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.



  1. dogear6 says:

    Well said, both as to Cousin Albert’s wisdom and how standardized testing is making education so much worse. I hope the protest gets some attention and changes get made.

    How are you? Is all well?


    1. Dear Nancy,
      It’s so nice to hear from you–thanks for stopping by. Your question prompted me to include a link about the results of the protest.
      I am very well, thank you! After a recent writing retreat (the reason I haven’t posted for two weeks) I’m all jazzed about powering through a manuscript that needed revision. The tulips and daffodils are blooming. Even better, Bea is coming home for spring break!
      How are you doing?

      1. dogear6 says:

        I’m doing good. The job search is going slowly and unfortunately, I’m not having as much time to do the personal stuff that I wanted to either. I’m heading back next week to see the baby before my daughter goes back to work. Fun!

      2. Dear Nancy, I’m glad you are well. It’s hard not to be when you have a sweet grand baby to cuddle and love. Best of luck with the job search. Sending good thoughts your way!

  2. Thanks for standing up for students and those who care for them. ❤

    1. Dear Mary,
      It is an alarming trend to enable businesses to swoop in and capitalize upon the educational system, and to do so by labeling schools, teachers, and students failures. Thanks so much for stopping by and lending your support!

      1. We’re seeing it with districts here. Breaks my heart.

      2. Such a sorry trend, Mary. So harmful to kids and teachers, and everyone except big business that first manipulates and then preys off the failure of the students.

  3. Ruth says:

    Hear hear!
    And I will share with teacher friends Naomi. Thank You.
    Happy bday cousin Albert.

    1. Thank you, Ruth! This is a national problem. In Washington state we’re trying to repeal Common Core, and I hope that other states will do the same. Cross your fingers for us!

  4. Yvonne Young says:

    Bravo, Naomi! I totally agree.

    1. Dear Yvonne,
      Thanks so much for your support. It’s always good to hear from you. I hope you are well.

  5. raptekar says:

    Love this post, Naomi. No tests. Certainly no standardized tests. We are killing intuition, imagination, creativity.

    1. Howdy, Cousin! Thanks for stopping by and speaking out.

  6. ShimonZ says:

    Love your pictures of Einstein. And I loved him for a lot of things while he lived. I don’t agree with you at all when it comes to tests. I think that tests are an integral part of learning, and I have been a student all my life, and a college professor for quite a few years.

    1. Dear Shimon, there is a huge difference between tests designed by the teacher for his students and these new standardized tests created by outside authorities with the intent of labeling students, teachers, and schools as failures. I doubt that you or your colleagues created tests designed to fail 68% of your students.
      Thanks for the visit. I hope you are well.

      1. ShimonZ says:

        I can assure you, my dear Naomi, that I never designed a test to fail anyone. Obviously, I live in a different learning environment from the one that you know. Please forgive my ignorance.

      2. Dear Shimon,
        I understand why you would find it difficult to comprehend. It makes me sad that the best interest of the students has taken a back seat to the almighty dollar even in our educational system.

  7. yprior1 says:

    5th cousin – oh you have good genes – !!! ❤ cool post

    1. Thanks for making me smile! We are only fifth cousins, but it’s good for a laugh. I also think that knowing of our relationship helps me understand how small a world it is, and how connected we all are to world history and to each other, whether we know it or not.

      1. yprior1 says:

        well said – and that is a cool lineage – but you are right about how interconnected and small this grand ol’ world can be – and well, I might be back with some physics questions later, but for now adieu!

      2. Haha! I can tell you about writing and history and even a little bit about life, but I’m afraid you will have to go elsewhere with physics questions. I would say that gene skipped a generation, except for my sister Miriam, who is a scientist who worked for NASA and in the White House under the Clinton administration, and she even had a planet named after her for her contributions to science. I am not kidding! Just look up Planet Baltuck!

      3. yprior1 says:

        that is soooo cool about your sister and the planet – ❤ – and I bet she could tell some stories – well I hope you have a nice rest of your month – I am so ready for spring

      4. Thank you! They say March comes in like and lion and goes out like a lamb. I hope that is true for you. Happy springtime!

