By May 12, 2016 Uncategorized No Comments

(The following is a reprise of a post I originally published on February 13th, 2015. With high school commencement activities taking place across our state and nation this month, it seemed appropriate to share it once again. Hopefully, it is not too late to change course.)

The above picture is from the commencement ceremony of Waldo High School in Averagetown, Middle America in the year 2020.

Waldo represents the high school of the future if high-stakes, standardized testing continues as the primary driver of educational policy in our nation. Waldo High School will be very similar to every other high school in America.

These incredibly unique and diverse human beings have been systematically transformed into a standardized college and career-ready product, ready to fill his or her role in a preordained future, likely at a Wal-Mart or Bill Gates owned and operated corporation.

Over the thirteen years of their education, nearly every shred of curiosity and creativity has been carefully and methodically eliminated through rigorous application of a one-size-fits-all standardized curriculum and systematic testing in selected subjects according to their chronological age.

Can you find your child?

Can you find the student gifted in art? How about the one who loves to work on computers? Can you identify the child who loves agriculture and dreams of running the family farm? Can you see the child who was the lead in the school musical and has aspirations of performing on Broadway?

How about the one who worked two jobs during high school to help his single mom pay the bills? Or the one who could never get her homework done because she was babysitting her younger siblings and the apartment was too loud? The young man who was permitted “to walk” with his peers but must await word on whether his EOI project is approved so he can graduate? The young lady with a two-year-old son at home?

Maybe you can see the young man who plans on serving as a Marine Corps infantryman. Can you find the girl who wants to pursue a career in cosmetology? The future teacher and football coach? How about the future homemaker and mother of three? I’m sure there are one or two potential athletes in this class as well. Can you spot them?

Can you find the child who has the gift of empathy, who talked her best friend out of harming herself during their junior year? The one who can brighten a room with her personality alone? Do you see the future pastor in the crowd? The auto mechanic, the plumber, the electrician, the landscape architect, the home builder, and the construction worker? How about the restaurant manager, the journalist, the computer programmer, and the education blogger?

It really doesn’t matter, does it? For thirteen years, we taught them the same standards in the same sequence in the same way. We gave them the same tests on the same subjects on the same days and based their value as human beings on their success or failure on those. We treated each child exactly the same. That must be fair, right?

Many of them can analyze an Elizabethan sonnet but will not read a book for pleasure the rest of their life. They can tell you the quadratic equation but have no idea how to fill out an IRS Form 1040. They can write a poem using iambic pentameter yet have never written a resume or cover letter or completed a job application. They can recite the preamble to the US Constitution, but have no idea how to study a political issue and contact their legislator to share their opinion in a cogent and concise manner.

These students  can follow a set of procedures to complete a science experiment and fill a data table, yet they lack the creativity to develop their own questions, interpret unexpected results, or think outside the box of academia.  They have learned how to take multiple choice tests well, yet this is a skill that will have little to no value for future success.

Most of these students will forget much of what they learned in high school by the time they turn 25. By the time they turn 50, their success (or failure) in life will have been determined more by the content of their character than their memory of the content. More by their ability to think, problem solve, imagine and work with others than their ability to read textbooks and take tests.

The successful ones in this group will be the ones who figure out how to be the “Non-Waldos:” the people who step out and stand out. The ones who elevate themselves above the crowd–the innovators, the risk-takers, the entrepreneurs, the ones who attack the world with passion and conviction. The THINKERS!

Look again at the picture. We know they are all good test takers because they have effectively jumped through the hundreds of BIG Standardized (BS) tests we have put in front of them. But, do you see any “non-Waldos?” Where are the thinkers? Are there any there and how can you tell? Your guess is as good as mine.

So, congratulations, future graduates of Waldo High School. Your standardized knowledge and skills would have served you well IF you had been born in the year 1900. You were not. That’s really too bad!

We should have done better. However, our government policy makers all had higher degrees from Waldo University, subsequently they had little imagination or original thought. The best idea they could come up with is test, test, and test a little damned more. When that didn’t work, we TESTED longer and harder. Sorry about all that.

You are now an adult equipped with a standardized brain full of useless trivia about to enter the highly unpredictable, rapidly evolving, technology-driven, UNSTANDARDIZED 21st century.

Good luck, Waldos! You will need it!

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