Neither children nor teachers fit into neat boxes

Children are not widgets. Sometimes I wish the politicians in charge of education remembered this.

You can take a child whose brain is different and try to cram her into your widget machine, and it won’t work.

That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with the child. That doesn’t mean she is lazy, or has a character deficit. That doesn’t mean the girl’s not capable. She’s just a different type of widget.

Maybe she’s a gizmo.

This isn’t news to parents who have children on IEPs. For the uninitiated, that stands for “Individual Education Plan” and is the legal document that follows children who are receiving special education services. Children with special needs can qualify for an IEP starting at 3 years old, through their local school district.

But for parents of neurotypical children, gizmo and widget crashing can catch you off-guard.

Maybe it’s the first time you see a standardized test smash your artistic, musical child into a bell curve.

Or maybe it comes when you’re at soccer game and realize that your daughter doesn’t care about winning, but she is excited about spending halftime with her friends. Call the widget police; she’ll never make it into college!

As a former teacher, I know that our system treats educators like widgets, too. Washington state will be fully implementing the Common Core State Standards next year, and the new Washington Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project is already here.

You tell me, whom do you think all of that will be easier for, widget-teachers or gizmo-teachers?

When I was teaching third grade in California at a school with a heavy emphasis on standards, I had to teach art on the sly. The only thing my principal cared about was test results.

No wonder we’ve come to a point where children are not allowed to run at recess, where cursive writing gets ditched, and where typical, Mark Twain behavior labels children as future psychopaths.

Maybe if all of us could — shock, gasp, horror — remember that children are children, we could help them better develop the skills we know are needed for success. Passion, curiosity, self-motivation and friendship are what matter in life, not filling in bubbles.

That doesn’t mean I would ever opt my children out of standardized testing. When parents choose to do this, “refusal” is recorded for the student, and the void is treated as “did not meet standards.” That hurts the teacher, the school and home values in your neighborhood. Plus, it gives you less information about your child.

But I am happy to lend my small voice to this clear message: Too much homework is too much homework. Running on the playground is not a crime. Every brain works differently, and I think we could all do a better job of considering the whole child.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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