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Test mania and distractions take the joy out of learning

Publication Date: 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
bore.

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
once?

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
truth.

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
world.

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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