I Told You So

Posted on July 21, 2011


I wonder what question this hopeful and smiling blonde girl is preparing to answer amid all this detritus? Could the question be, "Who made this mess?" Or is it, "Who is going to clean this up?"

Remember when I said that rewarding mediocrity would bring down our nation?

Or something like that?

I’ve always believed that educating children requires hard work and some uncomfortable feelings.  Anyone who thinks that education should be all hugs and kisses and warm fuzzy green colored charts is just insane.  We’ve reduced our elementary school kids to being rewarded for doing nothing, and they know it.

Well, even the much-hated, highly controversial, yet seemingly omnipresent Michelle Rhee agrees with me.

The former Chancellor of the DC school system, and the center of the movie Waiting for Superman, is making headlines by revealing her own Tiger Mom attitudes in speeches across the country.

“My two girls play soccer. They suck at soccer,” said Rhee, whose daughters sat cringing in the crowd at The Peabody. “But you would never guess that if you went into their rooms. There are trophies and medals everywhere.

“We are so concerned with making children feel good about themselves,” said Rhee, who moved to Nashville last week. “But we haven’t put in the time to make them good at anything.” (Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Thank you, thank you.  Someone famous has quoted me.

Or, at the very least, reiterated what I have said before.

In all seriousness, I’m glad someone else is saying it.  Sure, it comes from someone much maligned by controversy and scandal, but it echoes a lot of voices in the education field.

Teachers on blogs and in classrooms are saying that we reward children for doing very little.

One of my favorite analogies here is to – no, not dog poop this time – music education.  Remember how great it was to learn how to play the recorder?  You practiced just enough to make sure you knew every note?

I do.  I practiced to perfection.

Now, think about cute kids performing.  You’ve seen them on YouTube or on Star Search.  You’re amazed that little kids could be so damn talented at such young ages.

Imagine applauding with that same gusto, having the same emotional “awwww” ooze from your lips, if that child was only about 60% good.  They only hit about 60% of the notes correct.  They could only since 60% of the song well.  They only knew 60% of the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner.

Would you give them a passing grade?  Would you question who the heck the parents were that would allow the child to go on national television and give 60% effort?

Of course you would.  Music is about perfection.  You either know it, or you don’t.  You don’t get applause for only hitting 60% of the notes.  In fact, even Rock Band curses my 60% drumming skills on those “expert” level songs (the only one cheering then is The Girl).


That’s what it says.  FAIL.

That is what we are doing to our children.  We are allowing children to pass on to the next grade level with only about 60% success rate.

For example, the FCAT is scored on a 100 – 500 “scale score.”  First of all, I’ve never understood why it is possible for someone to get all the questions wrong on a test and still score 100 points.  How is it possible that students can actually score points on the SAT even if they don’t answer any questions correctly?

That in of itself should be evidence enough why standardized testing is a complete waste of our time.

I apologize for that segue.  But, think about it?

A student on the FCAT is passed if they score a 300 or higher.  That’s 60% of the possible maximum.

Yes, I know that is isn’t a perfect comparison.  I’m not that dumb.  It doesn’t mean they only answered 60% of the questions correctly.  They’d actually probably score higher if they did!

However, the comparison is apt to music.

I would never set foot on a stage knowing only 60% of the material.

I competed in solo and ensemble festivals nearly every year.  For a couple years I went to compete at the Peabody Institute in the yearly high school music festival.  There were times when I played every single note correct, but also didn’t score a superior (1).

Music taught me that perfect isn’t perfect.

Today we teach children that failure is an option.  Didn’t pass?  Try again. Barely passed? Good enough.

The culture of standardized testing has created a need to do practice testing.  We allow our students to take the PSAT in order to “practice” and “prepare” for the SAT.  We then allow our students to retake the SAT if they don’t score well the first time they take it.  We then allow our students to choose the best scores from their SATs to combine them and make them “super scores” that are supposedly better reflections of what they are able to “accomplish”.

We’ve completely dumbed down our education expectations.  No longer are the days of being well-rounded and capable in all facets of life.  Not good at math? Don’t worry, you can be a historian.  Not good at reading? It’s okay, you’ll be fine in business.

We’ve created a complete mess of our children’s education.  So it’s time for a change.

Who’s with me?

Raise your hand.

Posted in: Education, Teaching