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DARRELL HUCKABY: Schools place too much emphasis on testing, too little on learning

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

Last Sunday I had the distinct honor of addressing the GAEL winter meeting at the Classic Center. GAEL stands for Georgia Association of Educational Leaders. There were superintendents and principals and all sorts of bigwigs from all over the state. I was in pretty high cotton, understand.

As I was preparing my remarks for the meeting I began thinking about all the changes that have taken place in education since I began my teaching career 38 years ago. Trust me -- they are myriad.

Back then teachers were still sending kids out back to dust the erasers on the boiler room wall. I still remember the time I got a plastic chalk-holder for Christmas. No more chalk dust on my good pants.

We don't use erasers anymore -- not the kind that absorb chalk. I use a dry erase board but I can also write on a little slate and have my words projected onto a large screen if I choose.

Back in 1974 you could reward a kid's good behavior by letting him or her advance the filmstrip when the record dinged -- and we were still showing 16 millimeter films we ordered from the state Department of Education. Believe it or not, most of them played "Dixie" during the introduction. Now I have a projector attached to the ceiling of my classroom that can pull movies out of the air -- not that we have time to watch movies.

Teachers were still dealing with attendance registers when I entered the profession. They were done in indelible ink and turned in every 20 days. Heaven help you if they didn't balance. Now I take roll four times a day on my computer.

Teachers have always loved giving out handouts. They were prepared on Spirit Masters and run off on something called a ditto machine. If you are from back in the day you may recall the distinct smell of those Spirit Masters and several of my colleagues weren't allowed to even use the ditto machine for fear they'd return to class high.

Nowadays we have elaborate machines in our schools that can run off copies, collate and staple the packets. We can make hundreds of copies in a matter of minutes. We don't always have paper and toner for the machines, but we have the machines.

I still remember when we had libraries in our schools. Now we have media centers. If I assigned a student a research project on a particular subject 40 years ago that student would use an antiquated tome called an encyclopedia to dig out the pertinent facts about said subject. Now my students can bring up any tidbit of information imaginable on their smartphones in a matter of seconds. Sometimes the information is even accurate.

We live in a marvelous age, to be sure. But despite all the technological advances we have made, we are also faced with tremendous challenges. First and foremost may be the breakdown of the family unit. My mama sent me to school with the understanding that I was there to mind my teacher and to learn. Truth be known, if it came down to a choice, mind the teacher would have probably been my mother's first priority. I suppose my mama assumed that if I did, indeed, mind the teacher, learning would follow. I never remember having to go and cut a switch because I made a poor grade. I can't say the same for disciplinary issues.

There are a lot more external pressures on school performance these days, too. Some are for the better because schools are by necessity paying a lot more attention to students that might have been ignored in earlier educational climates. In other ways, however, we are missing the boat. Someone, somewhere has decided that the best way to evaluate a school's effectiveness is by having every student make a particular grade on the same battery of standardized tests, and since so much emphasis is being placed on those test scores we are often guilty of over-emphasizing the testing procedures and sometimes forget that we also need to teach students to think and to reason.

We often lose sight of some of the most important facets of a well-rounded education. I had wonderful teachers when I was growing up and the best ones didn't simply teach me facts -- facts that are accessible by iPhone in 30 seconds. The best ones inspired me to want to learn more. They whet my appetite for knowledge. They taught me that learning for the sake of obtaining knowledge could be a rewarding experience.

Sometimes I believe that if the Department of Education had been in charge of the Renaissance they would have handed Michelangelo a paint-by-numbers kit and insisted that he use it.

Education has changed dramatically in the 38 years that I have been a teacher -- but the greatest constant remains the importance of the classroom teacher.

Selah.

Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.