If I Knew Then What I Know Now; My Sister-in-Law

When Husband and I were prepping for Charlie to start school, we didn't think the school itself mattered so much as the parent-child involvement. While the aforementioned is certainly key, if I had to do it all over again (isn't hindsight a wonderful thing?) I would have enrolled my son in a school across town with an API score over 800. The reason: As a consequence of No Child Left Behind and the state-mandated testing, if a school is under 800, as my son's has been this whole time, the bulk of the effort is put into test prep; teaching to the test.

The other night, I felt a twinge of regret as I watched my sister-in-law doing some last-minute sewing. She was making a tiger for her classroom production (I forgot to ask what they were doing). She's a master teacher, devoted to her craft, and teaches elementary school at a magnet for the performing arts. Every year, her school puts on an elaborate production with the children involved in all aspects including behind-the-scenes production, lighting, et cetera.

She's suggested in the past that because her school has hit the 800 mark, they have a bit more breathing room and can make time for the "extras" such as the arts. In contrast, my son's school has had zero enrichment. No musical productions/plays, no after-school programs. Wait. I take that back. If a child is behind in reading and math, they have an after-school tutoring program (which is great and they should; don't get me wrong). But for the rest? Zip.

So my son has just completed his six days of testing (given over the past two weeks). In his description, the much-anticipated testing was a non-event. Easy; not challenging in the least. This tells me a couple things. One: They were prepped very well for the test. Two: If it was so easy, then perhaps some of the time devoted to test prep could have been spent doing other things like -- oh, I don't know -- maybe something besides the three R's?

My sister-in-law also pointed out that when schools offer enrichment through the arts, test scores go up. What a revelation! But we knew this, didn't we? Intuitively at least?

Now, some may see this as nitpicking, but I think it would be nice if the kids could have a broader experience instead of being hit over the head repeatedly in preparation for the required testing. I've really been wondering how the testing can be anything more than a narrow indicator of progress in a few discrete subjects. And I really think we're making a mistake as a society in giving our children such a narrow education. This will only serve us well as a society if we're not concerned about fostering creativity and free thinking.

Luckily, my son's teacher tries to engage him and give him projects to challenge him that are outside of the mandated curriculum. Unfortunately, though, Charlie won't have memories of when he was the tiger in his class play.

My hat's off to my sister-in-law (and her school) for providing her students with memories they'll cherish when they're older and for realizing what's really important -- being a tiger and building your own shelter for your campout.