That’s the conversation I’ve been having again and again recently. As an education writer for the past twelve years and as a parent talking to other parents, I’ve seen how high-stakes standardized tests are stunting children’s spirits, adding stress to family life, demoralizing teachers, undermining schools, paralyzing the education debate, and gutting our country’s future competitiveness.
The way much of school is organized around these tests makes little sense for young humans developmentally. Nor does it square with what the world needs.
My husband edited together a two-minute time-lapse video of our daughter learning, over several months, to walk: standing up on wobbly legs, waving her hands with a “Woop!” crashing back down on her rear end, toddling a few steps into our outstretched arms, and, finally, crossing a room. It’s pretty irresistible, if I do say so myself.
Parenting my daughter in the first years of her life has been a master class on human development. She is so driven to explore her environment and to express herself, to communicate with, please, and sometimes resist the people around her. She doesn’t just walk—she walks toward something. She doesn’t just speak—she speaks to someone. Mental, physical, emotional, and social milestones are all intertwined.
In the first year or four, children are hardly ever bored, unless they’re hemmed in by “Nos.” They stay in the proverbial state of flow, right on the edge of their abilities. Provided they get the emotional refueling they need to feel secure, they are always reaching for the next milestone, stumbling, teetering, and getting up again.
All the experts are constantly reminding parents that infants develop on their own timetables. The overall trajectory of growth and progress is more important than any particular snapshot in time. Furthermore, early learning is as much about creative expression and social engagement as it is about parroting any memorized patterns, like letters or numbers. Good preschools are little Paris salons—full of art, music, movement, rivalries, friendships, love, and, above all, imagination. They are also highly concerned with the practical matters of life, such as the use of forks, buttons, faucets. Folding laundry and washing dishes can be just as absorbing for toddlers as reading books and singing songs.
Yet just a few years later, when kids enter school, we start to limit our consideration of learning and development to a single hand-eye-brain circuit, forgetting the rest of the body, mind, and soul. It’s math and reading skills, history and science facts that kids are tested and graded on. Emotional, social, moral, spiritual, creative, and physical development all become marginal, extracurricular, or remedial pursuits. And we suddenly expect children to start developing skills on a predetermined timetable, one that is now basically legislated on a federal level. This is what is called rigor and highOver-testing our kids is not the answer — it’s the problem - Salon.com: