The problem with school testing

John Taylor Gatto is a regular here in my blog posts. He is a former NYC award-winning school teacher. It was his 20+ years teaching in the elementary schools of the big city that gives him credibility when talking about education. He was in the thick of it, when it came to public education, and when he speaks he confirms the experience I had in the public school system for 11 years.

This man did something remarkable. He set a new standard for the phrase “awkward silence” when he accepted an award for New York City’s 1991 Teacher of the Year. The timing was theatrical really, but that’s not what impressed me. You see, I am wanting to set my children up to discover life because they want to, not because it’s the standard for public school. I am so unconcerned with when and what public schools  are teaching, that I don’t even consider them when planning our year. I believe we are on a wonderful journey that doesn’t rely on testing, personality, or scores. Our homeschool journey relies on faith and trust. We learn to learn, not to satisfy a requirement or to test well and then forget all the material within a year. And that’s where JTG comes in. I want to share what he said and why it’s important.

“A well trained student panders to authority, shows no initiative and obeys meaningless orders. Science class is no longer creating scientists, history classes aren’t creating statesmen, and writing classes aren’t creating poets. What is being created? Automan perfectly designed to work for large corporations that created products and services that other automans would desire to own or use in place of pursuing a meaningful life. School is not only unproductive- it’s actively malignant. Modern schools create shallow thinking, grade-grubbing, intellectually and emotionally dependent drones.” Then Gatto wrapped up his speech by saying, “School is a twelve-year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned.” To which he added, “I teach schools and win awards doing it. I should know.”

I don’t exactly disagree with the man. I graduated early, scored super high on tests, and can’t tell you a darn thing I learned in school that I would not have learned anyway. Reading and writing, you ask? I would have learned to read the way many of our youth today do, as well as our former presidents did, by have the desire to read and then working on it until I got it. Many kids go into kindergarten these days already knowing how to read after having no formal phonics or reading instruction, 10% to be exact according to the Department of Education. They are read to and they ask question and they want to read so they do. I didn’t learn to write in school. Read my blogs, you can see they are riddled with grammatical errors, but the more I write and the more feedback I get, the better my craft becomes. It’s because I want to write and so I keep doing it, hoping to get better. I also have a leftover freshman college English book and I refer to that when I am inspired to learn more. I keep a thesaurus next to my keyboard and I have learned many words and how to spell them with that dollar store pocket-sized book.

A friend of mine mentioned that she homeschools because she doesn’t agree with the school systems goal of working all year for the almighty FCAT. I was fascinated and tried to learn more about what she meant. The FCAT is a test that Florida gives its students at the end of each school year. When I was a kid it was called the CAT. I was familiar with the test, but what did it have to do with the rest of the year?

First, I found countless articles, books, and studies that have tracked how irrelevant and even detrimental standardized testing is for most students. One study even indicates that children who do test well have a propensity for shallow thinking. I tested well and I do remember studying and breezing through those tests without a care in the world about whether I remembered the info. I was not shallow, but it’s not because school inspired me. I only went to school to see my friends and the teenage boy whom I pined for. And we cut class together often. It was my favorite, most inspired time in school.

So, who is testing for? Not the kids. Certainly not the teachers. Someone who became a teacher because of the passion s/he had to teach is most likely horrified to find him/herself having to cram predigested curriculum into young minds with desperation and urgency so that the kids will test well. According to Gatto, the big test is for the bureaucrats. He believes that everything a child needs to learn can be taught in a hundred hours- the trick is knowing when the child is ready to start the process. Better late than early, I say. There’s also a book with that title by the way, Better Late Than Early by Raymond Moore and it’s amazing.

I decided that I am not going to spend my limited resources or my time with my little students preparing for tests. I am going to encourage them to be curious and fearless learners and I’m going to help them acquire useful skills. Thanks Gatto, you are a great teacher- to the many homeschool moms who are looking for direction and information. You’ve enlightened me and many others. Thank you for telling the truth even though it was extremely politically incorrect. I appreciate every word you’ve spoken.

If you’ve made it to the end, you must be a homeschooler or a teacher because I doubt anyone else would care to read about tests, but I hope you’ve found it helpful. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave a message  or comment. Have a wonderful week!





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