Dear Educational Powers-that-Be…someone, anyone who will listen?
Why-oh-why is experiential learning becoming a thing of the past and our children’s school hours being increasingly filled with “testing”?
And as I chaperoned my 4th grade daughter’s class field trip to a local salt marsh yesterday, I, once again, witnessed kids being excited about learning. Their young minds were stimulated because of activities where they were touching, seeing, smelling and exploring. Kids who I knew would probably never come to the salt marshes or go on a nature walk with their families were discovering something new. Interest was peaked in something real. Little worlds were expanding before my very eyes.
Then, as I listened to my 4th grade daughter’s lament about her day prior to that, I witnessed the dulling of a young mind because she was, once again, forced to endure yet another hour of state-run testing in her classroom. It is exhaustive, repetitive, frustrating and stress-inducing to name just a few things about this continual process. What kind of educational system is this where it is ok to stress-out a 10-year-old?
And why, I ask, is exploration and discovery-based education taking a back seat?
I recently helped to coordinate a science fair day at my daughter’s elementary school. Our committee hoped that it would be received well (we hoped! prayed!), as this event had been put on the back burners for several years at the school. We were working to revive it, as we believe in the merits of this type of learning process. We also knew that, as doing science projects was an optional activity within the school, many kids and parents are stretched thin these days and would many (any?) of them have the desire and the ability to carve out time to do a science fair project? I am happy to report that the response was a vibrant one and more projects exhibiting interests, creativity and curiosity were done than in any years past.
Two things in particular resonated with me from this experience. Firstly, that my own daughter’s attitude towards science completely changed. Before the science fair, she had virtually no interest in science. By the end of the project, she was heroically proud of her efforts, thoroughly enjoyed the process and discovery (we even clocked some good mother-daughter time working on it which was a bonus) and she walked away confident and enthused because of it. Secondly, parents and teachers were excited by our science day. Many parents approached me the night of the event and thanked us for bringing it back and getting the kids fired up about science via our visiting scientists and the excitement over the projects. One teacher actually made a point of telling me that they wished there was time for more projects like these instead of the perpetual testing that is occurring. “We need more of this”, that teacher said.
At our elementary school, we also have the beginnings of an “educational garden”. But, as of now, it is rarely used. How can teachers utilize a learning space such as this, which could prove to a be a wonderful tool in so many areas (art, science, math, life skills, you name it!), if they are having to administer state-mandated tests continually to so many students? The short answer is that they cannot. There is not enough time in their days or their year to handle the basic curriculum and the testing and then hopefully pepper their student’s days with something inventive.
Testing is cutting into hands-on time, slashing our curriculums (where did cursive go? classroom discussions? world geography? even mind-clearing and rejuvenating recess?), stressing-out our teachers and making our kids unnecessarily anxious. Does this sound like the breeding ground for a lifelong love of learning?
Can we please make a move to replace testing, paper-pushing and the race for the all-mighty dollar with the core values of education that truly lead to advancement? Discovery, experimentation, the nurturing of curiosity will get our kids where they need to go.
Mom of two young minds