Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Sky Is….

What does it mean to be “in the world but not of the world?”   Inevitably this phrase will mean 100 different things to 100 different people. 

 To me it means that, though I may have to play along to a certain degree with society’s standards, I don’t have to morally agree.   In fact, my beliefs should set me free from the world’s encumbrances.

"I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create."   ~ William Blake

It’s that time of year again.    Achievement test time.   Since the mid-80’s I’ve been required by the state to administer the yearly standardized test to my students. 

"Do not worry about your problems with mathematics,
 I assure you mine are far greater.  ~ Albert Einstein

Today my daughter was staring down at her CAT in bewilderment at math questions she’d never seen.   And would never use in any practical way.  

I said, “Not to worry.  Just say eeny, meeny, miny, moe if you don’t know the answer – you have a 25% chance to get it right at any rate.   It’s multiple choice.   Besides, you don’t need that in the real world.    We don’t even use that stuff.   Ever.  We use real life math.”  

 John Taylor Gatto, named New York City’s teacher of the year in 1990, and State teacher of the year in 1991, says of standardized testing: “They lead to no real information about the student, and actually give them a false ranking.   It says people are better or worse than others.  

“Seriously, have you ever gone to a job interview and asked the person interviewing you, ‘What did you get on your standardized test?’  They’d be floored.
 “Parents don’t go up to the teachers who hand out these stupid things and ask what they got on their tests either, because they don’t matter.”    

The way I see it, life is too short to waste on hollow trivia.   Never have I wanted my children to equate success in life with mere academic achievement – though they’ve all tested off the charts.  But I do want them to gain true wisdom and understanding of life issues that matter most.  

I would far rather see them grow up to be a heroic character like, say, Forrest Gump, than any academic snob.  In the world’s eyes, Forrest would be considered an idiot, and yet he is courage and honesty personified.          

When I was in school I remember those tests, which to me were just an interesting diversion from the ordinary class routine.  We sat in hard desks and filled in “right-answer” bubbles most of the day.  Just to confirm how bright or dim we were.  

But what the tests didn’t reveal were our creative, imaginative, intuitive, and spiritual aptitudes – intrinsic in all children before they are forced into robotic learning environments.  These tests never exposed our natural talents or true genius. 

They never offered a clue on what we were born to do, or who we might become.  But instead measured our worth by how well we regurgitated facts, most often irrelevant to our gifts and calls in life.   

Compulsory Education

You know there’s one correct answer
when you take that test.  So you do your
best to get it right, the faster the better,
or you’ll find on your paper a giant red X.
No time to stop and contemplate.  Mark
your answer without delay.  The teacher
is waiting and heaven knows she doesn’t
have all day.  Thirty questions all the same.
Every student should know without
hesitation that the sky is blue.  But what if
today you clearly see a sky of feather gray
or remember an earlier violet dawn complete
with the joy of birdsong?   Or envision
yesterday’s blaze of sunset: harmonious
streaks of amber and pink bleeding across
the horizon.  Oh well, never mind what you
see or feel or think.   Just go by the book
and fill in the blank.  The sky is ____


"He told me that his teachers reported that . . . he was mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in his foolish dreams."

-- Hans Albert Einstein, on his father, Albert Einstein 

So how do you view testing?  Should tests be emphasized as sole measures of students, teachers, and schools?  Should students be labeled as a result of failing a test?  Could these labels be self-fulfilling prophecies?   I welcome your experience, thoughts, and feedback.          


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post today, not that I don't enjoy the other posts, but so much of it is true. I remember those hard desks too. I was very smart but always froze when it came to tests for some reason. My youngest son was the same way. He would make A's but the word test froze him up like it did me. It took me three times to pass my real estate license test and took him three times to pass his drivers test. We both knew it 100% but the world test boggled our minds. So a test to me should not signify how bright or dim we are, as you put it, because there are so many out there who fear the word test. Thank you for this discussion on the topic. :)

  2. TESTS! never liked them and have never used those eeny meeny mina mos!
    Just hearing the word have put many students into a nervous wreck. Job applications ask for one's SAT'S score and i feel that this should not be.....
    Very good post. Thank You

  3. Ah yes, the "bubble tests". My children did the required tests last month, and I'll admit my feelings on them are mixed.

