It is no secret that the current state of education is in crisis.
No matter who is looking. Teachers, administrators, parents, and Politicians. We are at an all-time low in our education programs. Teacher shortages are becoming a national crisis. The depression and anxiety rate in children has risen in the past 2 decades beyond what we could have ever imagined. There are Opt-Out movements taking place across the country. Parents are finally becoming aware and are not okay with what we are doing. But the change is slow. Will we be in time to repair the damage already done?
So why is this happening? How is the Current Education System Failing Our Children?
It is happening because we have it wrong. We have built a system based on conformity, competition, and compliance. And it isn't working. In fact, it is failing miserably. It only takes a quick internet search to find dismal statistics on American literacy. Sadly, we are pretty high up there in ignorance. I'm not going to quote stats because quite frankly it is too depressing. Especially, because I have spent the majority of my life in education. I believed that I was making a difference and that I could contribute to change. But I failed. Most importantly, I failed my own children. Both of my children are a part of education at the very worst time. They are part of a time when all kids are being tested to death. Death sounds pretty dramatic. But in a sense it is death. Death of learning. Death of a LOVE of learning. Death of creativity and passion. Don't get me wrong. I believe that children should be assessed on what they know. I do believe that can and does drive instructional decisions. However, the frequency and type of testing we are doing to our kids is not truly allowing educators to respond to the information. And it is boxing kids in. It is saying that if you don't think in this one way, you are not worthy. How can we tell our future generation they are not worthy just because they can't show what they know in the ONE way we have deemed important?
I recently quit being a teacher. Twenty years of teaching and I decided, as a single mom, to quit. I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't be a part of a system that I feel is hurting children. The worst part about it is I was a good teacher. According to outrageous evaluations and intense pressure, I was Highly Effective. But what did this really mean? It means nothing. It means I knew how to play the game very well. But it didn't feel right. What I did feel was right was the way I made kids feel about themselves. I believed in them and I saw them. Really saw them. However, I couldn't keep playing the game. I had to constantly figure out how to get around the crazy in order to do what was right for children. That was exhausting and draining. It left me with little energy to give my own children.
How The Current Education System and I Failed My Child
Meanwhile, my own children were failed by the very system to which I dedicated my life. I have two beautiful souls in which I have been blessed to have had the privilege of raising. One child who struggled from the beginning. This system wasn't created for kids like my son. He learns best by doing and moving and problem-solving and thinking. Long periods of sitting breaks his spirit and frustrates his brain. So he has been on my radar of helping since Kindergarten.
On the other hand, my daughter was good at school. Yes, she had to work hard. However, she excelled. She is about to graduate with honors. So with her, needless to say, I missed the struggle she was facing. I didn't see how detrimental the testing and boxing in was on her spirit. Until I had no choice but to see it. She has a 4.2-grade point average. She has over 400 hours of community service. She works hard, and she is the very best person I know. So when she did poorly on the SATs I was shocked. We both were. Of course, she repeated it only to improve by 10 points. That's when we both realized it was the time factor. The time factor of a test. So once again it comes down to that- a test.
It's been a wake-up call for sure. But a wake up call for both of us. I've been angry at education for some time. And now the child I wasn't worried about has been the one to teach me the most. She has confirmed what I have been feeling for the past 10 years. Education is broken. It is hurting our youth and it is leaving our kids feeling like they aren't good enough. And this I cannot accept. Nobody should. The only way we can change the current state of education is from the ground up. Our politicians are not going to do it. We have to stop buying into college and career ready. We have to make a shift to embracing creativity, collaboration, and diversity. That is how we can repair this very broken system. It is our last hope in fixing what is certainly destroying our children.
Having said all of that, I would like to share what I have written to my daughter. My hope in sharing this very personal letter is that it ignites something inside someone. That it pushes people to action or at the very least it helps you see that there is another way. There are options for our children and a piece of paper doesn't define them or have to limit them. Our children deserve better and more. I will no longer be a part of the problem. I only hope to be part of the solution. So for my daughter, Emily, I will share my letter to her.
Let me begin by telling you how amazing I think you are and how proud I am to be your mom. Watching you grow and develop into the most beautiful person on the inside and out has been one of my greatest joys. Your ability to love others and to really see people is a gift that many do not possess. Your work ethic and your determination are remarkable. I’ve watched you persevere through difficulties and come out on the other side radiating love and light.
I want to tell you that I am thankful that your path will be different. You don’t need a piece of paper to tell you your worth. You don’t need to be part of a system that is so broken and misguided and lost because you are far better than that system that failed you. A system that asks for differentiation yet standardizes everything. A system that ignores your developmental needs and focuses on the misguided rigor of preparing you for college and career. A system that stifles your creativity and only values you as a number on a test. So your NOT getting into college with your 4.2-grade point average and your 400+ community service hours is a gift. You no longer have to conform to a system that was created out of fear, conformity, and competition. You are free to be whoever you choose. You are free to create, innovate, visualize, collaborate and to imagine. It is now okay for you not to know what you want to do. You no longer have to feel bad about not knowing. You can discover it. You can dream it. You can do it. You can find your passion and your gifts. You can find your destiny.
I’m sorry that I raised you to believe that college was the only answer.
I’m sorry that you came to school with me every day and watched me fight against what I knew was so very wrong for kids. I’m sorry that you had to be a part of the testing and standardization era of education. A system where children are told that they are a test score. Where your teachers are evaluated according to factors that they cannot always control. I know that has impacted you greatly. I know the heaviness you have felt and carried as you knew your educators' salaries depended upon how well you performed on a test. I know you had to witness the achievement charts hung in the room for the world to see where you and your peers were performing. I know you had to believe they thought they were doing you a favor by telling you it was to help you achieve your goals. I’m sorry you had to believe that you were less than you are because you don’t work as quickly as others. Yet, you still succeeded throughout your journey. You overcame the obstacles and you never once gave up. Your advanced classes and your intense schedules only increased your level of commitment and encouraged your drive. But in the end, the test was the one thing that held you back, because the system in which you have been a part of all comes down to that- the test.
Well, my dear daughter, you are NOT a test. You are a human being. You are a gift to the world. Your energy and your light will shine brighter than any test you take. And I know your life will and does have meaning and value. Far greater value than a piece of paper.
Your journey will be different. Your path will be diverse. You're not meant to be on the road that others walk. It won’t look like everybody else’s, and for that, I am thankful and proud. All the greats failed many many times before they didn’t. It is what you do with this failure that will make the difference. Failure shows up to get us back to where we are supposed to be, back to who we are supposed to be, on your path to fulfilling the destiny you are meant to fulfill. I am not worried. I believe in you. I know who you are and what you are made of, and I know whose you are.
I look forward to watching you go out into the world and leaving your mark because you have already left your imprint on all who know and love you. We are better for having known you. I knew you were not mine to keep forever. I knew I was meant to love you, encourage you, and guide you until it was time for you to fly away. The time is quickly approaching. Yes, I am sad, and I wonder how my life will be without your daily presence. However, I know that you will remain a part of me forever. You will always have a home. A place to feel safe and loved. You will always have me rooting you on from afar and believing the very very best about you and for you.
So take the lessons you have learned and yes, the failures too. Take all of this when you go and live your unique journey to the fullest. Remember that no one system or any one person can tell you who you are and what you are worth because you are beautifully and wonderfully made and there are far better things in store for you.
With all my love,