A little backstory…
In December, I picked my almost 4-year-old up from daycare like I do every day. Along one of the walls in her classroom was kid artwork–30 red pieces of construction paper, each with its own snowman. Each child had cut out three circles: a small, medium, and large. Each child was then (I assume) to put the large circle on the bottom, medium in the middle, and small on top. Looking down the wall of snowmen, you could see every snowman had two eyes, a carrot nose, and three buttons in the middle section. Each snowman had a hat, drawn on arms, and a scarf. Each snowman even had its own smile made out of sequins. 30 snowmen…
…and then there was my daughter’s. This kid had the small section on top, then the large, then the medium. Instead of two eyes, a carrot nose, buttons, and a hat, my daughter’s snowman had, like 20 eyes, a seemingly bedazzled “shirt” with sequins all over it, arms sticking out of its head like antlers, and it was sitting on its hat like a weird top-hat toilet.
My first thought was an internal freak out: “OMG! MY KID’S IS NOTHING LIKE THE OTHER ONES!!! WHAT HAVE I DONE WRONG?!?! SHE IS GOING TO FAIL KINDERGARTEN, DROP OUT IN 10TH GRADE, NEVER GO TO COLLEGE, AND SPEND THE REST OF HER LIFE EATING CHEETOS AND PLAYING VIDEO GAMES IN MY BASESMENT BECAUSE SHE COULDN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO MAKE HER SNOWMAN LIKE EVERYONE ELSE’S SNOWMAN!!!!!”
And then there was a little less freaking out: “Why did she do it that way? Did she not understand the task? Did she not look at how everyone else was making his/her snowman and see how different hers was? What will all the other parents think when they see my whacky kid’s art? What do all the teachers think when they see it?”
I brought her home and completely nonchalantly asked her to draw a snowman on a piece of paper. She did it. Perfectly.
Days later the educator/parent in me came to blows with one another. I had realized that my entire freak out stemmed completely from the educator in me who (apparently) wants my child to meet standards like every other child does. I wanted to see that conformity; I wanted to know she could achieve just like every other kid, that she was as smart as every other kid. The parent in me was thankful she did her own thing–this side of me recognized that if you give a whirly-twirly kiddo like mine glue, paper, and sequin, she is going to go to town and be covered in it when she’s finished. The parent in me was mad at the educator in me for ever asking my kid to do and be like every other kid in class. The educator in me was worried that the parent is too much of a hippie and won’t ever have high expectations for my kid. The parent in me kept asking, “Why do you have to have high expectations? Why can’t she just be a kid and play with glue and sequin?” and the educator replied, “I don’t know that she understands the concept of the snowman if she doesn’t show me that she understands when given the opportunity in class.”
Since the snowman moment, I have felt a strong dichotomy in my identities. I am both a parent and an educator, but those two lines of thinking don’t always intersect. What I sometimes think is best for education and learning (as an educator) is not always what I think is best for my child (as a parent). This doesn’t mean I’m self-centered or that I think my child is any different from other people’s children; in fact, my child is becoming more like a conceptual children in general. When I think about what I want for my child as a parent, I find myself thinking of children as a whole.
As I think forward about when my child goes to kindergarten next year, I think about the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and her Third Grade Reading Guarantee testing; I think about her future years in school that (under PARCC and Ohio’s New Assessments) are FILLED with hours and hours of testing; I think about children who this week are telling their parents how nervous they are about these standardized tests; I picture my little twirly-whirly princess sitting at desk after desk in row after row bubbling circles or in front of a computer clicking “hot spots” to answer questions; I imagine months of test prep and conversations about test taking strategies…
I imagine walls and walls of red construction paper with standards of snowmen, and I picture my child’s snowman that doesn’t fit the mold. I want so badly for her to keep that crazy snowman, to bedazzle the crap out of every task set in front of her, and I want her to know that she is not definable by what everyone else does, but only by what she, herself, does.
I’m not sure anymore how I feel about standardized testing. The educator in me gets the purpose, but the parent in me wants so much more for my child; I want so much more for all our children.