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Girl at Laundromat

Spirit & Education

It was a summer Wednesday morning at the laundromat, the day after July 4. Lots of the more financially capable families were on vacation with their children. For some, it was life as usual. A mother began complaining to her husband about having been late to sign up for her daughter's summer school and mumbled something about special needs. The daughter who was listening ran outside the laundromat and put her face up against the glass in play, making funny faces. Upon being ignored by the mother, the child once again came inside. Leaning into the mother's arms, apparently looking for some comfort, the mother began chiding the youngster. In a somewhat aggravated tone, the mother asked the child in a somewhat angry tone, "How come you know your spelling words when I ask you them, and then you don't know them when they ask you in school?" The youngster had nothing to say and backed away from the mother, then ran to her father and placed her head on his lap for comfort. What was really happening here?

In light of the pressures put upon teachers for test scores, the teachers were passing the pressure along to the parents of this innocent child, recommending summer school as the answer to this child's needs. The mother, wanting to not seem like a bad mother, passed these pressures along to the child, assuming that this was the appropriate thing to do for society. But then the mother, herself also probably very similar to her daughter, neglected to get the paperwork in on time. Guilty for her own delayed actions toward the school, she transferred the blame onto the child. The child, overwhelmed by the irrelevancy of spelling and inability to achieve at levels commensurate with her peers even upon extra work and effort, sought refuge in the lap of her non- judgmental father. My own tracking of these events saw an innocent young girl who was now learning that the only comfort and joy one could find was in the lap of some big strong man who could make the world go away for you. Her need for that big strong male most likely would place her at a very early age in the arms of a male who was looking to feel greater than somebody, for he too would be looking for someone whom he felt strong in comparison to. Who will be responsible for the children produced by such a union? Who will provide adequately for them, since the lack of self- esteem will not bode well for their entries into any reasonable paying job to support their union? Most likely, their parents were also in a similar set of circumstances from the generation prior.

And so we have history repeating itself. The schools, being directed by test scores, rather than what was appropriate and best for this individual child were telling this child she will never be good enough, no matter what she tries out in the world. She would probably drop out of school as soon as she were able, and look for some man who could give her some physical comfort in exchange for the poor self image gained in the eyes of her mother and society. Should this child be given more spelling? Would that not be like telling someone who had a limping leg to spend their time limping some more, instead of finding better things to do? When will the "whole" child be looked at? What is really important for this child to know? Is it not better that she learn that different people have different abilities, and that what is most important is doing what brings you a sense of fulfillment? Ought not education be designed to help one discover one's talents and place in the world, rather than pound away at one's inadequacies? Instead she is now being set up to transfer her sense of self and self worth onto someone else, and most likely that will be anyone who comes along who tells her she is pretty, and then we all know what follows from there.

Meanwhile this innocent youngster will be faced with teachers who will not want her in their classroom next autumn, for she would lower their test scores as she did the teacher she just left. Or they would be quick to insist on some form of special needs status to cover their realization that this child will never be at the level of demand for her grade level. The judge, that is, a society that accepts test scores as a primary measure of every day living, has now just passed a life sentence of ineptness to a young girl who only wanted to play in summer, to have some fun with her folks on a summer's day. Instead she was being given the message that she was a continuing disappointment to her mother, one that would not ever go away, for the mother too was being judged by society for not measuring up to its criteria. Spelling was only the beginning.

Whatever happened to the "each according to one's God given talents" philosophy? How often do we run into adults whose self-concepts were harshly shaped by the reaction of society to their simply being who they were? Or is our society really most interested in keeping a lower class of individuals who will be slaves to the menial tasks those in control don't want to do, knowing there is always some desperate individual who will temporarily fill this position out of dire need. Happy people are usually healthy people. If we want a society that is self -responsible and healthy and happy instead of needy, then ought not this begin with levels of contentment within individuals and their unique contribution to the whole as the priority? By giving test scores such priority in the education of our children, it does appear that we are preparing many students for a game of jeopardy, and I am not referring to the TV show!