Teachers are expected to educate their students so that they are competent in certain subjects, and No Child Left Behind and state laws require that students pass tests demonstrating their knowledge and competencies. While it’s important to know that we are succeeding in our goals as teachers, and that our students are actually learning and developing the skills we endeavor to impart, the danger with constantly measuring our students is that we may begin to teach simply to enable them to pass multiple choice tests and neglect what’s harder to measure, but ultimately more important to learn: to think creatively and critically, to connect relevant issues of our time to our personal responsibilities, actions and choices, and to make healthy, positive choices for ourselves and others.
If we believe that the primary goal of education ought to be the ability to participate effectively and enthusiastically in the unfolding of a peaceful, sustainable and humane world, then there are certainly competencies we will want our students to have:
- the ability to think critically and creatively about the challenges we face, as well as the messages that bombard us from all sources, so that we gain freedom
- the awareness and understanding of our individual responsibility to do more good and less harm, so that we gain commitment
- the tools to make positive choices and be problem-solvers, so that we gain empowerment
There is no standardized test to measure these competencies, and such a test would potentially undermine the very creativity, process-orientation, and flexibility that education should seek to cultivate. Yet we must ensure we’re succeeding in our goals as educators. How can we do this?
We can observe our success in the projects our students take on and the outcomes of their efforts, witnessing their commitments in action. We can “test” their skill at recognizing fact from opinion and thinking critically with entertaining activities that allow them to analyze and deconstruct all sorts of messages, from advertising to media to government to textbooks. We can engage them in group projects and witness their sense of empowerment grow as they succeed in solving or contributing to the solutions to local and global problems. If we’re attentive and creative, we can know that our efforts to raise a generation of creative citizens and “solutionaries” are working.