Just Say No


It's time for parents to say no to testing.

As a parent myself, who shepherded two children through the NYC public school system, and as a clinician who treats the parents of many other such children, I can unhesitatingly assert that we are driving our children crazy at worst, at the least we are teaching them to hate learning.

There is hardly a family I know with school-aged children whose children are not on attentional medication, anti-anxiety medication, or anti-depressant medication. None of these children are enjoying school...they are all stressed out beyond belief. Not just because the classes are too large, the teachers overwhelmed and the new core curriculum unnecessarily difficult and stultifyingly boring, but because everything they are being taught to memorize, rather than think through, is in preparation for weekly tests, which will prepare them for annual tests, which will prepare them for pre-college tests. There is no learning for it's own sake. There is no joy in learning. There is no creativity in learning. Even at the supposedly highly creative specialized art schools that both of my sons attended, there was no relief from this push to turn them into parrots and monkeys.

While thought leaders like Dr. Dan Seigel (The Mindful Brain) and Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence), agree that memorization does NOT teach kids to learn, and despite the fact that our youth have unlimited access to more factoids on the information highway via the phones in their pockets than any teacher -- no matter how well trained -- could ever provide, schools continue to insist that the memorization of facts still constitutes an education. It does not. We are boring our kids to death, and then drilling the love of learning out of them. Even the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan came out in favor of less testing and said that all the testing is "sucking the oxygen out of the classrooms." (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/13/education/arne-duncan-says-administration-is-committed-to-testing.html?_r=0) Well, a lot of the canaries are already dead and gone; they left to pursue GEDs or homeschooling, or they ended up in rehab or psych wards.

We do not simply need a little less testing, we need to stop thinking of learners as computers. They will use their computers, to correct spelling and grammar, to add and subtract numbers, to do literature reviews and to acquire current and historical data. What they need from schools. and cannot acquire through their devices, is the means to: having their natural passion and curiosity met, developing and practicing problem solving skills experientially, engaging in emotionally intelligent discourse and collaborations with adults and one another, and the capacity to make meaning of their lives and express empathy toward their planet and fellow humans. This is what the workplace will demand of them, and this is what we are NOT preparing them for. It is also what will get their attention, help them relate to one another, and lift them out of the depths of depression.

We need to make schools places of learning and growth and empowerment, not torture, stress and failure. We need to make schools no-testing zones. It is up to us as parents. We are the taxpayers and we pay the salaries. Opt out of mandated testing. Just say no.