      5. yprior1 says:

        thanks for the nice sprain wishes – and back to you also ❤
        – oh and winter has not been too bad here in virginia – we usually have mild winters and so even the rough ones are nothing compared to places like the northeast (or Detroit – lol) ❤

  8. scillagrace says:

    I wonder what my dad would have said on this subject. He worked for SRA (division of IBM in the 60s) as a project director developing standardized tests like the NEDT test (National Educators Developmental Test – taken usually as a sophomore in HS) and other educational material, like those reading labs and stuff. (SRA got bought out by McGraw-Hill) I think that testing is a tool – like all tools, it can be used well and used poorly. And it’s only one tool in the kit and probably wasn’t meant to be used exclusively.

    1. Dear Priscilla,

      I don’t think all standardized tests are evil. But Common Core is all about making money for big business. And it’s throwing schools, kids and teachers under the school bus to do so. Instead of being used as a tool of assessment, it’s all about punishment and labeling.
      Schools are labeled as failures based on test scores, regardless of the socioeconomic factors of the school district, with no allowance made for ESL or students with learning disabilities, bringing down school averages. Teachers are being fired based on test scores of children they haven’t even taught. It’s out of control, and the bottom line is all about money, not the best interests of the students.

      1. scillagrace says:

        I haven’t been in the elementary classroom arena for a good 10 years, so I’ve only heard a little about the Common Core agenda. I did get a sense of the encroachment of Business on education, though, when my kids were in grade school being encouraged to learn “teamwork” so that they could be “team players” in the job force. I didn’t think it was very inspiring to their imaginations, though, to focus on group projects. I wonder if Einstein ever was assessed for “team player” skills?

  9. tobyo says:

    how cool that Einstein is your distant cousin!! such an interesting post and something my daughter complains about. well, sort of. paraphrasing her comments but she hates school because “all we do is prepare to take tests”. she doesn’t hate all of school but your post reminded me of things she has said. I can relate to your comment about the pressure she feels too. She has made comments about not going to college due to the pressure to get good grades to get into a good school. and of course getting good grades means doing well on tests which leads to doing well on the SAT…..

    oh anyway, thank you for another interesting post!! love the quotes too. happy birthday cousin Albert!!

    1. Hi Toby,

      This is exactly what I’m talking about! Thank for sharing your daughter’s point of view. Some testing is necessary, but your daughter’s education should not be all about preparing for high-stake tests. School should be about fostering a lifelong love of learning.

      As for Cousin Albert, I have another cousin who is a professional genealogist, and she connected our ancestral lines through DNA testing. It’s more of a fun fact than anything else, but it does make you realize how small a world it is, and connected you are, whether you know it or not.

      I wish you and your daughter all the best!

      1. tobyo says:

        Thanks Naomi! She is learning things and I agree that school should be more than just test taking. I have a friend who is related to Leon Trotsky but not sure what the relation is exactly. Fascinating about the DNA testing. I wouldn’t mind being related to Einstein 🙂 Cool fun fact!!

  10. Tish Farrell says:

    Couldn’t agree more about testing, Naomi, though of course there are times when you need to check back that someone has truly understood something. But then testing doesn’t really cover that either. At 7yrs I sat a national test (in the UK and it was later done away with), that I performed in so astonishingly badly that it became an issue with the county education officer. All my school work was called for. This did have a strange outcome. For a time eight of us were put in a special class because we were deemed well ahead of our age group in ability. Both reactions were uncalled for. We all just needed a more imaginative curriculum. Oh yes, and I’d so love to have a bit of Einstein in my DNA.

    1. Hi Tish,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Some people simply do not test well, and it is not reflection upon their intelligence. I think sometimes people who are very gifted have trouble reducing a complicated answer to A, B, or C because they can imagine all the possibilities. Obviously your work was outstanding, as they recognized you as gifted. You probably do have a bit of Einstein in your DNA!

      1. Tish Farrell says:

        That’s so kind of you Naomi. I just remember looking at that test (it was some sort of intelligence test) and thinking it was nothing to do with me, and just withdrew.

      2. Hi Tish,
        I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago. She works with profoundly gifted children and recognized her neighbor’s children as gifted. The mom resisted having them tested for The Challenge Program–for gifted children, and their grades were unexceptional (because they were bored and invested). Finally she did have them tested and the younger boy got into the program, but the older boy didn’t. Like you, he hadn’t seen the purpose and felt it had nothing to do with him. But he was upset when he realized he’d be going to a different school than his brother. They let him take the test again, and he was at the top of the charts. You certainly have found a wonderful outlet to invest in and express your creativity through.

