Testing

A letter I sent today to The Frontiersman newspaper, published in Wasilla, Alaska:

The October 4 edition of the Frontiersman published an opinion piece by retired public school teacher Carol Lowery, headlined: “Testing of home-schoolers the right thing to do.”

The “right” thing to do? Who defines what is right and what is wrong for a child? For a family? For a community? For society? Testing may be right for Carol Lowery’s family, but mine has found testing to be an intrusive, impairing, and just plain wrong-headed approach to assessing what a child knows or doesn’t know. This country tests its children more than any other nation in the world, and yet confidence in our public schools is reaching record lows. If testing can’t help fix the problem in the public schools why should I believe it would benefit my homeschooled children?

As a society we’ve negotiated a long series of tradeoffs, compromises, and buying into a system that promises (but does not deliver) a prosperous economy and a stable society in exchange for our – and our childrens’ – personal freedoms and liberties. Schooling has become the societal norm, so homeschooling is viewed by many as an aberration, a departure from the norm and therefore unknown, and thereby suspect. But homeschooling has been the fastest-growing educational option for the last 20 years because it works, and works very well.

Carol Lowery writes, “Our children only have one chance to get a true education.” Again I ask, what is a “true education?” For a retired public school teacher I’m sure a “true education” is what happens within the walls of a school, but for my family and for hundreds of thousands of other homeschooling families, a “true education” has a much broader, deeper, richer definition.

As someone who was given the freedom to discover the intrinsic value of learning early in life, I know it’s not something you can just tell someone about and expect it to have any meaning; it really needs to be experienced, to have a context within one’s own life. For most people who went to school, learning was just accepted as something that happened to them, and some were good at it and some weren’t so good, but no one really had the option of deciding what was valuable and worth knowing for themselves. Curriculum dictated the learning, and because it had no real meaning or context outside the curriculum, most of the “learning” was forgotten as soon as the morning’s pop quiz or the semester’s end test was over. Whatever went on inside the public school building, it was never what I would term “true education.”

“True education,” in my book, is what happens while you’re living life. We’re all learning every day, wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re with. We learn good things, useful things, handy things – and we learn bad things, destructive things, things we might someday wish we hadn’t learned. Life’s like that. On the whole, though, learning serves us quite well, and we’re constantly arranging and rearranging our learning so it’s more useful to us. Something draws or demands our attention and we ask questions or find books to read or take classes until we’ve learned enough to satisfy ourselves. Something else seems interesting so we team up with others and share and hone our skills and put our knowledge to work, thereby learning more and more in ever-widening circles. We find ourselves with a need to learn something and we set about doing so just as we set about feeding ourselves when we’re hungry. That, to me, is “true education,” and the crux of homeschooling.

Should this learning be tested? Yes, it should be – and it is – every day, as we live our lives.

Helen Hegener
Palmer, Alaska
helen@mtaonline.net

2 Responses to Testing

  1. Mary on October 11, 2005 at 11:48 am

    I was dicussing testing with a neighbor last week and she blurted out, “weighing the cow doesn’t make it fatter”.

    how true!

    Mary

  2. [...] Testing [...]

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