Young people almost always know what is going on in the adult world. So, if you want to know what is working in the classroom or in a school, just ask the students. The reason we often fail to engage students in what matters most to them is because while we know what they say is true, we just don't know what to do about it.
Adults can start by listening. When I came across this video from 16 year old Maddy Ortega from Vista Grande Charter High School in Taos, New Mexico, I was both excited by what I heard and saddened. I was excited to be reminded of why I went into education in the first place; to offer young people a chance to own the world on their own terms, because that is what freedom and democracy are really about. And I was saddened because Maddy, like so many students across this nation, is losing hope. She says it herself.
Maddy created her video on day two of the standardized testing being carried out in her school and across the nation. Her simple, short statement gives voice to a generation of young people that we are failing to listen to and therefore, we are shortchanging not only them, but a world that yearns for their hearts not their test scores. Maddy didn't make this video for anyone but herself. Unpracticed, Maddy is simply using video so she can express herself and see what that looks like. Adults rarely listen, but students know the difference between real work and busy work, between learning and data gathering. They can see when their teachers are upset, exhausted and frustrated.
When I began writing about the problems with standardized testing nearly ten years ago, few people listened. It's a decade later and the debate still rages on with no end in sight. And while I believe there are solutions to this mess , we must stop and listen to the voices of the young people because it is their souls we are slashing. Parker Palmer said in his book, Let Your Life Speak, "Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am."
Students will never learn who they are from a test score.