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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Missing The Boat With Meaningful, Relevant Learning

Lessons Learned

Relational Education


One of the most significant outages of metrics driven educational accountability, as I see it, is the absence of time for relational connection to the students.  There simply are not enough hours in the school day to accommodate all of the paperwork that needs to be accomplished in terms of a variety of assessments, high-stakes testing with endless prep for that, and documentation on each issue of each student so that suitable amounts of paper trails can cover every measurable aspect. Information is not the enemy, however. We have a tendency towards the extreme, and that is the problem.  The “go big or go home” mentality which drives our culture and permeates our every moment, pushes and extends the wide-sweeping swing of the pendulum of trends to new extremes that readily enslave us all. We seem to have lost all sense of moderation and balance and have traded that for superlative amounts of the next new-fangled idea, whatever that may be. Excessive, obsessive amounts of metrics fastidiously gathered for the purposes of something that may or may not be working relative to educating students successfully is fast becoming ridiculous. And what has been traded for the boxes full of pointless data which will sit and ultimately become kindling for the fire resulting from the spark of tomorrow’s next theory? Show and tell has been traded.  Arts have been traded. Field trips and special curiosity-driven projects have been traded.  PE, an extra recess and normal-length lunch hours have been traded. All things that make education real and human and meaningful and relatable have been traded. That is a gargantuanly pricey trade. The numbers have added little besides significant stress and have taken beauty and connection. In thirty years of teaching, I have sadly witnessed exponentially increasing numbers of relational breakdowns all around but beginning with families. Kids are resilient is what the experts all say and it’s true to a certain extent but it is not the whole story. Scars. Fear. Pain. Insecurity.  And on and on. These are the rest of the story. These are what students carry to the classroom, to recess, to the nurse’s office. These are the things that tummy aches are made of. These are the things that stir in bullies. These are the things that result in high distractibility and disengagement.  These things hurt deeply and permanently and affect every single aspect of school. These things are not documented alongside reading scores, but they influence every assessment.  All of the traded elements mentioned above provide balm for the deep hurts such as these, and without them our burdened children merely go superficially through educational motions. To talk, to interact, to share, to relate, to express, to create, these are meaning-making attributes of education that inspire engagement and foster affirmation that in turn will encourage confidence and desire to discover.  Swing pendulum, swing away from the numbers that allow decision-makers to enthusiastically pat one another on the back, and instead swing toward those deep things that honestly reach and nurture students. We yearn for connection; it’s a human need, and it cannot be extracted from educating children without suffering an unfathomable price.  We are there.