Why Megamind Should Replace No Child Left Behind

Megamind: Could this be what I was destined for? A dream life filled with luxury? 
[Metro Man’s ship lands in a mansion, while Megamind’s ship lands in a prison
Megamind: Apparently not! Even fate chooses its favourites… 

I just read a rather lengthy article describing the faults of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). NCLB

Of course, my response, “no duh” isn’t appropriate for graduate school. But, “no duh” nonetheless.

Basically, it outlines the reasons that one academic program for every student in the country isn’t feasible. The notion that all children can learn has morphed into all children can learn the same skills, in the same way. This, of course, is regardless of academic proclivities, social experiences, and cultural norms. I remember when the NCLB posters wallpapered the cinderblock walls  (back in the day). I was a paraprofessional at the time. I hadn’t even started school to become a highly qualified educator. I felt the pressure then, about all children reading-at the same exact moment in time.

I know I reflect quite a bit on movies and their unintended associations with education. But, this is how I make complicated issues reasonably applicable to our schema.

However, Megamind is clearly a movie about education. Even if no one knows it.

At the beginning of the movie, there are two babies randomly rocketed into the atmosphere. They are different ethnicities. Their final destinations are contingent on pure luck and destiny. Metro Baby lands in suburbia, and Megamind Baby lands in a prison. Megamind Baby is raised by the inmates, whereas Metrobaby has all he needs to be successful in life.   Yes, they are the extremes, but this is a kids’ movie. Right?

Flash forward to elementary school. We see both Metroman and Megamind in the same school. NCLB-all children can learn.

 Metroman boy dazzles everyone with his honed skills and super powers. Then we see Megamind boy trying to do the right thing until he is bullied and shunned. Eventually, he resumes his life of  crime, because that is what he “knows”. He pronounces school as shool.  I take this as a literacy issue since he didn’t have the same academic opportunities as Metroman. The inmates shooled him the best way they knew.

These two children landed haphazardly into their lives. They had nothing to do with it. We cannot say that we don’t “see” their differences. Megamind is inherently good. Metroman just can’t keep up the persona that he has developed. But, these revelations aren’t discovered until they are adults.

What if all students walked into the classroom baskets of life experiences on their heads? Each basket is filled with different items that represent the things they know and the things they understand. None of the baskets look alike, or contain the exact same contents. We ask them to place their “baskets” to the side. As the year progresses, some of their items become dusty or lost. Other items are overused and worn out. Then the missing items are seldom replenished. The metaphor is obvious. But by testing time, all baskets are emptied and filled with identical items. Do we perpetuate individualism, or do we encourage Stepford-like education?

I think one of the most valuable lessons I have learned as an educator is that the life experiences of a child affect the delivery of my instruction. The curriculum is not a snow covering of equity in all US schools. Picture a random classroom anywhere in the United States. That classroom will have some who speak another language at home. Others have struggled to read since they started attending school. Then there are the gifted and high achieving children. Don’t forget about the kids who have learning disabilities. But, at the end of the day, thanks to NCLB, all of these children are assessed with the same test. That test score is branded on their records for the rest of their academic careers.  A child is deemed successful (or not) based on a set of scores.

I believe data is essential for educators. We need to comprehend academic strengths and weaknesses in order to improve instruction. However, how can we know what they know, without giving assessments that meet learning styles? WHOA! What? Differentiated assessments?

Yah, I know, this would mean that each child would have a different test. It would mean that they wouldn’t be standardized. It would mean that we were giving kids a chance to succeed. Maybe, those who “fail” portions of a test could be re-tested within their learning style?  None of these ideas are viable in the hermetically sealed testing environment. I wonder how many students failed a portion of a written test, but could answer the questions in a different way?

What did we do before this type of standardized testing? Do you remember? I don’t.

I do remember getting kicked out of the gifted program because I talked too much. I remember the strawberry crunch ice cream bars. Track. Cross Country. Learning to type. Marine Biology. I remember walking around the halls before school started with my Flashdance sweatshirt, Nikes, Levis, comb in pocket, and perfectly coiffed ‘wings’.   Standardized testing?  I’m sure I took some type of test that required the infamous bubbling. But, it wasn’t on my radar.

Would Megamind had changed his ways with some acknowledgement of his experiences? And with guidance and re-direction, would he use his powers for good and not evil when he was younger?