      3. Tish Farrell says:

        You have so given me a boost. I love my blog. Only problem is it diverts me from writing and completing all my half-baked books. It helps in other ways too, though – writing practice for one, and one learns so much from fellow bloggers. And then I can run about the place taking photos…

      4. Dear Tish,
        I really relate to what you are saying. Blogging vaguely supports my writing–social media platform and all that–but it definitely takes a big bite out of the time I need to spend on my novel. As you say, I also have a lot to learn and also get a boost from friendships forged with other bloggers who I met never otherwise have the chance to connect with. And it has taught me much about brevity, as it is my goal to keep my posts under 500 word, if possible. It’s also VERY fun to know that I might actually be able to share my photos in the future, in support of a story I post on my blog.

      5. Tish Farrell says:

        Agree with your every word, Naomi. Next step managing the blog and the novel 🙂

      6. Best of luck with the blog AND the novel, Tish!

      7. Tish Farrell says:

        Thanks for you good wishes, Naomi. Wishing you a good following wind too 🙂

  11. Very cool that you’re related to Albert Einstein. Great post and great that you went to protest. As a former teacher it is so sad to see what is being done to public education. I remember how the tests also indicated what teacher the student had – a way to decide teacher’s worth. Here’s hoping there’s positive change. I think this latest test tipped the scales back towards teaching and creativity.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. It has changed dramatically. Tonight my husband was telling me about a famous distinguished award-winning teacher–he either read about her or heard her speak at one of his meetings (he’s asleep, so I can’t ask at the moment). Either a student or her daughter asked if she should become a public school teacher, and this famous teacher told her not to. she advised the young woman to teach in the private sector, where she would not have these tests imposed upon her, to become the focus of each school year. Thanks so much for sharing you perspective.

  12. I agree with you about testing!

    1. Thanks for the visit, and for sharing your response, Cecelia!

  13. Well said, Naomi! So, now we know why you’re so brilliant. 🙂

    1. Thanks for making me smile, Jill.

  14. Naomi says:

    I love this, Naomi! And, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for taking the time to advocate on behalf of all the children who can’t. Einstein wasn’t just smart – he was also wise, and I think you both share those same genes. 🙂

    1. Dear Naomi, Thank you for such a kind and thoughtful response.

  15. What a great man he was! Tests used to make me go to pieces. 😦 Happy Birthday to Cousin Albert. 🙂

    1. Hi Sylvia,
      Some people just do better on tests, and it doesn’t reflect on their intelligence. Thanks for sharing your personal story–it’s proof that there are really intelligent people who might not test well, and that a multiple question test is not a good reflection of their talents.

  16. Carol says:

    In efforts to fix things broken, it seems too often this society only breaks them more. Some testing is necessary, but teachering should be about the art of learning, not passing standardized tests.

    1. HI Carol, I agree that some tests are necessary, but the new standardized tests are actually designed to fail 62% of the kids, and they want to tie teachers’ jobs to their students’ scores. It is a system that is very broken.
      Thanks for visiting–I’ve been behind in my blogging and look forward to catching up.

  17. megan hicks says:

    That was inspirational! Market economics is one (pretty sinister) thing. But market driven public education is downright evil.

    1. Thanks for the visit, and for your thoughtful response, Megan. The privatization of education is a very scary prospect–it’s a little too much like farming out our children–our future–to the highest bidders.

  18. I’m impressed!!! But yes, agree with the sentiments here too!!! More art less tests!!

    1. Dear Cybele, Thank you so much for the visit, and for sharing your thoughts about it. Yes! More art!!

  19. Roy McCarthy says:

    What a great post Naomi. I’m not at all well versed in the subject (my kids got the test scores they needed 🙂 ) but if, as you say, it’s Big Business behind grading in schools then something has seriously broken down somewhere along the line. One thing is for sure though – children from non-disadvantaged families will (on average) always score highest in any set of tests you care to draw up. They will inevitably go on to be our future high flyers. That’s the way it’s worked for hundreds of years. But it’s no reason to disregard the other 68% and to value them less highly.

