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Posts tagged ‘spelling’

Why I don’t believe in testing in schools

tests teach us we're wrong and badHere’s the thing: what does a TEST actually measure? You see, when I was at school, I aced tests. I really, totally, was awesome at passing them, as evidenced by the 90% average I maintained for pretty much all of school. Academics came easily to me.

I was one of the lucky few.

But just because I passed tests didn’t mean I could do, or understand, the work. As it happens, I could and did, but that had no bearing on passing the test. Or at least, very little.

In practise, all tests did very well when I was taking them was stress me out – and, as I said, I was one of the lucky ones. Less academically-inclined students were reduced to near panic. In fact, when we were in matric, a student in a nearby school killed himself as he sat down to write his Maths paper, by jamming two pencils up his nose into his brain.

Seriously?! Can it POSSIBLY be that important?? Surely, if you can do the work, you can do the work, and there are more effective, and far less deleterious (because it’s a cool word) ways to measure that?

I’m no expert, so bear with me here. But what if, say, the teacher observed the kids, and saw who could do it and who couldn’t? And what if (and yes, I know it’s “out there”), the people who couldn’t do the work, instead of being ridiculed and penalised, were taught – gently – to actually be able to do the work? It’s just a thought.

Maybe if we had MUCH smaller classes, more teachers, and more focus on imparting valuable, useful lifeskills relevant to each specific, UNIQUE learner, they’d actually learn stuff?

And that, my friends, assumes we’re talkiong about schools AT ALL.

I mean, when last did you use long division, or trigonometry, or advanced calculus? I really do want to know. And yes, I’m even talking to you architects and engineers out there. Because even the ones I know personally don’t use the stuff. (No, Maths teachers. You don’t count in this particular poll. We all know you use Maths. You’re paid to.) Even my accountant uses a calculator – and he has a head for numbers!

So, let’s say you’re not great at spelling. Now, this is not even a thing I relate to because, like, spelling, dudes. It totes rocks! (See what I did there? That’s just how I roll ;)) Okay, I’m back. You’re not good at spelling. Or at least, you’re not good at spelling hard words. Like tourniquet, and epithet and halcyon. You know: every day words. And then you write a test to see whether yoou are good at spelling or not. (You already have an idea on the outcome, mind you.) You fail the test. Or even – you just don’t pass well. The message your brain gets is NOT: oh, wow. Thank heavens I have spell check and the inifinite wisdom of the web should I ever ACTUALLY need to write words like that when I compile those ambulance hand books and grammar usage guides I’ve been dreaming about. No. The message you get is a lot more succinct, insidious, short, and evil.

“You can’t spell.”

In preteen this is sometimes abbreviated to: “You suck.”

The result is NOT a sudden urge to study the dictionary (yes, it happens. no, it’s not a disease). The result is a fundamental alteration in how you see yourself, and what you believe you can achieve. Which is: nothing. Your brain gets the message “I’m an idiot and I’ll never be able to spell”. This cancer grows and destroys everything it touches. Soon, it becomes “I’ll never be able to write a book”. From there, it’s not a big jump to, “I’ll never be able to write a report”. Then, “I’ll never be able to write a letter … an email …”.

I know it sounds extreme. But I work as a writer and let me tell you: every day – every single day – people tell me they can’t write. They apologise for their grammar and spelling and vocabulary and phraseology BEFORE they even contact me at all. Just so that I don’t judge them or something. And because they are so sure they won’t do a good job, they also waste no effort trying to do a good job. They don’t look up spelling and grammar – they don’t even know where to start. Their communication is stunted and immature, and it doesn’t have to be. It’s all because they don’t believe in themselves. And why not? Because they’ve been measured and found wanting.

The truth is a different matter. We all have value to offer the world. Any of us could communicate it in writing and, with today’s amazing (MOSTLY FREE) tools, easily get the writing RIGHT. Or at least good enough. We all use Maths every single day. And we do it well: we buy groceries and balance budgets and plan petrol consumption all the time – and we’re all still here, doing it. We just don’t think we can.

Tests teach us we are wrong – and that that’s bad. But, folks, life is all aboout making mistakes: grand, glorious, bold, beautiful, colourful mistakes of enormous chaos and value. Mistakes teach us. Tests diminish us.

And that’s why I hate tests. Because they are artificial measurements of a reality that doesn’t exist, and the only thing they achieve is to diminish us to the point of being too afraid to share our glorious value with a needy world, simply because we’re so afraid we’ll do it wrong.


Round up of some of the week’s funnies.

I may have overdone it. Red Riding Hood is learning to write. Every day she completes a page of exercises in a book, and theoretically by the end of it she will have beautiful handwriting. Although we’ll probably settle for legible, and frankly if that’s the case, we’re pretty much there.

She’s been battling with 2’s, however. They’re typically rushed squiggles with roundish tops and flat feet and not much in between.Funnily enough, this week the focus has been on 2’s – both in handwriting and in maths. Clearly The Time had come to address this issue. I suggested that she think of drawing a graceful swan each time she writes a 2. Wow, was that effective! She sat up straight, placed her little fete elegantly side-by-side and drew a beautiful row of elegant swans, subtly disguised as 2’s. Success!

A few days later she was writing the date. (I have them date and name all of their work so that I have at least some form of rudimentary record). She was writing 2012, and the last two looked a little – well, squashed. She began to erase it but I was in a rush to move on to the next piece of work and told her to leave it. She looked at me condescendingly, erased the offending digit, redrew it, and said smugly, “but it wasn’t a graceful swan!”

Aunt Fanny from Robots

Aunt Fanny from Robots

Later that same day, Goldilocks and I were working on S’s in language. For some reason, all of hers have big tops and small bottoms that sort of fall off the line. They look like dangly earrings on a washing line. Not bad by itself, but not quite the look we’re aiming at. So I had her practise a row of beautiful S’s, with small tops and large bottoms, neatly planted on the line. I suggested that she think about Aunt Fanny, the hospitable lady robot in the Robin Williams/Ewan McGregor animated movie, Robots. Aunt Fanny has a small head and ample derrière. Almost at once, Goldilocks began wiggling her own bottom and started singing to herself, “I like big butts and I cannot lie …” Hey, if it works, it works.

And one last one …

In winter I prefer the girls to wear slippers or socks on our uncarpeted floors. It seems to make good sense to me, and looking at their naked little tootsies makes me cold! One evening this week, Goldilocks came to give me a hug and as I spun around to hug her back I nearly stepped on her foot. I said, “Sorry for nearly squashing your little foot – but why is it bare?”

She looked at it earnestly before turning a serious face to me and saying seriously, “No it isn’t. It’s human!”

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