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A Drum Roll Please For NOT Continuing Every Child Left Behind!

While the latest generation of reformers lobby to personalize and humanize public education the establishment rolls out its traditional fear-based talking points.

By Michael Mendizza

Much of the responsibility for inspired early childcare and education has shifted to you -- the professional. And you -- like your brothers and sisters in higher education, middle and elementary education are in the pressure cooker flamed by 'high stakes standards.'

While the latest generation of reformers lobby to personalize and humanize public education the establishment rolls out its traditional fear-based talking points. "If our children are to compete in a global market we must have first class curriculum and strong standards." Who can argue with that?

The key issue being debated is the need for uniform standards and assessments. What we call standardized tests are tools to measure, to assess. Measurement tools are necessary. How do we know how far we jumped unless we measure, unless we have a standard of measurement, inches, feet and yards? Let's be practical. Shared meaning is impossible if one person uses inches, another meters and another cubits. Standards are essential.

The issue isn't measurement, feedback. The issue is the 'high stakes' value and consequences attached to one's personal performance when compared to others. Comparison is the culprit, not the feedback obtained from measurement.

Optimum learning and performance unfolds naturally when thought, feeling and action are entrained - coherent. If we are being watched, judged, evaluated, compared -- whether giving birth, passing a spelling test or lining up a three foot putt -- coherence is lost. Part of our attention is invested in meeting the challenge and part is concerned about looking good, belonging. The greater the pressure, the higher the stakes, the greater percentage of energy and attention that goes into defense - looking good. The more energy that goes into feeling safe--the less resources are invested in real growth.

Feedback is one thing. Judging, comparing, categorizing --you are smart -- you are not -- competition based conformity is quite another. With feedback there is no personal identification. The milk spilled on the floor. With judgment and comparison we, our social image and status, become the object that is being judged and compared. You spilled the milk! With feedback milk is the object. With judgment, comparison and competition the spotlight is on us.

Research on states of optimum learning and performance is convincing. Intrinsic motivation is the hallmark of optimum performance at any age, in any field. In optimum states feedback is constantly being used, like a scalpel, to carve away waste and imbalance, to increase precision and creativity.

The instant comparison, not as a scientist might compare one result with another, but myself-image compared to yours, enters - optimum states of learning and performance disappear. There is a shift of energy and attention away from the immediate challenge to 'what will they think of me if I win or not?' Motivation is transformed. Appropriate intelligent creativity is replaced with self-image and its defense.

Learning and development is natural. Compulsory government controlled schooling -- all twelve years plus several years of preschool and college -- is mostly behavior modification and social conditioning -- all carefully bound and powered by the same self-image based threat of approval or disapproval. And, as the ancient maximum describes, 'as above -- so below,' parents, educators and politicians are all caught in the same net.

Feedback is one thing. You hit the ball and watch it fly. 'You are a champion or an idiot' is a form of social control - behavior modification. The way feedback is used as a tool to twist the human psyche is quite another. Until we are absolutely clear about the distinction between these two -- our good intentions will continue to pave the way to....

— Michael Mendizza
CA Assoc. for the Education of Young Children Newsletter


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