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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

C, Unboxed

There's an ongoing criticism of standardized testing that many of the questions are culturally biased...that children from less mainstream (Judeo-Christian, white, middle class?) backgrounds might not share the same frame of reference and therefore misinterpret the intended meaning of certain elements. I think the issue goes beyond testing, all the way to instruction...and it's based more on a personal level than a necessarily shared one.

C has been reminding me of this as we make our way through some practice worksheets. Case in point: we did a few worksheets on phonemic awareness yesterday, and because the materials are aimed at pre-readers, the clues were pictograms. When T saw this picture:

he interpreted "bib" and answered accordingly. However, C interpreted "apron" and answered based on that. They had different answers, both correct according to their assumptions; and yet going by a teacher's key, one child would certainly be considered "wrong".

But is it wrong? Frankly, that looks just as much like an apron as it does a bib.

It reminds me of something that happened to me when I was in Kindergarten...something that struck me as so unfair--and illogically so--that it got burned into my memory. We were doing worksheets on color. Each page had a number of line drawings. The idea was that the student should color only the pictures that were the assigned color. For instance, on "red" day one might color the strawberry but not the banana, and so forth. The assignment was blue, and I was told that my work was "incorrect" because I had failed to color the bird. I argued with my teacher that I didn't color the bird blue because MY bird was a crow.

Oooh, now I've crossed over to a slightly different issue...but I do think they're essentially the same. First, standardized materials and greatest-common-denominator instruction and grading/evaluation are flawed if the subject matter is in any way open to subjective interpretation. In addition, there's the creativity-and-imagination element that gets suppressed in the interest of matching an outside expectation.

Both of these things SUCK.

I've seen a lot of "alternative interpretations" from C as I try to guide him through more structured, traditional "learning" tools, and it's really opening my eyes. We've had a bit of a rocky time lately, me and him--with him asking to attend school and me scrambling to reconcile my desire to honor his interests with my own hesitations about the public schooling model. Seeing how my extremely bright child would quickly get hammered down as "wrong" for not fitting the mold has reassured me that my instincts are in many ways the right choice for him. Yes, he could learn to suppress his instincts and play the game by learning how to anticipate the desired answer. Many children do. But what are they compromising in the process? What are they losing?

I'm not sure it's an acceptable loss.

1 comment:

  1. One child saw a duck and assumed bib (shows logical thinking - excellent). The other child saw many options, and came to his conclusion which was apron. AWESOME. Means he's open minded and able to see something others may not. He will be a problem solver, an inventor, or you never know, may actually find a cure for cancer someday. These individuals are artistic and creative and free thinkers. I LOVE that. Hopefully, if you decide to send him to a more socialized schooling environment, his teacher will also love that. I think you have a rebel on your hands, mom :)