    On one hand, I understand the need for the schools to ensure the children have a base level of comprehension in some key areas of education to be promoted to the next grade. However, in most cases these days that isn't what those tests are used for. They're intended, as you mentioned, to classify and label the students, the teachers and the school itself. They can be helpful to flag trouble areas in a child's education, but on the whole that isn't the end result of the process.

    I also think that the tests delivered today "miss the mark" in many respects. They don't measure cognitive ability, or depth of thought; they simply see how quickly the child can spit back chunks of information with some level of accuracy. Through that narrow view of these children, decisions are then made that can most certainly negatively affect their lives.

    Do I think we should do away with all standardized tests? No, absolutely not. However, there needs to be some balance used to help identify gifts in them that falls outside the range of testing. We owe it to the poets, the musicians, the artists and the philosophers of tomorrow to find a better way to help them develop their talents.

    My apologies for the long comment, but you did ask... :-)

    Have a Blessed Day Debra!

  4. Boy, you hit a nerve with this one...some of my kids are extremely right brained and some are extremely left brained...testing cannot cater to both extremes and so it is a definite waste of time to try and measure a child's intellect that way...I know testing is important to determine where a student is, but not the way it's currently done.
    I'm just glad the Lord doesn't test on the curve :o)

    Becky Jane

  5. Excellant post! We aren't required to do standardized tests so I quit using them years ago. You are so right....there is so much that these tests miss. I have two boys who are weak academically but excel in so many other areas that can't be measured.

  6. I failed a couple of my tests in med school, and I even failed in two major subjects. Words can't explain how devastated I was during those times. I belittled myself and felt I was not at par with my classmates who scored far better than I did. I would even question God a couple of times if this is really what He wanted me to do. But then I realized that grades are just numbers and they don't define who I am. And my worth is definitely not quantitative; it is more than that. And getting good grades is not a guarantee of being successful in the future. I know some people who weren't achievers when they were in med school (in fact, some of them flunk more subjects than I did), but are really among the best doctors in the Philippines now.

    Thank you so much for this post, Debra. God bless! :-)


  7. @ Janet – It’s good to know you passed the real estate exam. About the driver’s test… so many feel anxious about that one; almost everyone fears failing the driver’s test. No matter how long we’ve been driving – or how well - there’s just something about the thought of not passing the test :(

    @ Savira – Yeah, tests can be unnerving alright. Job applications ask for SAT scores??? That’s news to me. Colleges, understandable. But job applications? Oh well. * sigh*

    @ Phather Phil – There are many, many ways to help identify gifts that fall outside the range of testing. Students could demonstrate mastery of learning in far more productive and exciting ways: plays, pageants, concerts, art, exhibitions, poetry recitals, and project demonstrations… I love your line, “We owe it to the poets, the musicians, the artists and the philosophers of tomorrow to find a better way to help them develop their talents.” Think nothing of the comment length; I treasure thoughtful comments above all!

    @ Becky Jane – now there’s an interesting point: left-brain and right-brain thinkers. We are not all wired the same. Standardization is meant to level the playing field and make everyone “equal.” But I don’t think this is what God had in mind when He created individuals. I’ve often thought my left-brain is in a coma because it has always been hard for me to add 2 + 2 without a calculator :( Thank you for inspiring a future post here! Now you’ve really got the wheels turning… Stay tuned.

    @ Deborah - Aren’t you the blessed one to escape the yearly testing mandate! What state are you in? I need to move there! As moms who have our children with us 24:7 we are well able to discern our children’s gifts and calls, and the path that God has called them to travel in life. And observe the unfolding of their natural talents.

