Why NOT let are kid’s be ignerunt?

May 28, 2007

Most of the people I know who have achieved much through their mental abilities have in their make-up a real horror of being unprepared, of not knowing what they need to know.

I often say that shame and guilt made this country a great place. People usually think I’m making a joke.

I could not be more serious.

Outside of a Fort Worth, Texas, high school recently, a bunch of students marched, and carried placards protesting the fact that some of them would not be allowed to receive their diplomas because they had failed to pass a standardized test.

Some, though not all, Texas school districts say that a student who fails that test, regardless of grade point average, can’t make that walk.

Some of the students who failed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, exam are pretty upset. They say they earned the right to their graduation, though they were not real clear on HOW they earned it.

One of the signs read “Let Are Kids Walk.”

I don’t know about you, but I think I can glimpse part of the problem.

The news story carried this quote from one of the students:

“I believe that I have at least the right to walk the stage with all my friends…I made it this far, and I have all my credits I need. I deserve to get my certificate of completion.”

I don’t know the least thing about the public school system in Texas, (I will eschew jokes about the current cowboy in the White House. Besides, I figure he did not spend much time in public schools.) But I suspect it suffers from the same syndrome plaguing our entire culture. That plague is exemplified perfectly in one phrase and one word in the quote above: “the right to” and “deserve.”

Entitlement. “I deserve the keys to the kingdom because, well, because I showed up and kept my seat warm for four years.”

Phooey.

One of the students quoted in the story said she had a good GPA but would not get her certificate because she failed the TAKS.

I am not a huge fan of standardized tests. Making them important has forced school to “teach to the tests,” meaning that the goal of the school is to make kids good at taking tests, as opposed to knowing stuff and being able to think critically.

Nlet-are-kids.jpgews flash: Knowing how to be good at standardized tests is not an especially useful life-skill.

What our young friend with the good GPA misses is that a good GPA does not mean you know stuff or are good at anything, either.

Sometimes it does. But there is a lot of pressure on schools and teachers to pass students, and a lot of that pressure comes from lawsuits, threatened and real, even physical threats. We are a nation that honors, if that is the word, the diploma, not what it is supposed to represent.

Standardized tests, on the other hand, are more of a monolithic thing, big and impenetrable and, however well or ill they measure, they measure even-handedly.

These kids in Texas have a right to be put out, I suppose. They were raised in a culture that does not honor knowledge. Trivia, yes. The average high school student can tell you who the most recent loser on American Idol was, but has no clue how to form a sentence that makes sense, or, for that matter, does not include the word “like” or the brain-dead hum of “um.”

So, why should it matter that they could not demonstrate, in however clumsy a fashion, sufficient knowledge in a broad range of subjects to demonstrate that they were doing more in school than arranging their own social events and staring out the window?

I’m not even going to get into talking about the United States position in the world market of our kids versus anybody else’s. That’s been beaten to death and we seem not to care. I heard a woman once refer to a high school girl who had won some major competition in math and science toss it off because “Oh, she’s Asian.”

Hmm. “My kid’s a dumbass, but it’s OK, he’s American?”

The real shame is that we have to ask that question at all.

Whose fault is it? Parents typically blame teachers, but it’s more complex than that. I already said it. We The People do not value knowledge. Fashion, attitude and gossip, yes. An ability to think, to reason, not so much.

Just showing up is not enough, kids. Just looking busy when the teacher walks by won’t cut it. Sorry.

We still hear a lot about being sure to establish and preserve self-esteem in our – excuse me “are” children, as though self-esteem can be had without any sense that one can fail at something.

I attended a high school graduation a few years back. Virtually every student in the senior class received some sort of quasi-academic honor. I had met a fair sample of those kids and was not convinced I was in the company of genius. The awards were clearly planned to give every kid a sense that they were worthy. The awards, therefore, really meant nothing.

Self-esteem and knowledge and recognition for them can only be earned, which means that, sadly, there will be some who fail at earning them. This is a sad truth. Garrison Keillor and Lake Woebegone notwithstanding, ALL of the children can NOT be above average.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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