Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Testing, testing, 1...2...3

What's the point of a microscope if a child does not know that every drop of water in the small pond behind the middle school holds hundreds of critters?

What's the point of looking at pictures beamed from the Hubble Telescope if a child has never gazed at her own stars above a dark meadow on a moonless night?

What's the point of financial literacy if a child does not know that everything essential for life comes from from the grace of an ultimately unknowable universe?

What's the point of education?

Not everything worth knowing is testable, and a lot of testable items are, frankly, not worth knowing. I'm not convinced Mr. Duncan, a graduate of Harvard, grasps this.

***

You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
Richard Feynman


The dolphins are back in the Delaware Bay.

They are wild, they are big. You can hear them chirping and clicking if you stick your head in the water, a bit dicey in early spring.

Critters three times my size are swimming just off the beach, that left the land to return to the sea.

How do you teach about the dolphin? How do you describe the swirl of water as a young one dives under your kayak? How do you capture the sound you hear in late August as you bob underwater listening for their chatter?

How can I do better than just point and say look! Look!?

And if I teach a child to look, to learn, to know something by observing, how can that be tested?

It does not matter if a child knows the name Tursiops truncatus. It does not matter if a child can tell me the average weight of an adult male, or how many pound of fish it eats, or where it spends its winter. All of that means nothing, nothing, until the child sees the beast slap its magnificent tail 40 yards off the beach, this wild grinning beast that chose to return to the sea.



5 comments:

John Spencer said...

I sometimes wonder if the real reason Americans love dogs so much is not because a dog is a pet (though this is true) but because it is the only animal they get to observe daily at close proximity. Incidentally, I've never known a person to refer to a canine using binomial nomenclature.

Last night the boys stared for about ten minutes (which is long for little kids) at a crane fly. They wanted to see if it was dead and then when it flew and landed again, they wanted to see what it would do.

I observed the boys observing the bug. We both got an education on animals. None of us used binomial nomenclature.

John Spencer said...

Your comment got erased from my blog, but I wrote a response there anyway. I hope it makes sense. My point was that, in preparing students for life, they gain some job skills that aren't bad (hard work, critical thinking, creativity, ethics are all important for a sustainable economy).

Mrs. Schroeder said...

Beautifully said. I teach high school, so for the most part, these poor kids long ago lost that natural wonder. We go outside as much as possible and look at rocks and clouds and stars. They love it. An often heard quote on the way back to school is "I feel like a little kid!"

Preston said...

Yesterday we purchased two guinea pigs for my boys for their upcoming birthdays. The animals are the first real family pets we have had, other than fish. I was amazed at how many questions my boys had and how much they wanted to learn. It was more than just something to play with. This coming from two kids that would rather play with their iPod Touch than go outside on a sunny spring day.

doyle said...

Dear John,

A wonderful point! The more I think about it the more it makes sense.

I love crane flies--we call them Jersey mosquitoes. And I have no idea what their binomial nomenclature would be. (Isn't binomial nomenclature a mouthful? Its definition is shorter than the words.)


Dear Mrs. Schroeder,

Thanks for the kind words.I think that getting kids outside, observing, is as fine a thing we can do in biology. I need to do it more often.

Dear Preston,

I'm guessing that most kids would prefer to go outdoors once they realize what wonders await them outside. I suspect the same is true of adults. We create our own worlds inside, worlds that cannot compete with the depth of the outside.