February 18, 2014

The Gas Face

I have a tremendous amount of respect for those who put themselves on the front lines, even if I disagree with their tactics and conclusions.  I am quite aware of the multitude of confusing information and misinformation that passes as “news” in this hyperbolic, 24/7, social media era.  Consequentially, I can understand how some can be in a state of confusion...a little bit.

With that said, let me be clear, “opting out” is a copout.

Photo from Kelly Ann Photography
The picture of this young lady on the left has become “viral” and is being used as conclusive evidence surrounding the idiocy of "high stakes testing."  As I have said previously, ANYONE who knows me personally, knows that I abhor testing and most simple quantifiable measures of academic performance.  As an avid sports fan I can see the merits of numbers.  However, when it comes to the classroom and life outside the lines, there are so many variables which enter the equation that it is difficult to quantify performance exclusively by using such measures as A,B,C or “proficient,” “basic,” or the dreaded “below basic.” 

So Stuart, since you think it is wrong to opt out of this overindulgent, excessive amount of "high stakes testing," you are in favor of testing our babies incessantly and measuring the worth of their hard working teachers by their test scores?  If I had $5 for every time someone wanted to pin that on me, I’d be riding around in my new 2014 Range Rover.  So for the umpteenth time, let me clarify my position and my disdain with the incomplete conclusions drawn from my fellow bloggers at The Chalk Face and by those who call themselves so called Badass Teachers

     1) To describe the face of the young girl as “hearbreak” is well…disingenuous.  I know countless teachers who would look at that face of frustration and see not just the frustration but also persistence (yes a dirty word for some of y’all) and resilience (even worse, I know).  What these two words mean to me is that yes, things are hard, but with time, patience, practice and yes teaching (both from parents and educators) it will get better. 

I am 100% positive that James Baldwin, Miles Davis, Itzhak Perlman, John Lennon, Michael Jordan, Hank Aaron or any other person who has achieved excellence in their respective profession (intellectual or otherwise) has had, at some point, that same exact look, or worse, on their face as they drove to reaching the highest levels of proficiency in their professions. 
2) What message are we sending to children of this generation if we insist that if they, or others think something is “hard” then they can “opt out?”  It is already bad enough that there is a false sense of accomplishment with this generation concerning receiving awards for simply showing up and participating on the soccer field or other sporting endeavors. When these same kids enter the classroom, they expect that if they do the same thing (show up) their simple attendance equals positive academic achievement.  Sorry, it doesn’t work that way, no matter how many ways people try to spin it.  Hard work and success require significantly more than showing up.
      3) “The testing culture has created an environment where kids are told almost constantly, by way of test scores, that they are not good enough, regardless of how hard they try.” (The Chalk Face - Nelson 2/12/14)  Really?  I constantly see people on social media, in professional development trainings in my years in the classroom, and at academic educational conferences, constantly repeat the refrain that teaching is as much an “art as it is a science.” 

With that said, science is about the process of failing, learning from ones mistakes, making adjustments and retrying from the beginning, and ultimately succeeding.  So yes, you’re not good enough on your first try, or maybe your second, but if you simply “opt out” you’re never going to learn.  Does that take the joy out of learning?  I’m sorry, my perspective is that is EXACTLY where the joy is.  In finding different routes to conclusions, in examining the inquiry process, in learning with and from your classmates, in finally finding the answer and quickly raising your hand to be acknowledged.  THAT is the joy…So for all of you who think that because something is hard, we should not try, think about your own life experiences.  Did you give up?  Did you simply crawl into a hole because you could not do something?  Sure, sometimes that hole is comfortable and comforting, but as the saying goes “if you can make it through the night, there is a brighter day.”

So in my most humble opinion, don’t opt out, opt in…

We can all agree that we should reform the incessant high stakes test preparation that passes as pedagogy these days, but overall we need to keep going, keep fighting, and keep pushing towards teaching our children to find the joy in the simplest discoveries, and yes, in the process.  Another adage that I used to have on my classroom wall was from the inspirational speaker Marianne Williamson, “it is not up to you what you learn, but whether you learn through joy or pain.”  

Find the joy.  


  1. At least you didn't use the word "grit".

    1. "Grit" is a term currently being employed by some who are seeking to quantify resilience and persistence. I suggest that instead of gritting your teeth at the use of specific words, that you examine the research surrounding them. Here is a Ted Talk from Dr. Duckworth on her work...http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit.html