We completed PARCC testing today. Before we started the test yesterday, a student asked me, "Ms. Herring, does the PARCC test help me get into anything?" I asked him what he meant, and he said, "like, will this help me get into 8th grade? or high school? or college?" I said that his performance on this test would not, in fact, get him into or out of anything. However, his performance would potentially be a reflection on my teaching ability, so I would appreciate it if he would just try his very hardest to do his best. He smiled and said he would do that for me.
After the test, I was flipping through a copy of Madeleine L'engle's A Wrinkle in Time that was sitting on my desk. We just finished reading the novel earlier this week before testing began. As I flipped through the back of the novel, I noticed that her 1963 Newberry Award acceptance speech was printed after the last chapter. I had never read it before, so I stopped to read those few pages. You can read the full text here. As I was reading, this particular passage really stuck out to me:
Because of the very nature of the world as it is today, our children receive in school a heavy load of scientific and analytic subjects, so it is in their reading for fun, for pleasure, that they must be guided into creativity. These are forces working in the world as never before in the history of mankind for standardization, for the regimentation of us all, or what I like to call making muffins of us, muffins all like every other muffin in the muffin tin. This is the limited universe, the drying, dissipating universe that we can help our children avoid by providing them with "explosive material capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly."
Guys, she wrote this in 1963. I read that, and I couldn't help but think about the fact that I had just administered a test which is both standardized and regimented. So much of education does give the appearance, as L'engle suggests, of making "muffins all like every other muffin in the muffin tin." But that's not why I became a teacher. I became a teacher because I wanted to engage students in a true, in-depth look at who they want to be as unique and awesome human beings. I became a teacher because I want to provide students with that explosive material that will stir up real life and stir up imagined worlds that they can create in their own minds and stir up all the infinite possibilities that lie ahead of them if they only manage to hold on to their creativity in a world of education that sometimes seems to just value filling in the blank.
I want my students to be so excited to walk into my classroom. I want them to know that it's cool to make mistakes because that's what leads to innovation. I don't want to contribute to "the drying, dissipating universe." I mean, yikes! That's some strong language. I wonder what Madeleine L'engle would think about today's educational landscape. There are so many amazing teachers encouraging their students to be change-makers and inventors and writers. However, for every teacher who is doing everything they can to ignite creativity and a passion for learning, it feels like there is also a politician who is trying to steal autonomy and creativity away from teachers. I don't have any of the answers. All I know if that I'm on Team L'engle. I want to create little sparks of excitement for learning every. single. day.