I spent my last reading class discussing the issues of the National Reading Panel Report and NCLB. I had to discuss the positive aspects of the NCLB. Of course, I was reminded that there were some sound philosophies in the planning and intentions of the program. Just like in a character analysis, it is very rare for a villain to be pure evil, without a hint here and there of normalcy, or a history of a bad childhood.

Drop the phrase, “standardized testing” in a room of teachers, and you will find that the kind, politically correct, docile natures slough off, and dragon wings sprout violently from their backs. This isn’t just one or two people. This is everyone. So that might mean something.

I truly believe that in every school, or even classroom, there is a Megamind and Metroman story.

I can honestly say that the few children I felt unable to reach had a history that devastated me, and I was ashamed for not delving more. They are the children with the cumbersome files that take two hands to carry. They have had such horrible experiences that they couldn’t begin to trust a new person. They can be the ones who disrupt the class, making our days challenging. But it really just take a few minutes to attempt to see what they see, and to spend time acknowledging their importance in the world. This means we have to shut off the ‘auto-pilot’ of the day, and work with the humanity in our classrooms. I didn’t see that part in NCLB.

Perspectives change when we understand people. I worry that the children left behind may not have had a chance at all, depending on how they landed in the world.

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Think, Walk, Stray

One night this summer, I was in a particularly nostalgic mood. I opened the box of post cards and letters people have sent me through the years. I sat down and proceeded to read through them all. There was one gleaming theme throughout the lot. They were all postcards people had sent to ME from various parts of the world.

I spread the postcards out on the floor. The sea of landscapes suddenly became a conglomeration. Sunsets, oceans, trees of various sorts, people wearing hand-woven clothes, mountains, small cities, large towns, neon signs, and markets faced me. And tiny scratches of words depicting world adventures hid underneath the mural.

So, in July, I decided to take a break from life, and escape to Italy. I didn’t tell many people, because they would judge me and ask me questions that I couldn’t answer. Was it Julia Roberts lamenting that she wanted to “marvel” at something? Or was it me, needing to be a random member of humanity, roaming the cobbled streets of Florence? I went by myself which caused many odd looks and comments like:

“What are you thinking?”

“Who does that?”‘

“Are you ok?”

I guess at 42, I don’t feel that I need to explain myself. So, this is my clandestine trip being outed.

I hadn’t been to Italy in over ten years. But, somehow I knew it was the place for me to go. I got to the point where I had heard myself talk so much, that I needed the silence in my brain. I taught all year as if each day were the most important. I had to reply in graduate class with moderately intelligent commentaries. I had to be “on” during drama camp. I struggled to say all of the right things to my teenager. I was out of words. It was time to go.

I will admit that Elizabeth Gilbert described the Italian language well. Each Italian word floats on a musical note. You cannot speak Italian without sending each syllable off with a tiny bit of your spirit. Each word is a firework that escapes palate like powdered sugar. I knew my Italian would be rusty, but I also knew the Italians wouldn’t mind.

Too many words saturate the intended message. Not enough words leave people wondering. I always obsess over my words and how my thoughts are conveyed. Did I mumble? Did I ramble? Is the other person wanting me to stop talking? Did I unintentionally change the subject? Am I taking the focus off of them and on to me? So, it is best to just listen-something my life had not afforded me time to do.

I arrived in Italy on a rainy afternoon. The trip was difficult. I made it to the hotel. I immediately changed and headed out. I had limited time, and each moment was precious. I found a quaint restaurant that charged 15 EURO for an entire meal, including wine. I was transformed to an ambiguous entity. I owed no one, any words.

The next morning, I walked silently along the Arno. I was glad I wore the sandals instead of the wedges that looked better with my dress. The reality of my surroundings was more than my mind could take in. I walked. I watched people. Still, no words. I breathed in, and felt my heart swell with the realization that I actually did it. I made it. Italy.

I booked a trip to Cinque Terre. The day that I was to meet the rest of the tour group came quickly. There were two couples, the tour guide, and me.

One lady asked me, “Aren’t you scared to be alone?”

I responded, “No, why should I be?”

