Nancy Rechtman
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Inanities

For a short time, I had a humorous/observational column in a local magazine called Upstate Women. Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer being published. I enjoyed the experience of writing a column so much, that I would like to continue writing in that vein. So once a month, I will offer a new column about something that bugs me in some way that may strike a chord with you, too.

Several of the columns you will see have already been published; the others were written after the demise of the magazine. The column will be called "Inanities" because I feel that is the word which aptly describes the things that make us want to smack our heads in frustration. Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at nancy@nancyrechtman.com.


SCHOOL DAZED

by Nancy Rechtman

Do you remember the days when summer vacation seemed to last forever? When you whiled away your free time swimming, riding bikes, racing for the ice cream truck, just hanging out, and maybe, once in awhile, watching TV. When your family would pack up the car with a bunch of battered old suitcases and youíd hit the road to get to whatever lake or beach or mountain was nearest your home, but far enough away to be considered actually going away for vacation. And you thought it was absolutely wonderful. Who needed anything more than a day of playing with friends, lying out in the sun and drinking an ice-cold root beer?

Today, our childrenís lives are micromanaged down to the second. Everything must be organized so that it fits into an available time slot. There is very little time left for spontaneity. Summer vacation for many is no longer vacation. The kids are marched off to a camp that hones their soccer, baseball or basketball skills. They are sent to dance, cheerleading, or gymnastics camp so they donít let their talents slide over the summer. They are signed up for computer or academic classes so they will have one leg up on the rest of the kids in the fall. Check out the latest fad in camps - they give kids experience in various professions over the summer so they can get a taste of what life will be like once theyíre thrust into the cold reality of adulthood. Iím not saying anything is wrong with all of this. In general, the kids seem to be having fun. But the question is, with every second of their lives being scheduled, where does that leave room for independent thought, creativity and learning what to do when someone else isnít doing it for you?

Summer should be the time when kids can focus on being kids. Once they are back in school, independent thought and creativity are pretty much thrown out the window. Unfortunately, our schools are set up to deliver information to the masses and have it tossed back to the teachers in pretty much the same context as it was delivered. The questions that are asked of our children very rarely encourage independent thinking - teachers no longer have time to grade those kinds of tests; they are now swamped with bureaucratic minutiae. And now that standardized testing has become the ultimate factor in deciding a childís worthiness, teachers must toe the line in order to keep up with federal and state mandates. Dedicated, overworked and underpaid teachers now have no choice but to spend at least several months out of each school year teaching our kids how to take these tests. We are sending our kids to school to learn how to take tests? This how the federal government views education these days - standardized pap. Swallow hard, then regurgitate.

If your child doesnít learn by rote memorization of fact, that is too bad for him or her. If your child questions the answers that a teacher gives, colors outside the lines, dares to think there might be another way to do things, heaven help both of you. There will be dire warnings that your child is not college material and will never get anywhere in life unless he or she falls into line behind everyone else. Is this the lesson we want to send our kids about life and the purpose of education? That there no longer is room for them to actually think? That the only reason they are there is to learn facts and then spit them back exactly as received? Is there still room for people such as Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, or Albert Einstein in this sanitized environment? And, if not, what does that portend for the future of our society?

There are and will be plenty of children left behind when the only standards used are so artificial and inherently biased that only a certain percentage of students can succeed. This kind of testing is not only economically and culturally biased, but also developmentally biased since all children do not learn alike or think alike. If the role of standardized testing went back to where it should be, one measure among many of a childís educational experience and aptitude, that would make sense. But when it is allowed to become the fundamental and unchallenged dictator of todayís educational institutions, it is shortchanging our kids and denying them the education experience they are entitled to.

Summer is inexorably racing towards its wistful end, with some promises fulfilled and others awaiting the next coming of ocean-filled days, lazing by pools and awakening not to alarm clocks, but to the sounds of birds chirping outside our windows. In many towns and cities, schools will be opening their doors this month, the rest by next month. Letís give our kids the few weeks that are left of this summer to stop for a few moments here and there and literally smell the roses. Letís have no expectations of them other than letting them be kids. That will be a gift beyond measure - or testing.

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Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail nancy@nancyrechtman.com.