    @ Irene - I don’t think I’d have survived med school, right-brained person that I am. I SO admire your persistence and tenacity in staying the course. Love what you said, “… grades are just numbers and don’t define who I am.” I appreciate your thoughtful and genuine comment Irene, and wish you many blessings on your journey.

  8. I love that quote "Do not worry about your problems with mathematics,
    I assure you mine are far greater.
    Mandated testing is very stressful for everyone in the family I wish we could do away with them.

  9. Hated tests - all my life - especially math - it belittled me in me in every way. Yet here I am - living a happy life and certainly a good person - math or not : )

  10. Great post! Standardized testing was one major reason when our daughter was born that I started exploring other educational options. I tossed the idea between homeschooling and montessori schools around, weighing the options heavily. When we moved to the town that we live in now I went to an open house at the public schools and really sensed a strong nurturing environment and sense of committment and dedication from the teachers and staff so I opted to send our kids their. I'm still very much ill at ease about them, I think they add a lot of stress to students and take up a lot of class time beforehand preparing when better use of our children's time pursuing their education in more applicable ways could be spent. But I guess it's part of life...I'm not looking forward to the time when my kids have to take them though!

  11. Debra, I couldn't agree more. My son is 15-years old and he says the same thing. The only thing I did like about the tests, back in my day, were the two brand new, sharply pointed pencils and the clean, crisp test booklet with the bubbles. Okay, I think I really liked the pencils the most...we just weren't allowed to keep them!! This made me laugh: "Just to confirm how bright or dim we were."

  12. tairo – thank you!

    Finding one’s own way – that quote should console any student struggling in math - if Einstein struggled...

    Kristi – same here. Math wasn’t and never will be my forte. We’re just wired for other things!

    Jessica – From what I know of you, you’re in tune enough with what God knows is best for your children to make the right educational decisions. He will continue to direct your path – always.

    Sherry – I remember well those sharp # 2 pencils administered along with the crisp test booklets and bubble test sheet. And though I don’t care for the tests I still love the sharp # 2 pencils :)

  13. Hi Debra - I'm glad you found me through Kriti's blog. She's an amazing person. I have never tested well - never. My mind goes blank. But I had a wonderful executive job until retirement, supervised people who liked and trusted me, and felt very fulfilled both with work and my personal life. Tests are not the answer of a persons measure. Thank you for this though provoking post. I'm now following you.

  14. Mari, the places you can go in life in spite of of grades… Funny isn’t it, how we look back at the many irrelevant subjects and myriad tests we took for naught :) And then to see how wonderful life turned out, regardless!

  15. I was never asked about standardized tests, but my husband is an accountant and his first job interview they did ask. Obviously, he doesn't get asked that question now, 14 years later!

  16. Always pick C with a few B's thrown in and you will do well enough to just pass, hehe... Oh What absolute rubbish these "tests" are! Thank you Debra you are my light..

    Cheers A

  17. Testing is a joke. I'm actually reading a book, "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Coleman, and he says that a group of 500 or so incoming freshman were tested for optimism versus pessimism. Their score for optimism/pessimism was a more accurate indicator of their success in their first year of college than their ACT scores.

    We get so wrapped up in what we have, we miss out on what we have to offer.

  18. Lisa, of course they don’t ask anymore; your husband has proven himself already :)

    Alejandro, not a bad rule of thumb: always pick C with a few B’s thrown in:) I’ll pass this hint along to students. Cheers!

    Justin, interesting finding! I’d like to read “Emotional Intelligence”. Sounds like something I’d really enjoy. Is this a new book?
    “We get so wrapped up in what we have; we miss out on what we have to offer.” Great line!

  19. It's not new. It was published in 1995 I think. I pulled off the shelf at my library and have been reading it in little bits for the last week. It discusses ways emotional intelligence trumps IQ as a determining factor in success with relationships and in business.

  20. What a beautiful post. I totally agree that we can be in the world but not agree with it morally. I really do love the way God works out things in the best way for us if we have faith in Him.

