My kids are enrolled in Florida Virtual School, which is a publicly funded online education program. Because it is paid for by our county, we are still obligated to show up for the whole standardized testing fiasco. My feelings about this fluctuate from highly annoyed to remarkably amused. The annoyed part comes from all of the extra work that my kids are required to do, I imagine, so that someone doesn’t lose their job. I was also highly annoyed earlier this year when we did the writing portion of the test, and my children were instructed not to tell anyone, even their parents, about their test subject. If you want to find a quick way to piss me off: instruct a child to keep secrets from their parents. My amusement over all of the testing is derived from the circus show that is the county trying to coordinate with the administration of the local schools.
I took my kids in today for the first day of four days of testing at our local elementary school. My opinion of standardized testing is incredibly low. I don’t like how it makes children so nervous that they puke before the test, and I don’t appreciate the immense pressure that is put on hard working teachers to achieve erroneous test scores. My kids know a lot of the children that attend our local elementary and many of the parents who volunteer there, because our neighborhood is basically across the street from the school. All three of them understand that doing the testing is just one of the hoops that we have to jump through to keep the administration happy. They don’t really mind going all that much, but they are annoyed by the fact that it gets them out of bed three hours earlier than usual (my kids normally get out of bed around ten).
Right now, my son has a thick turquoise stripe down the center of his head. My youngest daughter has a light green streak in the front, and my oldest daughter has a long bleached blonde streak in her brown hair. As is common, this is against dress code in the school they were visiting, so they stuck out big time. My son actually reported that there was an echo of “he has green hair” following him down the hallway, and that his hair actually distracted the classroom that he was placed in. My oldest daughter had children coming up to her and exclaiming how cool her hair was. I do not agree with the idea of molding children into compliant little automatons: this is the reason that we educate them at home, and allow them to dye their hair any color that they want.
So, when the kids enrolled in the elementary school saw my kids they are really surprised at their blatant display of individuality. Those of them brave enough to engage them in conversation discover that it goes much deeper than their appearance. My ten year old daughter got into a conversation with one of the girls in the classroom where she was placed, and surprised the kid when she told her that she red at a seventh grade reading level (I think it may be higher; she just finished the Eragon series.) The argument can be made that brightly colored hair isn’t acceptable in schools because it is a distraction. I believe that statement is completely invalid, because if everyone had whatever color hair they wanted, how could anyone’s hair be distracting? I believe that the rules are part of the system that works to force children to conform to the acceptable norm. This system stunts their creativity, squashes their confidence. This system robs them of inspiration and trains them to regurgitate outdated information rather than to seek out innovative answers to challenging questions.
What do we do about it? Most kids have a family dynamic that relies on the public school system for education. This is the reality, but it doesn’t mean that we have to sit back and accept what they are force feeding us. Any parent can become involved in their local school and slowly but surely, even one person can affect change. At home, remember to encourage children to embrace their individuality. Even if they can’t have whatever color hair they want, they can paint whatever they want, or read whatever they want, or listen to whatever music they want. Believe me, my kids do not run around like wild hellions. We have very strict rules at home regarding security, responsibility, and respect. But as far as individuality goes, my husband and I are working really hard to let our children create themselves.