Is there an imminent election that I have somehow failed to be aware of? The flurry of articles in The Times over the last few days about school testing and legislation would suggest as much, but it’s May….?
Most people agree that standardized testing tells us little about a child’s actual intelligence or level of knowledge. So by all means, let’s introduce MORE testing. Maybe, if 10 standardized tests a year don’t do the trick, then 20 will! But wait – no, this is different. How’s this for a twist? Kids in NYC schools will take the tests, but the teachers will be graded on the results. The biggest argument so far seems to be, not whether or not such testing is a good idea, but whether or not to tell the kids that the grades will not reflect on them, but on their teachers. Really? Because you think it would be a good idea for kids to know that if their scores suck, it will be the teacher who pays the price? Raise your hand if you see a flaw in this plan. It kind of sounds like the pitch for a new reality TV show – “which teacher will survive this new round of testing? Find out next week on an all new ‘Cool Teacher Showdown’”.
If it was up to me, of course, testing would be done away with altogether. More testing, better testing, testing for the teachers, testing for the parents (yes, legislation in Florida and oh joy, my home state of Indiana has been introduced suggesting parents be graded or even fined if their children do not do well in school); it’s all still testing. And standardized testing, no matter how dressed up, dumbed down or differently aimed, will never accomplish anything. (Except to tell us which kids are good at taking tests.)
Moving on….to the world of voluntary segregation! Hooray! In this case I’m talking segregation based not on race but on income. This morning a friend told me, and I have no idea if this is confirmed, that Madonna’s daughter Lourdes will be attending the Laguardia High School for the Performing Arts this Fall. My response was, “Really?”. It’s interesting information in a ‘guess who’s going to be in the neighborhood’ kind of way. Apparently, though, the parents who passed this info along to my friend were upset – UPSET – that Lourdes would not be attending a pricey elite academy of some sort. Why? Because she is taking a place that should go to a lower income student, that’s why! My response to THAT information was, “What the…?!” So let me get this straight. All wealthy people should send their children to expensive private academies and leave the public system for the underclasses? Interesting. You know what? The founders of our public school system – the Carnegies and Rockefellers – would totally agree with you! They envisioned that the elite families would send their kids to the elite academies to get a real education which would of course ensure that power stayed in the hands of the ‘right’ people. Public schools, then, would be disguised as educational institutions but would actually be designed to create a workforce with basic literacy skills. So it is incredible to me that 100 or so years later, a group of homeschooling parents revealed their own indoctrination into this way of thinking by being upset that a rich kid wants to attend a public school. How about being upset that most kids at Laguardia can’t afford the elite private school? How about thinking that maybe Lourdes presence there will inspire her mother to set up a scholarship fund or otherwise donate to the school, thereby helping all the kids who attend? How about anything but playing into the hands of those still present powers (different names, same goals) who hope that we will voluntarily segregate ourselves into exactly the social groups they would choose to put us in.
Finally, a few words about Lady Gaga. Not her music, although I think it is fitting that I just mentioned Madonna, because Gaga strikes me as every bit as savvy when it comes to her public image and knowing what sells. No, this is about an interview I saw with her on Letterman. I didn’t know she is 25, or that she grew up on West 70th St., just a few blocks from where we live. What impressed me, though, was that when David asked her about what kind of kid she was, followed immediately by ‘did you finish high school’? She said, “Why? Would it mean I was a bad kid if I didn’t finish high school?” Which caused him to backtrack and say “well no, of course not!” She did, in fact, finish high school but dropped out of college. She said music was her passion from a young age, and when she was 14 she started going out to play in clubs in Lower Manhattan. Her mother, instead of forbidding her to go (“She knew there was no holding me back”), which would have meant Stephani – as she was known then - sneaking out at night, chose to support her and go with her. How very genius of her! Hey man, if your kid finds their passion at a young age, don’t thwart it. Don’t, also, send a 14 year old into a grown up situation and hope for the best. Be there. Support them. They’ll thank you for it later. Lady Gaga just put out her 3rd album. Her first 2 sold 24 million copies.
Like her or not, that’s an impressive number.