Public education: snapshot or video?

“Data driven.”

The catchphrase of public education. Teach and test. Graph and compare. Complete the spread sheet.


I hated it. In grade-level teams, we would pore over the scores of short, frequent assessments to determine progress. We isolated skills and used contrived text to teach and test. We took the information and created ability “snapshots” of each of our students. Then, we grouped, categorized, and inserted these snapshots into a sort of reading photo album, each ability level and skill on a separate page.

Then, in two weeks, we did it all over again.

But students are not a series of snapshots.

They are videos, captured each day by devoted and professional educators. On good days. On rough days. On the days that we didn’t take those reading snapshots or gather data.

And every frame of the video should be…must be included to tell the whole story about the whole child.

Part of that story may be about a baby sister who had to go to the emergency room at midnight. “We all had to go with my mom because my dad was at work. He doesn’t have a cell phone.”

The story may be, “No, I didn’t have breakfast because my big sister didn’t wake up in time to get us ready.”

Or, “My glasses broke. But, I’m getting new ones as soon as we pay for the plasma TV.”

Or, “The art teacher lets me come in after school to do pottery and we’re going to fire it on Tuesday. I never got to do that before. She says I’m really good.

“I wish I could take piano lessons.”

Those scenes are never memorialized in a reading test snapshot. Real life scenes that don’t make it into the hallowed circle of analysis when we decide who is succeeding and who is not.

That data is not included when we make monumental decisions about student success. Because success is defined and measured only by how well and how fast you read and understand grade-level texts.

We tell students to be themselves. Don’t follow the crowd. You are unique.

But, when they are successful in any arena outside of academia, we give no more affirmation or encouragement than “that sounds cool” or oh, wonderful.”

Or, even worse “Your parents must be so proud. Ummmm, did you have time to finish your math homework?

Yes, we pay lip service to artistic individuality. “Where would we be without Beethoven, Picasso, Katherine Hepburn, and Robert Frost, successful people who marched to their own drummers?”

All good examples. Not, however, roles to which we can reasonably ask most of our students to aspire.

No, the argument is that EVERY child, whether destined for fame or not, is blessed and gifted and impassioned with something. And it may very well be reading or math.

But look deeper. Their hearts may be on the soccer field, or in the mechanic’s garage, or at home with the babies, or stitching a leather saddle by hand.

morning_picdump_143_640_12Yes, it’s true. If our students can’t read, life will be tough. We need to be diligent and work tirelessly as they learn the skills necessary to survive in the real world.

But, for some of them, if they can’t cook or run or sing, life will be miserable.

God designed every life with its very own purpose. Every life matters to Him. And every life should matter to us.

Because every precious life will, in its own way, make a real difference in the real world. 

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