Stairway (to Skellig Michael)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Writing Between the Lines

When we traveled to Ireland we visited Skellig Michael, a monastery founded by Christian monks in the 7th century.  Life there was remote and harsh, the weather often severe.   The monks collected rainwater to drink, raised a few animals and imported soil from the mainland nine miles away so they could grow vegetables on that barren little island.

If a monk made a rare crossing to the mainland for supplies, rough weather might strand him there for a week or a month.  To return to his spartan life in a cold stone beehive hut, he would have to climb 700 feet up these winding stairs, bearing whatever supplies he had fetched home.

On our life’s journey most of us earn our bread, raise our families, and pursue our passions.  Sometimes, like water flowing down a hillside, we take the path of least resistance.  What in your life do you care…

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You Don’t Have to be Einstein…

Yesterday was my Cousin Albert’s birthday!

Actually, he was my fifth cousin, and we never met. My personal theory of relativity is that some relative of his got together with some relative of ours somewhere in the old country, and we have the DNA to prove it.

An indisputable fact is that he was a genius, whose life work changed the way we see the world.  He also had definite ideas about intelligence and education.

Cousin Albert said it is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.

Last month Thom and I drove to Olympia to protest oppressive high-stakes standardized tests. This disturbing trend towards over-testing affects the quality of education for children all across the U.S. by reducing the time to teach and the time to learn.

Since both teachers and students are evaluated by those test results, teachers feel compelled to spend their class time working on tested material, leaving no time to nurture creativity, exercise imagination, or teach a higher order of critical thinking.

Standardized tests don’t account for students testing on empty stomachs because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast. Or those who didn’t sleep because their parents were arguing about a divorce.  Or homeless children with no place to study.  Or those who can’t afford reading glasses.  Test scores won’t cut any slack for students with learning disabilities, or recent immigrants who haven’t mastered English, or orphans of suicides, or children suffering from depression, or those who simply don’t test well.

The system of assessment is unfair. For example, in Florida an excellent music teacher was fired because of her students’ low math scores, even though she was not responsible for teaching them math.

Cousin Albert said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

He also said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

We honor that sacred gift of the intuitive mind when we allow teachers to assess each child’s strengths and needs, and design teaching strategies to nurture that child’s curiosity and passion into a lifelong love of learning.

Standardized testing is the servant of the rational mind, reducing children into test scores.

Who benefits from over-testing?  Not students, who are stressed and most of whom will be labeled as failures.  Not teachers, who either teach to the test or risk losing their jobs, regardless of whether they manage to pull kids out of their Learning Comfort Zone, and encourage them to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

The benefits are reaped by corporations like Pearson, that specialize in testing.  Or technology companies that sell schools the massive amounts of hardware students use to take these computer-based tests. Or private charter school operators who are waiting to step in as soon as public schools are labeled failures.   Tests are designed so that 68% of those taking the tests will fail.  It’s better for business.

Diane Ravitch, an educational policy analyst, says, “It’s all about…propping up a vast and growing “education industry” that’s only worth the trouble (money) of the likes of Gates, Murdoch, the Waltons, and the Bushes….if it’s standardized and millions of customers–I mean children–are buying.”

Cousin Albert grew up in Germany, where the spirit of learning and creative thought were lost in strict rote learning.

He was among the scientists and intellectuals who escaped the Nazis, those methodical masters who were terrifying in their efficiency.  Cousin Albert was lecturing in the US when the Nazis put a price on his head, and confiscated his property, turning it into a Hitler Youth camp. But as efficient as the Nazis were, according to Cousin Albert, they lost their technological advantage and eventually lost the war because they murdered or drove out all the creative free-thinking innovative imaginative intellectuals.

     Cousin Albert said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

And you don’t have to be Einstein to get that.

All images and words copyright 2015 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers.

If you’d like to read more, here is a link to an excellent article about the results of the protest, and a bipartisan bill proposed to repeal Common Core.