Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two early heartfelts

[Jpegs taken from CHAC Valentine's Day showings, 2010 or prior years.]

This first piece doesn't begin in a "heartfelt" fashion, but bear with.

There's an adage about Life being the cruelest teacher: first it gives the test, then it gives the lesson.

Actually, there's something just as cruel that's omnisciently administered in U.S. public schools, that's called the pre-test. Those of you sans children or who've never personally benefited from this experience and don't know how lowly it can make children feel, well, don't despair; at some point in your remaining life you or yours may yet undergo the uplifting rigor of a pre-test.

Why test children--even five-year-old kindergartners--on something they know little to nothing about? For the sake of the BASELINE, a word teachers and students come to know as well as their daily schedule.

A schoolchild's progress (or lack of) and effectiveness of the teacher's skills (ditto), you see, justify the expenditure of millions of dollars and sustain thousands of jobs for "academic" number-crunchers and bean-counters whose existence depends on providing DATA to politicians, education corporations and administrators with the justification for cutting teachers, jobs and closing public schools so charter schools can be opened.

Even Colorado's entry into Obama's Race to the Top includes monies to be used for software, hardware and more numbers-people to cure our academic incompetence in international teaching standards. The thinking is that, if we're behind countries like Singapore, China and Denmark, it must be the teachers' fault.

Those millions of dollars and thousands of jobs might instead have been channeled into classrooms to teach children. Maybe with more teacher assistant paraprofessionals--try raising the educational level of 32 third graders by yourself all day long. Or more education specialists instructing in the classroom--try finding time to give differentiated one-on-one to a special ed kid in that same third grade room. Or more office staff to support teachers with children's behavioral problems and counseling--yeah, try teaching while one kid is hitting others and then being informed, "He's your fault and problem."

But our society doesn't believe in spending money in something so obviously beneficial because its targeted scapegoats are the teachers. The final solution is DATA and the obligatory pre-test.

In my case, for the sake of whatever self-esteem my first graders might salvage from such gauntlets, I regularly tell them that an answer of "Right now, I don't know." is acceptable. Thus I get many pre-tests with such responses. After all, how much would a six-year-old know about an index?

So, this week this teacher gave one of those pre-tests. Among other questions, was the following:
"Explica qué es un diagrama." ("What is a diagram?")

A few students had some idea. Most had none and responded as expected.

But one of the flaquitas, F__, usually does well or better in all subjects, She's a beanpole of unassuming ability, soft-voiced and reserved delight, who even after five months seems to enjoy deliberately driving me pre-testy by holding her pencil like she's attacking a steak, which in real life she probably doesn't do very often.

She also has within her a determination that won't allow her to easily admit failure. So, she tried. And she thought. And she dared to write this:

"Diagrama es el día de las fiestas de las abuelitas." (It's grandmothers' day.)

[Monolingual spoiler: F__ had deconstructed diagrama into "dia", which with an accent is the word for "day" (diá), and "grama" into a pochismo denoting grandmother.]

Amongst the teachers that day, it earned instant, funniest phrase of the week, because it demonstrated her imagination, her attempt to find sense in a nonsensical exercise--no matter her misinterpretation--and belied the intentions of pre-testers.

She brought more than laughter to our end of the building. She rejuvenated my tested-to-death teaching soul with her inventiveness and resourcefulness. Whichever cruel teachers, Life or otherwise, come her way, hopefully she'll continue putting her mind to them and send the inane scurrying.

And that's why I believe the episode with F__ fittingly, heartfelt.


Denver's CHAC Gallery
Milagros del Corazon
Miracles of the Heart is Underway!

February 12th, Friday night 6 to 9pm at Space Gallery across the street from CHAC is the site of this year's incredible Milagros del Corazon Auction. Join us for our Silent Auction that will feature hundreds of beautiful hearts designed by local Denver Artists, schools and our community supporters. Choose from numerous donated art pieces and services. Proceeds from this event will benefit our year round cultural arts programming!

Live classical Spanish guitar music by James Garcia.

Tickets: $7 per person or $12/couple and may be purchased in advance at CHAC. 303-571-0440 or click here for more info. (Artists go to "Artists News" for latest details on participating in the show.)

About CHAC
The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council (CHAC) was founded in 1978 by a group of visual and performing artists. The organization was established as a place where Chicano/Latino artists were provided with a venue to explore visual and performance art and promote and preserve the Chicano/Latino culture through the expression of the arts.
The gallery offers two shows each month by local visual art exhibits and performances by area musicians, actors, dancers, writers and poets. Other popular annual events include the Members Season Opener in January, Santos & Crosses in August, El Dia De Los Muertos in November and our Luminarias de la Guadalupe & Christmas Mercado in December.

Es todo, hoy,


Unknown said...

Wow, the innocence and creativeness of youth. I suspect F.... will go far. I'm with you in the hope for her future!! As always, you so well articulate the feelings of so many of us. Thanks for sharing.

Viva Liz Vega! said...

A heartfelt thank you for sharing this with us. I'm smiling thinking of F's confidence in her answer and reminds me of E.B. White's advice about "if you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud." I agree with Alice and suspect that F will go far as she has you for a teacher.

msedano said...

damnit, this is worth waiting all day to read it. felicitas, or whatever f....'s name might be, got the answer right, no question about it. and if the test-makers dispute that they do not know what they're doing.

Anonymous said...

Using a pre-test as a diagnostic tool is what great teachers use to support children to extend their learning.

Medical doctors use baselines, scientists use baselines; it may be in your best interest to reconsider the position noted.

an experienced educator

msedano said...

I have to laugh at Anonymous--nothing personal mind you. Completely misses the heartfelt point. Head. Heart. Head says, "use the baseline data to index a child's longitudinal growth and design and manage an individualized learning plan." Heart says, "love these kids and do no harm." Head&Heart says, "this test sucks, wonder at the beauty and infinite possibilities of this child, who flunked the test."

Lydia Gil said...

Thanks for your posting, Rudy. It made my day! I see the consequences of a lifetime of such testing when students get to college (with scores on standardized tests high on the admissions criteria...) I see students whose only eager participation in college classes often consists of: “Is this going to be on the exam?”
As your posting shows, creativity is what first gets lost on those scores. But children are fast learners... By third or fourth grade most will have learned to opt for “safe” answers and to study “for” tests instead of persevering in asking and understanding “why...” There goes their innate curiosity and experimentation. Then we wonder what is wrong with the way we teach our children...