One of the biggest problems with standardizing education is that by creating standards – concrete, non-variable, measurable learning outcomes – educators actively ignore the nature of childhood. Young people are inherently moving, increasing and decentralizing their conceptions of the world. Standing them still and making them look in one direction should be illegal, because it robs children and youth of their very nature: That of the constantly evolving and transformative creature.
My mom put together a program in North Omaha called “Young Time”. She believed that the low-income kids in our neighborhood were forced to grow up too young, too fast:
- Commercialism promotes crass-consumerism, often driving low-income young people to want things beyond their means, leading to early (and poor) employment experiences and dissatisfaction with family and community norms.
- Empty homes where moms and dads were working full-time, two jobs and more drew many young people indoors to babysit during times when outdoor play could be happening.
- A hollow sense of community among neighbors that leads to distrust and alienation, driving children and youth to loose contact with neighbors, and forcing neighbors to constantly survey youth and children throughout the community.
Anytime that socio-economic backgrounds are homogeneous with a community the perspectives of young people are going to become and stay static. That robs young people, whose perspectives are inherently moving. Let’s aim to be dynamic in learning. Standardized education assumes that there is learning – any learning – that is stagnant and worthy of learning. That there are base skills and knowledge that every student should learn. While I value the ability to read, I don’t believe that every young person needs to know deep mathematical theorems and scientific hypothesis. Education that forces students to learn is bound to fail.
Similarly, there are a number of youth programs that do the same. However, perhaps more dubious than schools, these programs don’t have the federal mandates or the sense of disconnected democracies that educational systems have. Instead, these programs are operated by nonprofit organizations that are effectively little tyrant organizations: While they are being hogtied by foundations, these nonprofits have chosen to give into the demands of funders and simply be held accountable for standards that simply do not apply to them.
Let’s not rob the perspectives of young people – let them have their views from wherever they stand. Those perspectives are valid, valuable and powerful.
Rereading this post, I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s quote:
“We are all creative, but by the time we are three of four years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up the kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.”
The essence of recognizing the evolving capacities of the child is seeing that everyone is a creative genius – and we must learn to embrace that. We have so much energy!