    1. Hi Roy,
      I’m glad that your kids did tested well. My kids also had great SAT scores, but they happen to test well. You’re right that socioeconomics and demographics play a huge factor in test scores.

  20. Elyse says:

    Yes! And a happy birthday to your cousin.

  21. Thanks for getting the word out to people on the dark side of testing. Good for you making your voice heard down in Olympia. And happy birthday, Albert!

  22. sue marquis bishop says:

    Well said! External constraints have grown exponentially on teachers in recent decades. We need to take our classrooms back and support creative teaching-learning again. Sue

    1. Hi Sue,
      Thanks so much for checking in and speaking out! It’s always good to hear from you.

  23. Madhu says:

    Ah now I know where the genius comes from! 🙂 I hope the voices of reason prevail over the clout of big business.

  24. Jane Dossick says:

    Hi Naomi, what a meaningful post. It is wonderful that you are related to Albert Einstein. Everyone needs an Uncle Albert in their lives!

    How sad that our schools are squelching creativity. Test scores and testing are not the answer for our children. We need to nurture imagination, not focus our teaching on fitting students into ” boxes “….Thank you for speaking out about such an important issue.

  25. What a great post!!! First of all, kudos to you for taking action against the ridiculous amount of standardized testing our kids are subjected to. It is a huge frustration of both my teen-aged daughter (who is an all-Honors student) and my husband, who is a high school teacher.

    Secondly, thanks for all this information about Einstein. I had no idea about the Nazi’s pursuit of him.

    Lastly, if I were related in any way, shape or form to Einstein. I’d make sure everyone in the world knew it! 🙂

    1. Yes, yes, yes! I don’t think I knew your husband was a teacher. It is bound to impact his life, and your daughter’s too. I’m not at all surprised that she is an honors student, especially given all the history and geography, all the museums and stories she absorbs through your fascinating family travels, not to mention the fact that she’s related to you. As for Cousin Albert, thank you for making me smile!

  26. restlessjo says:

    It seems very cynical when you see education in that light, Naomi. Why is our world constantly falling prey to the wrong values? We always seem to serve greed rather than humanity. Thank you for a beautifully written post. I certainly hope there’s a way to turn things around.
    Hugs to you and yours 🙂

    1. Dear Jo,
      I really try to look on the bright side, but when you see that even education being sold out, it is very discouraging. There is such disparity in our country, and it is growing worse and worse. The people with money are scheming to make more by manipulating others into accepting a new system that is definitely not in their best interest. I also hope that we can turn this around.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and checking in. Hugs to you and yours too, Jo!

  27. Canyon Williams says:

    Great piece about Einstein

  28. Meg says:

    This was an inspiring post, Naomi. Great photos and I was with you all the way. Meg

    1. Thanks, Meg! So good to hear from you!

  29. He was brilliant and never left childhood. Hope you are well Naomi.

    1. Hi Micheline, Yes, thank you! Springtime is here, I am FINALLY happily working in “The Zone” with a manuscript, and my daughter Bea is home for spring break! Sending you hugs and good wishes for a great weekend.

  30. pattisj says:

    Hopefully, some will come to their senses.

    1. Hi Patti, Fingers crossed! Thanks so much for the visit, and for your kind words.

  31. Amy says:

    I loved how you intertwined Einstein’s quotes and incredible pictures with the current testing bonanza. It was such an engaging post. I teach at a university and would love to re blog this on the blog I have for our interns (student teachers). Would you mind? I could link to this post, if you would rather. I started a blog for them recently and am not real sure how reblogging works, but I would love to get their feedback on your point of view. The next couple of weeks is testing week in their schools so they are seeing it up close and personal.

    Also, what if the common core standards were not linked to the battery of tests, etc.? In other words, what do you think about the standards themselves?

    Thanks again! Amy

    1. HI Amy,
      I have been out of the country and have just returned–am catching up with my blogging now. I appreciate your thoughtful response. You are welcome to reblog this and any other posts of mine. Thank you for your interest.

  32. A big ❤ for you, and this: "Tests are designed so that 68% of those taking the tests will fail. It’s better for business." sounds ugly enough that it could be true for life as well. Business needs certain mortality, and hunger, and wars.

    1. It is shameful and frightening to me that big business has become so powerful in this country. Thanks for the visit, and sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thank you, Maggie! I appreciate your stopping by and sharing your response.

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