Friday, October 18, 2013

NCLB Politics—Part II

     Local primary school educators who deny teaching to the test crack me up.  Reminds me of Bart Simpson, who—spray paint can in raised hand and over-spray on limbs and clothes—when confronted by Principal Skinner and a cohort of witnesses before a graffiti painting says, “I didn't do it.”
     If they had any guts, they'd say, “Of course we do it.  What do you expect?  We need the federal funds.  Who wants the added scrutiny of restructuring status?  If you don't like it, vote out the politicians that enacted NCLB!”
     Wordly Wise is blatant teaching to the test.  It requires youngsters to memorize asinine word lists--definitions, spellings, word forms, usage, synonyms, antonyms, etc.  I remember when I was a kid that the SAT company claimed its tests were impossible to study for because they encompassed a body of knowledge that could only be mastered through years of accumulated learning and that was what made them fair—rich kids had no advantage by taking cram classes because they didn't help.
     Well, I guess that myth got debunked, but instead of eliminating or de-emphasizing the socially and economically biased standardized tests, politicians and educators instead decided to attempt to level the playing field by having virtually all public school students drilled for these tests year-round.
     Now, I'm all for versatile vocabularies as word mastery expands comprehension and facilitates communication.  But memorizing word lists is not the way to go.  Enhanced vocabularies should be a useful byproduct of engaged learning, not the boring object of learning.  Or, once a child can read, dictionaries should be the primary vocabulary building tool, not standardized word lists.  Children that habitualize dictionary use while studying real subjects such as science, social studies, English, history, or health as early as possible tend to have the best vocabularies anyway, since they know best how to interpret and apply words in real-life contexts.
     Vocabularies, because they are so easy to test, are over-weighted in standardized tests.  Even spelling bees have such a narrow scope, they have only limited applicability to contestants’ future academic endeavors (especially if they don't even know the definitions of the words they so masterfully spell).  And for many, poor vocabularies don't even seem to impede their professional careers.
     An audit manager (who was about to be promoted to partner) in a CPA firm I worked for helped “correct” me in a small gathering stating that he believed the word I sought was “pronunciation,” though the word I was looking for and wasn’t sure how to pronounce was “enunciate.”  I didn't dare correct him.
     An HR director in a large state of Hawaii office misspelled a painfully obvious word (I can't remember what—he used a phonetic spelling) in a training session, that elicited a few chuckles.  It didn't hurt his career in the least.
     A former U.S. Vice President famously prompted a spelling bee student to change his spelling of the word “potato” to “potatoe.”
     Sure, public faux pas in others are easy to ridicule, yet we all slip now and then, whether through typos, hurry, distraction, or temporary mental block.  The important things are understanding; reasoning ability and agility; and perspective, compassion, and integrity—not persnickety perfection.  It is more important that we raise a nation of good, cooperative people and citizens, rather than robotic test-taking academes.

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