Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kids Care: Acknowledging Students' Civic and Social Concerns

First a confession: I have neglected this blog for over a month. My last post was December 26, 2014. My absence may suggest apathy on my part. Such are perceptions. 

Thinking about apathy and perception, my attention turns to students. Sometimes I'm guilty of assigning to students the apathetic label. Recently a conversation with an administrator led to this comment: "I've never seen so many students not care." Indeed, many of my colleagues articulate a similar sentiment, especially regarding our freshman class. 

Since I teach grades 9-12, I'm in a position to observe students at all grade levels. The question I keep pondering is this: 

Given the reductive nature of education in an age of standardized testing run amok, have policymakers, in their zeal to hold teachers accountable, created a generation of students who are more apathetic about school than their predecessors who attended school before standardized testing became the primary focus of teaching?

I eschew testing in my classes, including standardized test prep. Except for the dual credit class I teach, a class in which I'm required to give a written final, I have not given one test all year. This is not translate into an absence of assessment. In English, students read and write. In speech, students research and plan speeches and present formal and informal talks. 

I teach students to use language well, to read a variety of classic, contemporary, and informational texts, to manipulate words as they construct eloquent and stylistic essays and speeches. None of this requires a bubble sheet. 

My students show me their interest when they speak eloquently and passionately about important issues, including: the dangers of processed foods, the use of college athletes in sweatshop environments, the reasons for and against conceal and carry laws, the dangers of global warming, the problem of alcoholism in the military, the case against frivolous homework, the need to deal with sexual assaults in the military, why the death penalty is unjust, the reasons parents should vaccinate their children, why students should evaluate their teachers, the high cost of communities funding professional sporting facilities, why we should know our family health history, the importance of early childhood education, the growing problem of censorship in schools, limiting pesticide and herbicide advertising, why we need feminism in the 21st Century, body image issues among girls, the mounting tech waste problem, etc.

My students and the vast majority of students across the country care. They care about their friends, families, communities, hometown, state, and country. 

We just need to show them we care more about them and their interests than we do about the round circles they make on a green and white scan sheet. They don't care much about the bubbles.