Sunday, March 6, 2011

We Don't Test Students When They Learn to Ski

I've been wanting to blog all week but only depressing things kept popping up as things to blog about so I haven' t until now. Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the Cochran Ski Area which is a small but quite famous ski center in the little village of Richmond where I live not 15 miles from St. Mike's. The family owned business sprang to prominence in the 70s when Mickey Cochran was a US Olympic ski team coach and Barbara Ann was a downhill gold medalist. Since that time there has been a Cochran involved in Olympic skiing in some way or another at every Olympic games. Cochran's is now a not-for-profit organization with a mission to help young skiers and boarders master the slopes of Vermont and beyond.

The news in Education has been depressing on many fronts; the political attack on teachers' Unions in Wisconsin, the looming teacher's strike in South Burlington and the Federal Government's insistence in the perpetuation of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top; both empty slogans which have no true value or meaning to the many conscientious and dedicated teachers who serve our students.

Educational commentators and philosophers alike seem to be at a loss as to what is happening on the national level. We seem to have forsaken all that we believe is good and important in Education for the sake of testing students and holding teachers accountable for goals that are, at best, impossible, and at worst, destructive to what we believe education is all about. There's a wonderful letter from Herbert Kohl to Arne Duncan that speaks so eloquently to the dilemmas we are facing. There's also an interview with Diane Ravitch that raises many questions about what education should really be all about.

No test will ever measure a student's love of learning or desire to find sweetness and light. No test will ever inspire all students to become their best selves, or what Matthew Arnold once called "Aliens", individuals with the character charisma and knowledge to transgress social and class barriers in the pursuit of developing a good and just society.

We don't test students while they learn to ski and yet they nearly all succeed at some level because they have the desire. There's always a "race course" set up at Cochran's for people to test themeselves against, but of course, it's voluntary. Why can't schools be like this?

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