  21. I think kids should be evaluated throughout the year in a subtle way, because some children are shy and freeze during exams or when in limelight. Brilliant minds are sometimes wired differently and don't perform well during standard tests but excel in their chosen fields. Interesting post, Debra. Thanks.

  22. To be in the world, yet not of the world.
    It's good advice.

    For me it means not following blindly.

    There was this Samurai in Japan, Yamamoto Tsunetomo, who became a monk later in life. For about a year, a younger Samurai followed him around and collected his sayings on a number of matters, mostly ethics and good conduct. Together they produced a book called Hagakure. "Hagakure" means either Hidden Leaves OR Hidden in the Leaves. As many other Japanese phrases, or so I'm told, it can carry several meanings at once. (There's a beautiful English translation by William Scott Wilson.)

    Anyway. I remember one of his statements ran something like this:
    "It is very good to learn the ways of the Buddhas, the ways of the monk, the politician or the carpenter. It helps you follow your own."

    That is, be broadminded, but define a narrow path and follow it. To me that's what being in the world but not of the world means.

    Buddhism was one of the first doctrines - that we know of - to affirm that everything is impermanent, and that change is the only constant.

    On testing and education

    Standardized testing is a necessity. While your performance in a standard test does not define who you are, such tests provide an assessment tool that generates actionable data.

    Children ARE evaluated in a number of different ways throughout the school year, but let's not forget the fact that there are now so many of us on the face of the Earth that it is impossible to conduct personalized testing for everyone.
    Also, people with strong, balanced personalities will realize that they must make their own opportunities anyway, and that standard tests are only means to an end. When their goals transcend that, standard tests become irrelevant.
    But, inasmuch as standard tests deliver a structured experience and offer possibilities for improvement, I don't think they should be dismissed outright. It's better to have flawed assessment tools than none at all.

  23. To be in the world, yet not of the world.
    What does it mean to me?

    We live in a world, "society" but as individuals we can make our own choices.

    Testing very interesting topic, are they useless, time consuming procedures done to sort out the "smart", "struggling" or "needs help students" ... I don't know, just at thought that popped into my head.

    But what I do know is that they use these tests as a way to track the education system. They test them, then find an average for the amount of children that answered the question the same as your child. And give a % for that school district...

    How much of the information on the tests will our children use as an adult, probably the same amount we used... if not less. Most of the information is pointless, but the structure and the experience may or may not be helpful, take a child that does "Excellent" in everything but when given a piece of paper with the word "test" on it he/she freezes. So all thou the testing may be helpful at the same time it's harmful. Then think about it the exact opposite, a child struggles in every day class work but given a test he/she excels, and they are looked as a child that may need to be in advanced classes.

    Testing and using the information as a whole for the school district is a good idea, but using it as a way to place a child, may or may not be a good idea.

  24. @Shanae, mainly I disagree with many of the world’s standards that define success.

    @sulekkha, some are wired for math and science, while others are more gifted in the arts. Standardization doesn’t allow for unique giftedness. The object is equalization and leveling the playing field.

    @John, those who don’t follow blindly are few and far between. It’s a matter of learning to think for oneself, which is not what any system of the world is about. Conformity to a system, be it education, religion, medicine, or politics is the broad path most take. I’m with you on “… define a narrow path and follow it.” That’s what being in the world but not of the world means to me too.

    Standardized tests are only a means to an end: passing grades and college enrollment. My objection isn’t testing per se, but teaching to the tests and calling it “education.” When students don’t remember the answers two weeks after the tests were given, it’s like pouring water through a sieve.

  25. Debbie, it’s interesting that as adults we have the freedom make our own choices. Our self-worth is not contingent upon the grades we make or how well we perform according to someone else’s standards. We chose our own careers, leave jobs that don’t suit us, and generally follow our own interests in life. Too bad that society discriminates when it comes to children. They have little voice or choice in what they’d like to study or pursue – until the latter part of college. It isn’t until they become adults that they have any real choices at all.

  26. According to those tests, I am totally and completely average. I agree that it sucks they can't/don't measure creativity.

