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August 2014 Publisher Letter

As I read this month’s feature article on transformative education by Linda Sechrist, I was reminded of my early experiences with the American educational system. I lived abroad during elementary and middle school, and moved to Milwaukee just after eighth grade. That summer, I took exams to determine my high school track placement. I had never before taken a multiple choice test. Until then, every test I had taken involved composing essay-format responses to questions, through which we were encouraged to explain our reasoning. Instead of a single right or wrong answer, the teacher considered how effectively we presented our ideas.

So that’s what I did, assuming the evaluator would read and review my responses. For some questions, I chose more than one answer and explained why both made sense to me. If I didn’t know or wasn’t sure, instead of picking one of the choices, I wrote comments. When I handed in the test and explained what I had done, the teacher replied, “If you don’t know the answer, you should just guess at the best option. Unfortunately, you are out of time.”

I clearly recall my 13-year-old self responding with incredulity, “That doesn’t make sense. It’s not going to show you what I know.” Needless to say, I didn’t do well on the test. I had been in the top of my class and was hoping to be placed in the honors track; instead I was placed in a lower track that I found dull and unchallenging. Fortunately, within the first month of school, my teachers recognized my abilities and recommended moving me to more advanced classes.

Sechrist’s article gave me hope that childhood and adult academic instructional approaches focused on teaching and developing creative and critical thinking skills are expanding. Yet, a question lingers: “Why aren’t all of our schools doing this?”

My son will be starting fifth grade this fall. He has had many amazing and well-intentioned teachers that strive to ensure students achieve the requisite educational standards, while still keeping the learning experience fun and inspired. Yet precious weeks of each school year must be dedicated to determining each child’s exact level of achievement using standardized testing, while time for lunch, socializing, daily recess and creative arts wanes and homework increases. It seems children are overloaded with information at earlier ages based on the notion that in the future, this will help both them and our country excel in an increasingly globalized and competitive economy. But how can our youth succeed as adults if they are not taught to think critically and independently? How can we raise a generation of visionaries and innovators if there is only one correct answer and they are not allowed to express different and imaginative views?

There must be a better way. Education and the acquisition of knowledge surely should include sharing opinions and thoughts and discussing new ideas that arise from ongoing learning. Unencumbered by right versus wrong, we can foster originality, discovery and creation by finding the value in any answer, including novel ones.

As Plato said, “Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”

Gabriella Buchnik Natural Awakenings Magazine Milwaukee Publisher

Gabriella Buchnik, Publisher

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