severance package? Maybe some folks would even dismiss the bullying as boys being boys.
The article about Rehtaeh ended off with a reminder to all of us, with a call to speak up, to do something:
On March 3, Rehtaeh posted a photo of herself on Facebook next to a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
I just read a question on Facebook, asking, “What would Jesus carry?”
Based on Isaiah 2:4, I am guessing that Jesus would opt for the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic ploughshare.
“The AR-15 is a lightweight, semi-automatic field cultivation device, with a rotating-lock tines, actuated by direct impingement gas operation or long/short stroke piston operation. It is manufactured with the extensive use of aluminum alloys and synthetic materials.”
He might also carry a Glock 19 pruning hook which is ideal for versatile use through reduced dimensions compared with the standard pruning hook size.
Now is the time to take up our ploughshares and pruning hooks as we tackle the big issues facing our nation, like planting, weeding and pruning.