Of Fish and Tree Climbing


I love this quote.  When I decided to post it on this blog, I did a little research.  There is, it seems, some disagreement in terms of its origin. 

I have always heard that it’s a quote from Albert Einstein.  In checking into it, I came across a handful of snippy little comments disputing this. 

Ultimately, I decided that it doesn’t matter who originally said it, it’s true in any case. Everybody is good at something

Obviously, I’m intending to apply this to education.  As a teacher I’m expected to differentiate instruction in my classroom to meet the varying needs and abilities of the diverse learners (the fish as well as the squirrels) in my charge.  But by golly, they all better perform on same test given in the same format as every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the state. 

So the net result is that the culture of schools has degraded to spending the whole year getting ready for a test, a single snapshot moment in time, that determines at once the fate of a child, a teacher, an administrator, a school, a district…You get the idea.  Here’s the thing:  the powers that be in the education world have decided that only certain abilities and skills (tree climbing) are valuable and that there’s a single way to assess them.  Which is fabulous for the squirrels.  

These tests measure reading, writing, math, and science in the context that has been officially sanctioned as correct and adequate and worthwhile.  These tests don’t measure creativity or thinking outside the box, those things are too difficult to quantify.  Too hard to write an assessment that tests meaningful knowledge, while at the same time allowing for diverse means of displaying proficiency,  and still maintain the desirable profit-margin for the publishing companies.   No room for square pegs in the round-hole world of high-stakes assessment. 

So when kids do poorly on a standardized test, they’re told that they’ve failed. Teachers are told they’ve failed.  Schools lose funding.  Educators lose jobs.

But it’s great for companies selling the tests.  (*cough*Pearson*cough*)  The more kids who fail the test, the more uber expensive intervention kits they can sell to cash-strapped school districts. 

It’s time we stopped accepting this as the just a necessary evil.  It’s not business as usual.  It’s wrong.  We can’t keep drinking the Kool-aid.  We owe it to the kids.  We owe it to our long-forgotten idealistic selves.

I mean, sure, fish can’t climb trees.  But guess what?  They kick ass at swimming. 


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