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Assessment and the Regular Child

We are nearing the end of the so-called school year. Many of our children have already faced grueling testing processes. Now we know what kind of students they are and can predict their future life success because children are not born persons, they are really just mathematical equations ready to be sorted.

Assessment may be just a tool but it is a tool that tries to master us and often succeeds. I have seen this play itself out in the homeschool community and I am pretty sure that classical Christian schools are also driven, against their very mission, to bow to this god of the age.

The history of the homeschooling movement illustrates this. When the modern homeschooling movement began not too many parents were worried about test scores. Many early pioneer homeschool families used homeschooling as a way for mom and dad to repair their broken educations while protecting their children from the early stages of cultural decline. Everyone in the family was learning together, not to prepare for the SATs but just for the fun of it.

A funny thing happened as families were reading, thinking and growing together- test scores went up. Homeschoolers started to score higher than public and private schools in national averages. The collected homeschool conscious seemed to say, “If we are doing this well without even trying, imagine how amazing we could be if we tried even harder?” We began to keep one eye on the mirror. Our focus shifted slightly away from reading, thinking and learning to proving ourselves. Where once homeschoolers were defined by all the good books they were reading, now they are defined by what program they are using. The pressure is on to get our kids in what we think are the most prestigious programs and/or co-ops. We are spending our time, lots and lots of it, in a mad dash to be educated while forgetting the one thing needful to true education -time to think. Our children have all the answers and none of the questions.

This is the very problem Classical Christian education should be able to solve. David Hicks, in his best-seller (at least among all my friends), Norms and Nobility, says: “The formation of a mature person who loves inquiry that reaches into earthly as well as transcendent realms of knowledge, who makes the connection between this knowledge and his responsibility in the life of virtue, and who struggles against long odds to fulfill in himself the high exigencies of the Ideal Type.”

Long odds? Not just for the regular child but for the little genius also. Reminds me of the Gospel of Jesus Christ where we find out that all have sinned, even the good people. Education is not about how smart we are? Just as the Gospel is frustrating to the self-righteous, true education is frustrating to the intellectual elite.

One of my saddest parenting/teaching mistakes occurred when I expressed, what I thought was mild disappointment over one of my son’s SAT scores. The scores were good but I wanted “gooder”. I had started to feel things were going well in our little school and my students were getting bigger, better, and smarter. I made the mistake of making the test scores all about me. My intuitive son saw right through my little act and was deeply hurt; something I did not know for years.

Since that sad day I have learned a few things because while no one is testing me, I am still learning and growing. One of my happiest lessons has been that the beginning is not the end. I have learned that test scores can never measure a child. I have learned that even though my children don’t always respond to truth, beauty, and goodness when presented, that does not mean those things aren’t working their way into their souls. You would not believe the things my older boys appreciate and remember when I thought they were not even trying.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

The Bible is full of this idea that we are not in this thing for the moment but for a lifetime. “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Ecc. 7:8. So there you have it. Don’t be prideful about your school, your homeschool or your little genius and don’t despair either. Be patient. Remember that the best fruit needs time to ripen, time in the sun. It is patient faithfulness that will bring our children to the finish line, not the mad dash or our pushing and prodding. The Beginning is not the End. Assess accordingly.

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