  27. I never was good in school. I went because I was required to, not that I gave much thought to rebelling against the idea - what else did I have to do with my time? Clean the barn? Though I actually enjoyed cleaning the barn, it's not something I wanted to fill my days with. Besides, as a professional wallflower, I needed information. Little did I know to what use it would be put. haha

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, and thanks for the compliment - it means a lot.

  28. Congratulations on winning the Versatile Blogger award. I won also, nominated by JP Brandano. What a nice accomplishment for us both! It's nice to have our work recognized by our fellow bloggers.
    Regards, Mari

  29. Amen Debra – lif IS too short to waste on the trivial. But as a former teacher I so see the value in the testing. It has it’s flaws – but we need some measure. I even have a “standardized” test of my own faith – I made it up – but it gives me a good indication of how well I’m living my faith. Just an opinion. So there yu have it – I both agree with you and disagree – (wimp)

    God bless :)

  30. So many interesting comments! I agree with Phil and John, standardized testing is a necessary evil. But I have never felt they were a true measure of who I was and what knowledge I possessed.

    When I was in high school, I took one year of home economics as a filler. Had to have a class so I took something that wouldn't require any study time. One day the teacher said she was giving a test and anyone who didn't want to take it could go to the library. She also said we wouldn't be graded on it. I heard the no grade comment and not wanting to go to the libraby for an hour, sat there and dashed it off. Then forgot it.

    A few weeks later my teacher said she had an announcement to make. Someone had won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow Award. I was half listening, then she announced MY name. I was dumbfounded. There were several girls in there who were dedicated home ec students, and were much more deserving than I.

    So much for a standardized test. I've been a wife and homemaker for years now and my husband does the cooking, because I hate to cook and would rather be working as a nurse, or painting.

    Ok, you can laugh now. I still do every time I look at that little pin I won. I taught my kids, some of whom tested well and some who agonized through tests (although all are very intelligent, well adjusted adults) that those tests are a necessary evil, to do their best and then go on. And they listened. :D

  31. @ Rachel – when I think of an “average” tester, I think of Einstein and all those other geniuses who didn’t quite excel in the system :)

    @Anna – LOL, there are far worse things than cleaning the barn :) At least you took all that grammar and composition and ran with it!

    @Mari - congratulations to you too… yeah for us!!

    @Craig - Please don’t pull a pop quiz on us (your students :) At least give us advance warning, and I promise I’ll be prepared! A test of faith? Bring it on!

    @ cath – case in point. I’d never in a million years have won the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow Award … *snigger* my mother would have though. I’ll be looking forward to a blog post on the award and the pin :) I taught/teach my children too, and tell my youngest the same. Just get through the test and move on with life.

  32. Just as the phase "being in it but not of it" can mean different things to different people, I don't think we can test aptitude in a standardized way because we all perceive the world differently. Some questions do not have consistent answers, like your poem suggests. Some people know how to beat the system and pass these tests and some don't.

  33. Sweepy Jean, so true: we can’t test aptitude in a standardized way. The best we can do to measure ability is to allow students to shine in their natural gifts. By observation alone it wouldn’t take long to determine one’s proclivities. Oh well, like you said, some know how to beat the system and some don't. And as long as we're in the world we learn to play along.

  34. You are flourishing in blogger land! Congrats!

  35. @memo - You don't have anything to say on testing, girl? You of all people are silent on the subject? This is mind boggling.

  36. Hmm... What a profound discussion!! As a teacher, I agree that standardized testing is not a very accurate way to determine what type of learner a person is and what their capabilities are. I wish we had tests more on determining a person character and I wish that character education was more valued in our country. I could go on, but it's late :)

  37. Senorita, sounds like you got my drift... more emphasis on character education would be welcome change.

  38. Thank you for stopping by and following. I'm following back now. Have a blessed day. :)

  39. Thank you and blessings Mrs. E:)

  40. You make some very important points here. Those tests do indeed scupper creativity. There is that saying "The definition of intelligence is not knowing the answer but knowing where and how to find it".

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