I hopped in the back of the tour van. I put the iPod ear plugs in, and commenced losing myself in scenery and music. I think they spoke to me, but soon realized I was tuning them out.  To my middle-aged surprise, the plastic surgeon lady asked me which college I attended, and she asked me what my major was.  It took a minute for me to decide whether or not to tell her a Winona Rider, Mermaids story. She steals the car, gets lost, finds suburbia and an ideal family who makes her dinner and listens to her tall tales.

I told her my age. I explained that I was traveling alone. She proceeded to tell me the what the wonders of plastic surgery could do for my face. A minute ago, I was a college student. Now, I was in desperate need of plastic surgery.

iPod-on.

People-gone.

Somehow, when I travel, the fruit stands fascinate me. This one in particular was robust and popping with color. I wanted to jump in and roll around in it, but I was with a tour group; and they were rushing me. I soon dodged them, because I didn’t go to Italy to explain my whereabouts. I finally caught up with the group and the tour guide. He spoke to me in Italian. I understood. I was happy.

On the boat tour of the towns, one of the people with whom I was traveling asked me,  “Which stop is ours?”

“I don’t know”, I replied.

“But, what will we do?”

I said, “The tour group won’t leave us. Worst case scenario, we’re stuck in Cinque Terre. There are five towns. We are on number four. Odds are we could be in the right place. I’m getting off here. It is time for lunch.”

I sat, alone with the fish eyes staring. I cut off the head, put it on another plate so the mental montage of my experience wouldn’t end. Ocean to my right. Piercing blue sky above. Slight breeze. Bread. Wine. Some Italian words escaped my mouth. But that was all. I saw the people on my tour group walk by. Apparently, they weren’t vying to eat lunch with me. Maybe, the traveling alone bit confused them. Maybe, the decapitated fish head stared them down with its dead fish eyes.  I don’t know. I was lost in the grilled fish plate, soft bread, and the echoing water sounds. I stared at the water-color canvas of pink edifices, perched in layers, on the rocky cliffs.

How is it that this unbelievable beauty is right here in front of me? It was one of those “hard drive” moments. I use this term with my students when I want them to remember something, forever. Our “C” drive at school allegedly gets erased at the close of the school day, like the fine details that clog our brains. Anyway, I knew that I would revisit this scene in this microsecond of my life. It would come in handy, when Italy felt like a wrinkle in time. I sat there for a while. Probably a long while.  I couldn’t remember the last time I was able to sit still.

I had scheduled a trip to Chianti for wine tasting. I made it to the bus station. No tour bus. So, I pouted all the way back to the hotel. The man behind the desk asked me where I had been because he was on the phone with Chianti guy. They left. I got my money back.

I had to reprimand myself for pouting in Italy. I was being a brat. So, I decided to go to the Uffizi gallery, as if it were just down the street. Wait….it was.

I paid a bit extra to go to the short line after I spent time with the fascinating statue people.

I believe the security in the Uffizi is more intense than at the air port, where they wave and say CIAO as you walk through security. The group in front of me didn’t see the huge red circle marked-out signs for cameras, phones, and all electronics. Security guy was yelling in Italian. Tourists-snapping back in Chinese. I just wanted to get inside already. The teacher in me came out as if I were Sybil, and I had no control. I pointed, slowly to the signs, then to the extreme electronic paraphernalia attached to their bodies. The animated security man waved them in. I motioned to my self, showing that I had no banned electronic devices on my person, and that I had followed directions. Gold star.

I found the Botticelli room. I stood in front of Primavera. My eyes welled up, and  I felt as if my feet were rooted in the floor. I had always heard about people becoming emotional over art. But, now it was me. I stood there, just staring at something bigger then everyone in the room. I guess this was my marvel time. I looked around and saw other people staring, tearing up, motionless-and a few minutes ago I had been pouting about a missed Chianti bus. Shame…shame.

The last day in Florence, I sat on the Ponte Vecchio, listening to an Italian band cover American songs. People walked by. Kids danced. New tourists came, dragging luggage behind them. My words were coming back. I could start again. I had not been alone, in my thoughts for years. I hadn’t worried about a thing, except for the next best restaurant.

The minute the plane hit home, Italy became a memory. It is amazing how the mind can be emptied and re-filled in a mere moment.

But, I have a piece of Florence with me. Perhaps the string of lucid moments, gave me a distinct perception of my small place in the world. Even if it is in the silence of my own mind, without words.

K