The Awareness Test
In the wide realm of things everyone else seems to have heard of except me, a colleague shared this video at a recent PLC:
There are several variations, although once you know kinda what to look for, you think you're getting better at it:
Of course, just when you think you're looking for the 'right' things...
Sometimes the idea is done for class projects, other times to promote a show (above). It's also popular with PSA about things like paying attention to bicyclists when you're driving, or in this case:
It's funny, though, how often I missed stuff even when I thought I had a pretty good idea what sorts of things I should be looking for:
The human brain is amazing at filtering out extraneous information when it really wants to and when it's had some practice.
I know - you're picturing your teenager, seemingly unable to set her phone down at dinner or your spouse who keeps checking his texts every time the dryer beeps. So, it's more evident in some cases than others.
Much of it seems to be 'preset' by evolution (or, if you prefer, by the way the good Lord made us), and it's NOT a bad thing. Can you imagine trying to get through even a relatively calm day if you were equally absorbed by everything around you - every image, sound, movement, option? We'd never be able to accomplish... anything!
This seems to be part of what's happening with those we label 'ADHD'. We're living in rather stimulating times, and yet we insist they stay fascinated by US in a square room surrounded by diverse peers for hours at a time. They lack the ability, whether chemically or developmentally.
But that's not why I bring up these Awareness Tests.
I'm more worried about the kids who ARE able to screen out extraneous information. We've done a great job teaching them to keep track at all costs of how many passes the team in white makes, or how many times the bird drops the stick. They've mastered the ability to zero in on the specific elements which result in 'success' according to our measurements - 94%, 'B', etc.
And yet we wring our hands and wonder why they don't fall in love with the great short story, the fascinating complexities of history, the wonders of chemistry, or the moonwalking bear. We're bewildered that they can't seem to appreciate the stuff we find so very important, even though we're the ones making sure they're punished for not keeping track of those damn sticks.
What's the matter - afraid of a 'high standards' and a little accountability?
We're doing it wrong. I'm not sure I know the 'right' ways to do it differently, but I am confident this is not it.
My daughter is not the perfect student. She's scathingly unforgiving of the slightest perceived flaws in her teachers (no idea where she gets this - must be from her mom's side of the family). She has trouble getting up for school in the morning, and she spends too much time thinking she's working while what she's really doing is Twitter with her calculus book nearby.
Her state test scores were off the charts, and she was a National Merit Semi-finalist derailed only by her GPA - those magic marks we use to reduce each child's value and learning experience to one of five letters and a number between 1-100 which no one can actually explain or justify.
Her situation is unique only in that she is either unwilling or unable to play the game as well as many of her peers. They learn to count the passes of the white team, the black team, and eventually they can be trained to spot when the curtain changes color. In the process they learn to 'filter out' anything not being measured, rewarded, or punished.
They hate it, but they've been brought up to believe this is what you do - digging holes in one part of the field and filling them in another, then reversing the process the next day because that's what their captors tell them to do if they want to earn good marks.
She used to ask me the best questions about chemistry and mathematics - stuff I had no idea how to begin answering - and like an idiot I suggested she ask her teachers. But they're in the same game, and discouraged such distractions. I'm not sure they always even knew what she was asking, or how to respond.
She doesn't ask anymore. She's learning.
I'm not talking about the kids completely alienated and marginalized by our system, the ones who fail and get in trouble and lower our teacher evals. I'm not talking about 'bad' schools - the ones supposedly hiding all of those 'lazy' teachers afraid of accountability. I'm talking about 'successful' students in top districts - the ones who we need leading tomorrow and being the future and lighting starfish in buckets or whatever.
We've taught them to ignore the moonwalking bears at all costs. We've taught them to grab the 'right' answer and present it carefully formatted in the 'correct' way no matter what they have to kill in themselves or filter out in their surroundings in order to do so. And every time we change the directions ('OK, look for the bear this time'), they'll do the new thing just as single-mindedly.
It's not the fault of a few 'bad apples' in the classroom. We're all part of a system requiring such travesties for our kids to graduate. Individual educators can fight it, but if you fight it too well, your students will end up outside the game and never make it into a decent college or whatever - so... that's a problem.
We've broken them in the name of education, and I'm pretty sure we're all going to teacher hell as a result. I'm increasingly unsure whether I can do it anymore. Maybe I can't stop the abuse done in the name of 'standards', but that doesn't mean I have to help sew the straitjackets. We've GOT to find a better way.
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