Monday, April 27, 2015
What makes school significant (It's not the M-STEP)
We are in the middle of M-STEP, Michigan's state mandated assessment for students in grades 3-8 and 11.
This assessment, while it is not intended to do so, will determine our worth.
After the assessment we will receive in weeks (or months) our scores. These scores will be reported in the newspaper. These scores will be used to rank school districts. Academic champions will be crowned based on these scores.
But in the end, the test scores don't matter.
I reached this epiphany while reading Atul Gawande's book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The book is about the conversations doctors and the medical professionals have with patients who because of age or life-threatening illnesses are facing the end of life.
But it also made me think about school. Gawande says the following when discussing the medical field:
The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine's focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet - and this is the painful paradox - we have decided that they should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days. For more than a half century now, we have treated the trials of sickness, aging, and mortality as medical concerns. It's been an experiment in social engineering, putting our fates in the hands of people valued more for their technical prowess than for their understanding of human needs.
As I read those words it made me think of schools and education. Schools should not be defined by test scores. Schools should not be defined by many of the various metrics that appear on state reports or in the paper.
The problem with education and the institutions it has spawned to care for students is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all.
What makes school significant for students?
People, relationships, passion, discovering ideas, talking about ideas, learning who you are and what you care about.
State legislators and newspapers seem to think that the most important part of school are test scores and graduation rates and daily attendance. Those are important. But the schools that have high test scores and good graduation rates and high daily attendance are schools that don't focus on those things.
We can tell ourselves that high test scores are important. We can spend all of our time in school prepping students to take a test.
But in the end, those things do not matter.
I believe that schools that measure well on the new metrics of education do so because they focus on making school relevant and meaningful. Schools that focus on relationships and help students develop a passion for learning, those are the schools that understand what is truly important about education.
Medicine focuses on repairing health when the real discussion should be about what is significant in life.
Often the discussion in schools is about test scores when the real discussion should be about sustenance of the soul.
While I completely agree that schools need to ensure that students learn, that students have the skills they need to pursue their dreams, the more important discussions are about what students are passionate about. The more important discussions are how what we are learning applies to life outside of the school. The more important discussions are about how school makes it possible for a student to follow their passion and make a difference.
We give the M-STEP because we have to.
What I want our schools to find are ways to sustain the souls of our students so that they can make powerful contributions to their family, their friends, and to society.