Sunday, April 28, 2013


The analysis of pointers is pointless.
Eckhart Tolle (at 2:12)

Yesterday, I sat with a group of concerned parents and teachers as they discussed what was happening at their children's school. They had chosen this school because it was a public (charter) school dedicated to developmentally appropriate methods of teaching and learning. But recently the school had been implementing more test-prep based on the recommendations of certain "experts" who were concerned about the school's standardized-test results.

You see, when Michigan decided to change their cut scores on the state test the school's pass rate had plummeted. I tend to think of this as a manufactured crisis meant to sell more test-prep programs but that rant may have to wait for another post. The consequences to these parents and teachers are real - and heartbreaking - and demand the attention of this post.

The parents and teachers had selected this school specifically because of its  commitment to being something other than a "factory" school; a commitment to being a school where natural learning was valued above all else. Now, however, the school seemed to be succumbing to the push to standardize teaching and learning. Parents had attempted to express their concerns to school leaders with no success. This group was now thinking about alternatives - home schooling, starting a private school, starting their own charter.

I did my best to explain what I understood to be the some of the pros and cons of each of these options, all the while empathizing with their situation. These were not people of means who could afford to stay away from a job to home school their children or pay the tuition at a private school. They wanted to know what assurances they would have that a new charter school would not result in the same heartbreak somewhere down the line. Unfortunately, I had no assurances to give.

It was energizing to find these parents so passionate about developmentally appropriate education but I left the meeting angry. I am angry that we have developed this unhealthy obsession with standardized-test results. I am angry that parents committed to learning, not test scores, find themselves looking around for alternatives and find nothing available/affordable. Pardon the violence in this video (and the earlier comic meme), but the situation has left me thinking, "What the heck!?!" and makes me want to slap someone. [Fortunately, I chose to use my words instead.]

[Important part starts at 1:15]

We need to quit focusing on the finger (test-scores) and begin looking to the moon (learning). Our current approach is shortsighted. And if we continue down this path we will not have the educated citizenry we need to survive.


  1. This reminds me of a story told by Mary Pittman, now the math specialist at the Colorado Department of Education. She found herself on a plane sitting next to a cardiologist who asked her, "Do you have the same problem in education that we have in medicine?"

    "What do you mean?" she asked.

    The doctor replied: "In medicine, we found out that high cholesterol was related to heart disease. Now we've spent decades and tons of resources finding ways to lower cholesterol. But cholesterol isn't the real problem -- heart disease is. There's a lot more to heart health than just having low cholesterol, but too often that gets lost in the message."

  2. Love love love this. Actually, the quote comes from the Buddha himself, but I love hearing it come out of Bruce Lee's mouth. Thanks for this "pointer." :)

    I love like Thich Nhat Hanh's wording: "The Buddha said many times, 'My teaching is like a finger pointing at the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.'" For me, this is actually what teaching is about. Whether we do it well or badly, we can never do more than "point" at the learning.

    - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)