“What happened at school today?” I ask. He throws his backpack and races the bus to the tree at the end of the yard. It’s as far as he’s allowed to go.
“Again?” I say. “Nothing ever happens. No gym? Music? Art? Library?”
“Nope. We had the last day of Health.” Finally, something happened. “We played bingo.”
I ask again the next day. “Did you have fun in school today?”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing.” Nothing? Again? I’m surprised he can read and write.
This is why the world hates teachers. Every time people turn around we have a vacation, and nobody’s kid ever does anything. My own students “never have work,” never miss assignments, and they do “nothing” every time their parents ask. I know. I talk to their parents. While it may be true I don’t give a lot of homework–I don’t see the point in it–I don’t do “nothing.” I give research, group assignments, things to investigate further, and critical questions that need answers. Things, I think, that matter in the world.
The world, because of boys like mine, never knows that. “What are those people doing in school? They get three months off yet when they do work they do ‘nothing.'” That’s why the universe enacted a bunch of tests and evaluations for schools–to make sure we stop doing “nothing” all day.
That’s the true history behind the high-stakes testing that keeps children on eggshells and teachers teaching to the test.
It’s the true story behind the hours and hours of high-stakes data I spend my year compiling which determines whether I should be permitted to teach. It all proves nobody’s doing “nothing.” And that’s a good thing. No one wants to see a public servant doing “nothing.” That goes for teachers, police directing traffic, Congress, and road crews.
The difference between teachers and other public servants is members of Congress hiding away during session don’t have kids who say they did “nothing.” Neither do road crews. They’ve trained their kids better than that. That’s why we don’t have high stakes tests for them. Their kids stand up for them.
Thanks for throwing me under the bus, Declan.
I ask the boy about school again. “What did you do in school today?”
“I missed you, Mommy.”
“I missed you, too, Declan. But what did you do in school today?”
He stops. Pauses. looks me in the eye. “I learned.” Then he walks away.
Thank God. He didn’t do “nothing.” Maybe his school can eliminate a few questions from The Big Tests. And if he keeps giving vague, ambiguous but productive answers, perhaps he can be a congressman later in life.
If all the children come home and say, “I learned,” I think we’ll be okay. “I learned,” is a beginning. Much better than “I tested,” like many kids did all spring or “I compiled data” like most of the teachers are doing now.
“I learned,” is a good start. “I had fun learning,” even better. “I used my learning to conquer the world,” the best thing ever.