When I was 8 years old, my morning chores including collecting the eggs of the 30-40 chickens on our farm. I’d bring them to the kitchen, wash my hands, and walk to school with my older sister. It was a simple 4-step process: collect the eggs, deliver them to the kitchen, wash up, and head off to school.
Unfortunately, I sometimes forgot Step 3, washing my hands, meaning that I might have had some ch*ckenshit in my fingernails when I entered my 3rd grade classroom. Unfortunately for me, my 3rd grade teacher was a hygiene fanatic who required each of us line up and approach her desk, breathe into her face (had we brushed?) and show her our hands (had we washed?). I always brushed my teeth after breakfast, so I never failed the halitosis test, but she got me on the “clean hands” exam quite a few times.
Each time the punishment was a BLACK STAR next to my name on the wall chart that was prominently displayed near the classroom door. She started the chart on Day One, and I got quite a few of those unforgettable BLACK STARS during the year. It was humiliating, but I still made the mistake of not washing up quite a few times. I was only 8, or we were running late, or whatever….
What brings this to mind is the practice in some benighted school systems of posting students’ scores on state exams on a so-called “data wall” in each classroom, so that every kid can see how he or she did…and how everyone else did. That’s supposed to make kids work harder….
Teacher Launa Hall has written a thoughtful essay about this trend, which I urge you to read. She writes that she resisted the requirement at first but eventually gave in and created her own “data wall,” a decision she regretted as soon as she saw her students looking at the scores.
“My third-graders tumbled into the classroom, and one child I’d especially been watching for — I need to protect her privacy, so I’ll call her Janie — immediately noticed the two poster-size charts I’d hung low on the wall. Still wearing her jacket, she let her backpack drop to the floor and raised one finger to touch her name on the math achievement chart. Slowly, she traced the row of dots representing her scores for each state standard on the latest practice test. Red, red, yellow, red, green, red, red. Janie is a child capable of much drama, but that morning she just lowered her gaze to the floor and shuffled to her chair. ……
I regretted those data walls immediately. Even an adult faced with a row of red dots after her name for all her peers to see would have to dig deep into her hard-won sense of self to put into context what those red dots meant in her life and what she would do about them. An 8-year-old just feels shame.”
Like her students, I was 8, and I felt ashamed whenever I received BLACK STARS and whenever I looked at the wall chart. I got teased, of course, and my dominant memory of 3rd grade is that morning exam, not projects I may have worked on or books we read. I survived my literal “ch*ckenshit education,” probably because only one misguided teacher who just wanted to teach hygiene was embarrassing me, not official policy across a school district.
(Some districts use numbers in place of names on their mandatory “Data Walls,” but of course it doesn’t take long for kids to figure out who is who.)
For entire school systems to endorse public shaming of its students is a disgrace. This excess, the offspring of our misguided obsession with test scores, rarely if ever works. It’s a ch*ckenshit policy that will further turn people against public education, at least the 50% who are below average. Will pleasant memories of school overshadow their shame at being publicly humiliated? How supportive are they likely to be as adults, when asked to vote for school funding or to defend teachers against unwarranted attacks?
As Launa Hall writes, “When policymakers mandate tests and buy endlessly looping practice exams to go with them, their image of education is from 30,000 feet. They see populations and sweeping strategies. From up there, it seems reasonable enough to write a list of 32 discrete standards and mandate that every 8-year-old in the state meet them. How else will we know for sure that teaching and learning are happening down there?”
Our antiquated school model is used to sort children. Essentially, it asks of each child “How Intelligent Are You?” and then posts standardized test scores for all to see. We need to demand and help build schools that ask of each child “How Are You Intelligent?” and figure out ways to build on their strengths and interests.
Anything else is pure Ch*ckenshit……