Our public education system is under fire, and it’s been under fire for some time now. The powers that be have introduced reform model after reform model the latest being the Common Core State Standards. Each promised to be the chosen one with none thus far-reaching their purported potential. Instead, they threaten students with failure to advance while teachers and administrators are threatened with job loss for students not achieving their specific standards. They don’t address other well documented problems contributing to low educational achievement such as poverty or health problems.
They are often financed, researched, and developed by corporations, academics, assessment experts, and politicians rather than current classroom teachers, administrators, parents, and the youth they directly impact. The list of concerns could be endless. However, my primary concern regarding standardized education is simpler than some of these more complex debates. Standards leave little room for diversity in learning and intelligence or for children to be children and learn through their natural play, curiosity, and imagination.
In theory, standards appear to be a positive thing, a measurement by which achievement and room for growth can be determined. However, in reality educational standards in this country are quite narrow in their focus, primarily measuring English and Mathematics skills. This immediately excludes English language learners and those with learning disabilities in the verbal–linguistic and logical–mathematical intelligences. It also discounts the rest of Gardner’s multiple intelligences: musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and the later proposed existential and moral intelligence.
I’m not advocating for the creation of standards to include all forms of intelligence. There are many issues with the attempt to objectively measure subjective intelligence and then cast judgment. What’s more important, being able to easily solve Calculus problems, run a fast 40 meter dash, or sing pitch perfect opera? It depends on the situation. All forms of intelligence are vital to our society and should be fostered in all youth.
Youth who are not allowed to fully explore their interests and natural gifts often lose interest in school and don’t live up to their potential. Whereas, individuals who are given the opportunity to fully explore their passions and natural abilities develop lifelong curiosity, creativity, enthusiasm, and commitment amongst other factors that contribute to success. Also, this apparent quest to develop obedient drones will create a one-dimensional rather than well-rounded society, which is necessary for growth and advancement.
Standardization of education also frequently disregards the importance of play, which research has shown not only to be crucial to child development but also beneficial throughout the entire lifespan. Due to educational standards children are rarely allowed to play at school anymore. Gym, art, and music classes are usually the first to go with budget cuts. Even recess has been nixed in some schools.
Using standardized curriculum which sometimes require teachers to use scripted lesson plans, often makes creative lesson planning and youth-driven play more of a challenge. It is the single most effective tool to increase intelligence, skill development, and passion for lifelong learning, yet it also appears to be the least valued. This is particularly evident when examining curriculum standards and state exams.
That’s not to say those who have created these standards and exams are in the wrong. I think everyone on either side of the debate can agree that students should be encouraged to achieve to their greatest ability. However, when all evidence is pointing toward failure to accomplish that, there needs to be a closer and more unbiased examination of the current methods. We need to recognize what youth actually need to learn and succeed rather than blindly push an agenda that doesn’t produce. It may not always be easily quantified and it might even contain a little bit of fun but the benefits are obvious and necessary.