Over 65 years ago, Albert Einstein recalled the role that “holy curiosity of inquiry” had in his own education, allegorically asserting, “This delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail.”
Since 1955, America has tried to grasp why Johnny can’t read. Someone at Newsweek wrote in 1975 about why Johnny can’t write. For over three decades, America has pondered why Johnny still can’t read. We have been a nation at risk since 1983, and America was dubbed as a nation still at risk in 1998. After that, we finally entered an era when there was no child left behind, which inadvertently prompted lower learning standards. Then, we raced to the top.
Yesterday, new revelations came in a candid White House missive. President Barack Obama wrote, “But when I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself. To be curious about the world…They inspired me to open up a window into parts of the world I’d never thought of before.” Indeed, that’s what an education is. Accordingly, schools are now urged to deemphasize the role of standardized testing. This shift follows a recent push for test taking as accountability.
Einstein wrote, “It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” Despite passing his own school exams, he said, “I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year.”
The driving question has always been the same: how do we measure education? Yet as the policy wonks and policymakers quibble over what to do, some must still do what they are told, like it or not. Those denizens are our nation’s children.
As we make and re-break the wheels of progress, the true measure of an education may well fill an entire lifetime. What does a child make of her life after graduation? Will she be a good citizen, a productive member of society? Will she be successful in pursuing her dreams and adept at always forging new ones? What will she, in turn, teach others one day?
In Massachusetts over a decade ago, school districts rewrote curricular standards to align with state frameworks emphasizing global history. However, those changed four years later to stress American history instead. For schools, curricula demanded revamping yet again. World history more often became a high school elective rather than the graduation requirement it had been.
Throughout the Eighties and Nineties, “whole language” methods negated phonics-based instruction. Teachers emphasized individual expression rather than good grammar. What students said mattered more than how they said it. One source notes, “However, whole language learning may come at the expense of accuracy and correctness. A child might be awarded high marks for ‘overall language use,’ even if he or she has misspelled many words.”
How can we measure what works if we keep changing it? How can school officials comport with ever-changing mandates? How can children know what exactly they are supposed to learn, if their teachers frequently receive mixed signals, even when they are still learning it?
Einstein summed up an education in words worth remembering. He said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Submitted by Jason Bowns