So today begins Lent, for those who follow a liturgical calendar. In simplest of explanations, children are often taught that during Lent, those forty days before Easter, one should “give up something” so that, when Easter arrives, and that missed item is returned, it is more valued.
I think about this time of giving up something and am reminded of a blog post I saw some time ago from a teacher in North Carolina who gave up his job, resigned. Quit. He was completely fed up with a system that — in his district — was only about teaching kids to pass a test. He gave up something he dearly loved, and was very good at, to make a point.
And I think about the teachers at a 5-12 school in New York City Bob Probst and I worked with two weeks ago who told us they had to give up teaching anything new for the next month as the school was going into “lock down” and would only be reviewing for the upcoming mandated tests. For one month, students would only do test-prep.
And I think about a teacher in Arkansas I visited with a few weeks ago who was giving up a part of her salary each week to help buy clothes for some kids in her classroom who didn’t have homes, much less winter coats, that would keep them warm.
I think about the college seniors I Skyped with yesterday at Carlton college who wondered what we were giving up in our ELA classrooms when we all agreed (and why did we do this, they asked) to set aside any sort of questions that encouraged a personal response to instead embrace only “text-dependent” questions. “What have we given up?” they asked.
Giving up can mean so many different things.
And then I think a bit more about Lent. Only for children is it really only about giving up. Actually, it’s about reflecting. It’s about searching and wondering and being still and listening, but most certainly it is not only about giving up; it’s also about taking on.
This Lent — and it doesn’t matter if you call this time Lent or simply the quiet days before spring blooms in all its brilliance — this Lent, I plan to do more taking on than giving up. I plan to take on the naysayers of education, reminding them of all the good that our nation’s teachers do each day. Dear teachers, don’t you lose sight of the opportunity you have each day to make a difference in each child’s life.
I plan to take on the assumption that text-dependent questions create the self-reliant, lifetime readers we want more than any other type of question might do. Where is the research that supports this? I plan to take on the assumed authority of the Publishers’ Criteria and ask upon what research it is based.
I want to take on reminding policy makers that a test score is simply that: a test score. I want to take on reminding them that the goal of education is bigger than making someone college or career ready. Education is about teaching children so that they can become all they can be. It’s about teaching children so that they will someday become the active successful participants this democracy desperately needs them to be; so that they might become the creative, compassionate, caring contributors this society hopes they will be.
This Lent, I want to give up pessimism and take on optimism; I want to give up fear and take on hope. I want to look at each child in each class I teach as that kid who wants to be his best but just might be too hungry or too scared or too beaten by life to know how to get there and see not a sullen face, but one that if I can teach him to take on, rather than give up, will find that spring is full of hope, indeed.