I'm a teacher at a rural High School in NorthEast Tennessee. Today, by mandate of the State, we gave the "Junior Writing Assessment." Every 11th grader in the school went to homeroom and filled out a huge page of demographics with the requisite bubbles and then answered a writing prompt The students had to defend their opinions in an essay and use supporting examples in their sentences. After they completed the timed essay (35 minutes), they were instructed to take a short ten question survey on their attitudes toward writing.
As you have probably guessed, it is a No Child Left Behind thing. Test, test, test. Then, get demographics and survey the poor youngsters on what has just been done to them. This data will all be accumulated and come this late Spring or early Summer, the teachers will all be lectured about what we did or did not do correctly to prepare the students for this grand exercise.
Let's talk about what this really means for all of us. How many of us since graduating from whatever school or learning center have actually written a five paragraph essay defending our opinions? I don't know about you but I think a lot of adults don't have three good reasons why they believe something. In my last entry, I discussed superficiality and that really seems to be the modus operandi of most of my friends, my colleagues, and yes, myself. Many times I decide that I don't like something because "it doesn't look or feel right." It's not like I give it any great thought or list reasons in my head. As a matter of fact, I know a whole group of people who base their opinions on "what the Lord says." I would imagine that this would take a great deal of checking to make sure that you have the correct opinion -- the same as your peers or Pastor or whatever. Do they have three defensible reasons to write into any essay?
Watching the students use their antiquated pens and pencils as they earnestly scribbled their thoughts onto the paper provided, I was also struck by the outdated methods by which we cull the information we all rely on. Let say you were going to actually write an essay on one of your opinions, wouldn't you at the very least use a word processing program? Good gravy -- spell check is just a click away for most adults. And if you are really really "with it," wouldn't you consult several net sources, blogs, or for crying out loud, wikipedia before you hammer out your thoughts. It seems that most of our writing these days is a collaboration or extension of other ideas.
So, let's sum it all up as our poor students are instructed to do in their final, concluding paragraph. What am I really saying? Our public schools are graded and funded on antiquated processes and hypocrically, on something we would never ask other adults to do -- state their opinion and list three reasons why with examples. It's like asking a baker to make a cake using outdated measuring cups and a wood stove. Let's not give the baker the recipe either.