There’s a ton of discussions out there about the pressures being put on students to achieve in the classroom. Most argue against seatwork in favor of play. Others habitually point out that more kids than ever before are being diagnosed with ADHD for a variety of reasons, including too much seatwork, too much homework, too much technology and not enough free time outside.
The latest complaint that’s been issued by a teacher from the pages of the Atlantic is a melodramatic read by Jessica Lahey along these lines:
The truth—for this parent and so many others—is this: Her child has sacrificed her natural curiosity and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault. Marianna’s parents, her teachers, society at large—we are all implicated in this crime against learning. From her first day of school, we pointed her toward that altar and trained her to measure her progress by means of points, scores, and awards. We taught Marianna that her potential is tied to her intellect, and that her intellect is more important than her character.
Teachers love to argue that we’re killing students’ natural curiosity by forcing them to perform to state standards. But, what about the bored kids?
My academic career was filled with standards to live up to, all of which were rather unchallenging at best. No one talks about the bored kids; the ones who see through the rubrics, who understand what it is they need to accomplish in order to be left alone so they can do their own thing. For us, the problem was never in associating potential with intellect. It was that our intellect had too much potential.
No one wants to talk about the other side of academia’s bell curve of inadequacies: the fact that public schools consistently fail gifted students. The discussion is always about the average kid who hits burnout, or the teacher hitting burnout because of the average kid. Rarely do we ever discuss the failures that impact students classified as learning disabled. Never do we dare to admit that our public education system isn’t designed for the kids too smart for their own good.
Case in point, in her essay, Lahey talks about helping students to reclaim their “intellectual bravery.” In third grade my father worked with me to perform my first at-home science project on electromagnetics. Allow me to clarify: “worked with me” meant that he explained the principles of electromagnetics because my teacher thought it too complicated for me to understand. He then supervised the experiment I performed for safety purposes since I was 8 years old.
When I presented my findings in front of my class, my teacher and her colleagues accused me of not doing my own work. They then awarded the science fair prize to a fellow student whose project, “What Uses More Water, a Shower or a Bath?” involved sticking a ruler into her tub the day before the assignment was due.
Those teachers taught me one lesson that year: What Lahey calls “intellectual bravery” isn’t worth a dime in the public sphere. The only difference between me and the kids on psychiatric drugs today is that I valued my intellect more than my teachers ever did. In other words, I didn’t put my faith in the system, therefore I made out just fine.
Rubrics, curriculum standards and, yes, even federal funding are only the effects of the current problems in education. The cause of the problem is the cultural expectations put on public education. Our children are taught to value themselves through the lens of educators. Public education doesn’t exist to make a child feel worthy. It exists to equip an already inherently worthy child to do great things. Until we accept that truth, all of our children are better off pursuing alternative forms of schooling that encourage the student to look within, not without for the sense of value and purpose that every human being so desperately needs.