A Letter from the Front

Since I moved to Texas in December 1997, I have become very well acquainted with the TAAS test. The test is bureaucratically equivalent to any other sort of standardized test in any state, but when compared in difficulty to standardized tests in my home state of New York, it falls laughably short of the mark. 

Besides being mind-numbingly boring to students and the bane of existence to teachers, the test is used to rank schools within the district and state. Those schools who score well on the test are lauded by the state in the form of cash subsidies and vouchers, as well as a pretty plaque and a listing in some book or another. The only problem with this system is that district superintendents and school principals are so eager for recommendations that they have otherwise good instructors teach nothing but the test. 

I am reminded of a conversation that I had with my chemistry instructor just a week ago. “We are going to have to go very fast these last three weeks,” she said. “I have to cover three more chapters and I don’t see you nearly enough to be able to do so.” 

“Well can we cover Chapter 23, Miss?” I asked.

“No. That is a good chapter and something I think you’d enjoy, but I have specific requirements assigned by the district and I can’t teach anything extra.”

It turns out that the chapters she was required to cover included material that we had already learned in another class. This class is required for graduation, so everyone would have learned the material anyway, but it’s no use to flout district requirements at the end of the school year (or any other time for that matter.)

In another class of mine, we had a week straight of TAAS review. We spent an entire day on addition. Another on reading graphs. The worst thing was that some in my class did not remember how to do either.

The point of the above examples is this: In most cases, the teachers are not to blame for the shortcomings of students. They can’t be bothered caring about teaching nothing but test material year in and year out, especially when students don’t care either. Their pay is amazingly low compared to the amount of work they have to do. They have no say whatsoever in what they teach, or even in the way they teach it.

The solution? First and foremost, abolish standardized testing. The results have nothing at all to do with an accurate measure of student intelligence, anyway. Second, get rid of the school board entirely. Shouldn’t the teachers have a say in what they teach? Shouldn’t the parents have a say in how their students learn? Shouldn’t the principals have a say in hiring decisions? Form a league of only those concerned--the parents, teachers, principals, and most importantly, the students. Leave out the politicians who use the school board as a springboard to further their career. The best solution would of course be to get the government out of schools altogether.

The reason why the regard for learning is so low among the student body is simply that the material is uninteresting and in many cases, useless. We are not given any chance to apply the material to real world situations at all. We are taught outdated knowledge from textbooks that are falling apart. This sort of apathy might explain the rise among home schooling and independent study movements. These allow students and parents to tailor curriculum to the aspirations and needs of the individual, not a district model of “the perfect student.” All reports show that those students who are home schooled are more interested in learning. They score consistently higher on the SAT. They are well adjusted and contribute to society. All this without BigBro looking over their shoulders. 

Even for those who do want to learn, there are major impediments. Discipline problems due to the apathy discussed above are rampant. The principals simply do not have enough time to evaluate all the discipline slips they get. Mass numbers receive detention and other punishments for nothing they did wrong (reminds one of the government imprisoning people for victimless crimes, no?) Students fear and mistrust those in authority, but go along with whatever they say because principals have absolute power over them. 

What does an average high school experience teach a child? It teaches them that they had better not speak out, because it will get them in trouble. It teaches them that others should be able to tell them how to run their lives. It teaches them that anyone, anywhere, any time can put restrictions on what they can say, see or do. In a place where love of freedom and individual responsibility should be taught, fascism and a herd attitude reign. 

Government schools and the mob mentality they engender are never going to give us freedom. Concerned parents and community members should look more into this matter. Ask the students in your family what their experience is like. Make sure they know you are listening with neutrality as they tell their story and that they won’t be in trouble for being unhappy. Those in authority do listen when pressed. Perhaps we can make a difference.

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Amanda Bowen's picture
Columns on STR: 10

Amanda Bowen is an unaverage high school student who hopes one day to pursue a life of study.