While speaking to fifth graders at an elementary school this week, I joked that I would hand them all a number two pencil and scantron, and test them on my presentation. Fortunately, they laughed along with me, but perhaps the joke was a little unkind, since the kids had just spent a mind-numbing week filling in scantrons.
Yes, testing season is upon us in Georgia. The powers-that-be from Atlanta to Washington D.C. can pontificate all they like about the importance of accountability, and other self-righteous claptrap, but the reality is all too observable in our elementary schools: Burned-out kids, frazzled teachers, anxious administrators, and education giving way to the worst possible mentality: Follow directions and work to the test.
This year, I understand, will be the first in which third-graders take the Georgia state test in social studies. States are adding tests in subjects like history and geography to the menu of reading, "language arts", and math. Never mind that giving a child a multiple-choice test in grammar is a guaranteed turn-off to creativity: How an earth does one test "social studies" with a multiple-choice test across the insanely broad range of state curriculum?
The answer, of course, is that you don't. Or rather, you do, and then you watch the kids bomb the test.
I have seen some of the efforts to teach third-graders the official curriculum and, frankly, they smell of desperation. A time-line of major events in Susan B. Anthony's life? Honestly, I don't care, and I doubt the average third-grader does, either.
So I carry on breezing into every school that will have me, talking about children's lives in wartime England, and encouraging the kids' interest in anything that grabs them, and listening to teachers share with me their bewilderment and pain. I hear them, and I'm talking as loud as I can.