Given how much of their waking life our children spend at school, shouldn’t it be an impossibly magical and wonderful place? You might have your own ideas about what would make a school great (more green space, sustainable architecture, free nutritious lunch programs), and I would readily agree, but to my mind a crucial aspect would be this: a redefinition of merit.
Where I live, the public schools assign letter grades at the end of each term. By grade one most kids are being ranked and filed into categories of lesser or greater achievement, sorted, as education writer Alfie Kohn has described, “like so many potatoes.” These detailed report cards, the ministry of education contends, are necessary for “growing success.” After all, don’t grades motivate students to work harder and hence learn more?
I appreciate that for some people this fixation on goals and evaluation may seem benign or even desirable, but not in my family’s experience. I have never witnessed anything more distorting of my children’s learning and self-esteem.
Excerpted from an essay that appears in the May 2012 issue of Shambhala Sun.
(Drawing by Patrick Dunaway)