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Test mania and distractions take the joy out of learning

Posted: 2008-10-26

from the Orlando Sentinel, New Voices: A forum
for readers under 30, October 25, 2008

Hanging on the wall in many of the high-school

classrooms around Orange County is a poster that

reads, "Thirty years from now it won't matter

what shoes you wore, how your hair looked or what

jeans you bought; what will matter is what you

learned and how you used it."

A clever way to put it, but in our bumper-sticker

society -- overseen by our slogan-happy

government -- we seem to have gotten better at

phrasing the things we believe in than actually

encouraging them.

Between required teaching of standardized test

curriculum and oversized classes filled with

iPod- and cell phone-toting teenagers, education

has become far from uncool -- it's a downright


There is no more efficient way to rob a student

of an education than to "teach for the test" --

particularly statewide, standardized,

extracurricular tests that determine whether a

student will graduate from high school.

One example: the Florida Comprehensive Assessment

Test. FCAT not only determines a student's

future, it helps determine a school's funding and

teachers' salaries, based on student performance.

Under the pressure of learning information for a

test, students feel threatened by the X's and Y's

in algebra equations.

A work of literature becomes a barbed-wire jumble

of words, all there for the sole purpose of

withholding the "main idea" -- a loaded FCAT term

even the best teachers have trouble defining.

Is this supposed to inspire the joy of learning

in a student?

Ok, let's say a teacher has managed to balance

FCAT curriculum with his or her own lesson plans.

Now how is this teacher supposed to transfer such

varied and nuanced information to 30 students at


A teenager's undivided attention can be hard to

come by when there are 29 fellow teenagers doing

their best to divide it.

Not to mention the most efficient attention-

dividers of all: iPods and cell phones. With an

infinite music library in their backpack and a

cellular-note sender in their pocket, students

come to school practically armed to not learn.

Why have we allowed our teachers' hands -- in

which the futures of our children are held -- to

be so full?

What does it say of a country where one of its

presidential candidates has so many homes he

can't even remember the number, yet its

government lacks the funding to provide enough

room, enough teachers, and enough teacher-support

to properly educate its children?

Is it too bold to suggest a "Schoolhouse Revival

Program" that makes use of John McCain's

forgotten homes?

No wonder students are more concerned with how

they look at school than with what they learn.

They're only emulating the adults that run this

country -- a country more concerned with coining

a slogan than taking action, more concerned with

projecting a popular image than pursuing the


Now reconsider the potency of this clash between

acquiring knowledge and acquiring popularity in

the mind of a high-school student.

We all know what it's like. We've all been there.

It's a symptom of the false divide students feel

between the world of education and the real


School is dull, life outside of school is

dazzling. Some may concede this as a "fact of

life" for a maturing teenager. I, however, am

ashamed to live in a country that finds education

less than fascinating.

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