Ready or Not?

Word on the street–or maybe it would be more appropriate to say word in the halls–is that the Obama administration plans to ask Congress to revamp the No Child Left Behind law to focus less on the numerical calculations of  test scores to determine AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and more on how many students are on track to be “college and career ready” by the end of high school.

And, isn’t that in many ways what school should be all about?  Rather than teaching kids how to bubble in little circles well or write canned five-paragraph essays, shouldn’t we be preparing them for success in later life?  I love the New York Times opinion piece that Harriet over at AJ’s Clubhouse shared recently.  The ideal classroom described reflects exactly the kind of learning environment we’ve worked hard to achieve at All-American Public Schools.  We’re not living in education-Nirvana yet, but we’re a lot closer to it than we were even a few years ago.

Susan Engel, author of the NYT’s article, states

Our success depends on embracing a curriculum focused on essential skills like reading, writing, computation, pattern detection, conversation and collaboration — a curriculum designed to raise children, rather than test scores.

I love that.  Love it.  I’m going to totally steal it as my motto for the curriculum work I do in the district.  Raising children, rather than test scores. Exactly.

That phrase and the idea of “college and career readiness” kept swirling around in my head during my drive home from work tonight.  I’m the product of public schools.  And, at the end of my career there, I found myself quite prepared for college, which in turn prepared me for my career. (And, since I can’t resist some editorializing of my own, let’s recall the public schools were supposedly, though not actually, failing then too.)

So what lessons did I learn back in the days of ribbon belts, leg warmers, and big hair that pushed me toward productive citizenship?

  • I learned how to write a meaningful personal narrative and a well-researched paper from a senior English teacher who also tapped out iambic pentameter on her trashcan.
  • I learned that Taoism was a dead religion (something the 20 million followers and the people who built the temple across from the high school where I eventually worked in Houston would be surprised to know) on my way to falling in love with studying history in my first AP class.  Fortunately, I also learned that sometimes sources are wrong, so it’s good to check more than one.
  • I learned that hard work, dedication, and perseverance pay off and that sometime that payoff involves even more hard work.  This lesson came almost entirely from marching up and down a vast expanse of black asphalt, sweating it out in the middle of a series of Texas summers.  That sweat (along with some hazing that would be strictly verboten in this day and age) earned me every moment of time I spent sparkling in my majorette uniform under the glow of the Friday night lights.
  • I learned that having two parents who excel in the liberal arts does not earn you any science fair prizes nor serve as any help in completing advanced math or chemistry homework.  This lesson inspired me to do better for my own children by seeking out a partner with an engineering degree.  Unfortunately, it also led to my having to endure things like watching my dryer being disassembled without benefit of a repairman.  We all make compromises.

In looking over my list, I know it wasn’t the details, the facts, the things I memorized that made me college and career ready.  It was the process, the thinking, the stretching to achieve things maybe I didn’t even think I could achieve until I did.  That’s what I hope we can capture in my district and across the country.

What lessons did you take away from school?  What lessons do you hope your children will take with them into the world?

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2 Comments

Filed under Work

2 responses to “Ready or Not?

  1. I loved that phrase too and I live this post. I will answer it, but I want some time to think about it first. And since I’m heading conference-ward, it may be a few days. But in the mean time, I have a feeling I’ll be dreaming in iambic pentameter.

  2. As our August babes approach high school, I’ve been reflecting on my own high school years and talking to SB about them. And the stories NEVER are about actual academic lessons learned. It’s always about the process. My biggest achievements that I am personally proud of were always about overcoming a previously conceived obstacle or belief about my abilities. Learning that practice really DOES mean improving skills, that if you find anything you can feel passionate about in a book, then you really *can* write about it. That doing something unusual and unexpected is thrilling and expands your world.

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