This Friday is the end of the semester and like many middle and high schools, we have semester exams. Since I only have 8th grade, I've been sitting on the sidelines for this one and pondering the great questions of educational theory. I decided to give my 8th graders a project, rather than an exam. However, within the school, there has been a short-lived discussion about the point of exams. Do we have to have them? Should they be two hours long? What are these students going to experience in college? Is it fair to have projects instead of tests? Is it fair to have a 1 ½ hour test when in college it could for 3 hours?
I think it comes back to the reason for type of educational system that exists. In Pre-K, students are “readied” for first grade and reading. Throughout elementary grades, students are taught what they need for middle school. In middle school we ready them for high school; and high school focuses on college. So what happens after that? Does college prepare students for their actual careers?
In my limited experience, no, it doesn't. As a teacher coming out of a teaching program, I felt very unprepared for the realities of the classroom and working with adults who all have their own agendas and unique personalities. Like many other teachers, the first years teaching were where I got my real education. In the case of my college roommate, she completed 4 years of Information Technology just to be retrained at her first job.
What should education focus on? I think Robert Fulghum was right – most of what we really need to know is learned in kindergarten, and then, unfortunately, unlearned throughout our lives.
Clean up your own messes
Say sorry when you hurt
Look – and be aware of the wonder
Live a balanced life
Hold hands and stick together
Teaching this should be simple – just model it in everyday life. But grading, well, that's a horse of a different color. Eight out of ten questions is easy – that's a 80% or a B-. Joey returned Jimmy's hat when it was taken away by a bully – where does that show up on the report card? I look at the daily problems in the classroom and I see students who forget, or never learned the basics of Kindergarten. And, I see a lot of adults who don't remember it either.
In this era of standards and benchmarks, the focus is to set benchmarks for things that can be measured. Explain the causes of the American Revolution. Use the formula to figure out the frequency of a sound wave. Illustrate how the character changes throughout the story. But how do you measure the kindness of the human heart? The outstretched hand for those who have fallen? The tender words for a broken spirit? These are the things we should be teaching, learning, assessing, and valuing. In 10 years, will it matter if a student can recite the causes of the Revolution? No, but if he cannot play fair at work, say sorry to his wife, and live a balanced life then he has truly learned nothing in school.