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Author and outspoken critic of standardized testing (among other failures in education), Alfie Kohn digests and dissects the increasing ritual of testing students in the United States.
Few countries around the world place the emphasis on standardized testing like seen in America. Schools that focus on standardized tests often decrease classes and opportunities for arts, physical education, social sciences, and more.
Standardized tests measure students’ abilities to answer finite questions in limited areas of focus. Education in America is at risk of losing teachers who have the passion and ability to educate children who can think for themselves.
Students who can afford more tutors and rigorous test preparation courses might be able to improve their own test scores, but then increase the already growing gap between socioeconomic groups.
Even among these voices of reason, there are those who feel that standardized tests are the best ways to measure our children’s performances in school and their preparedness for their futures. Unfortunately, much of the pressure placed on schools to increase tests given and raise test scores come from government.
The first time my child took a standardized test I was anxious and wracked with self-doubt. I, and teachers and parents like me, can spend countless hours injecting the precise materials we know will be tested into our kids, but we won’t be teaching our children lessons that will let them succeed. Apparently your child can get benched for being too good, at least if they play youth football in Arkansas like sixth grade Demias Jimerson.
The thought behind this supposition is that by treating everyone the same, demanding they have equal playing time and are rewarded equally for all of their efforts, we can raise confident children who aren’t too competitive or who won’t have their feelings hurt. If the goal is to teach fair play, how does not allowing someone to play to his or her full potential fulfill this goal?
If the goal is to create an environment where the other players will want to play more without the pressure of a star teammate, how does benching the athlete for being too good achieve this? If our goal in society is to protect the emotions of children, how does giving them a false sense of reality help achieve that? Instead of lowering the bar of excellence, give the coaches some responsibility and let them change the play calls so the Jimersons of the world don’t always touch the ball. It can’t be easy to be the child teammates of the star athlete, who never quite get their moment to shine.
The time we actually set the table for Oval and Charlie, the intriguing house guests who always graced our home alongside our 2 year-old son, I remember the look on my husband’s face. Imaginary friends help children express their creativity, work through emotional situations, and provide some pure and simple fun. Even if your child has an imaginary friend with a little devious side, it might just be your child’s emotional intelligence trying to work through conflicting feelings.
Years ago we ate meals with Oval and Charlie, included them in our bedtime stories, and indulged our son when he told us they were present. Results of a study presented by Carlos Santos, a professor from Arizona State University, suggest that when boys remain close with their mothers they tend to be more emotionally mature and grow up to become men with better rates of mental health.
When my kids were learning to talk I would encourage them to use their words instead of grunting or thrashing their arms about in the air. Today was one of those days that tested how I’ve been trying to raise boys who aren’t afraid to show emotions or know they don’t have to tough it out. I grabbed a paper towel and ice and calmly asked him if he was OK other than that 3rd eye he sprouted. Someday (unfortunately) my boys will likely experience more pain than sprouting a 3rd eye from a metal yo-yo. For many parents it is a goal to raise their children to be strong, full of integrity, nurturing, and resilient. According to Brooks and Goldstein, “islands of competence” help to build confidence, successes, and resilient mindsets in our children. Raising resilient children is not easy if our first instincts are to rescue and protect them, or perhaps direct their every move. If you read my post yesterday or have ever heard of Alfie Kohn, you know that he must be cringing at this thought. This is probably one of my favorite principles outlined by the authors, and one that I have seen to be successful with my own children.
Every child has an internal timetable and we need to honor the difference they have, as they mature cognitively, emotionally, and physically.
There is such a thing as a good fight – the kind where perserverence and resiliency pay off and challenges are overcome. In his article Standardized Testing and Its Victims, Kohn submits eight facts that support his theory that standardized testing is in part ruining our schools. Professor Rhona Weinstein reports on research that demonstrates that standardized tests are actually eroding the education of our children. These other countries do not routinely test children younger than high school age, and are countries with high academic outcomes. The job requirements to end the school year with test scores of certain marks take away from the job description of actually teaching children.
They instead use their time to focus on the subjects that will be tested, primarily mathematics and language arts.
They test a student’s ability to weed through possible answers, make guestimates, and interpret the language on a test.
The New York Times reports that the pressures to increase test scores results in schools unintentionally making the difficult job of teaching even more demanding, and less rewarding.
Some researchers report that standardized test scores are among the best predictors of college and graduate school performances. School officials don’t make all of the rules, but they do have a responsibility to represent what is going on in certain regions and communities. Whether your child is in public, private, or another type of school, make it your priority as a parent to balance the demands of teaching to the test with real world opportunities for growth. She is also on an incredible journey as she home schools her 4 children, and is supported through it all by her husband of more than 15 years, Steve. Using the Madre Hill rule, so named for the running back who dominated his youth league in the 1980s, the Wilson Intermediate Football League requires that any player who scores three touchdowns, when his team has a 14-point lead, is prohibited from scoring again during that game.

Rules such as the Madre Hill rule strive to ensure a level playing field for children, encouraging them to participate and feel good about themselves.
We set children up for a emotional havoc if we stop them from seeing just how far their talents can take them.
While the Madre Hill rule attempts to counteract this, the tragedy is that as a society we are encouraging our children to be the same, to be average, and that if they can’t reach the bar, we will make it easier.
Spock felt that when children created imaginary friends it was a sign that they were lacking an emotional connection or ability to express an emotion. Studies now show that children who create imaginary friends actually have high levels of creativity, richer vocabularies, and even get along better with their peers. Imaginary friends can provide safe ways for our kids to creatively try out various scenarios where the parameters are fantasy based and lack severe or detrimental consequences. They visited our home regularly, and occasionally we could hear our son speaking to them about his favorite toys, which adventure he was planning, or even what he wanted for Christmas. Other researchers agree with this assessment, citing studies that show that as boys reach age 16 their suicide rates tend to rise dramatically, the same time when boys tend to move toward more hyper-masculine stereotypes. It is the same idea as my kids get older – I use words that describe my own emotions and I ask them about their own – without pressure.
I was washing dishes and suddenly heard my son quietly say behind me, “Mom, I hit my head with my yo-yo.” Now, you might be thinking that this isn’t a big deal – a yo-yo is a simple toy. Then I told him that it was the kind of thing that would probably make many people shed a few tears – those kinds of smacks hurt.
Their bodies might fail, their relationships might tumble, they will lose someone they love, and their lives might become confusing and challenging.
We want our children to be able to withstand the tough times and fight through obstacles confidently. But how do we go about doing this in a modern world that is filled with opportunities and challenges, some of which are even too great for us? I usually don’t get too excited about catch phrases when it comes to parenting advice, but something about the visual this phrase islands of competence brings to mind resonates with me. In a very simple analogy, consider a toddler who is desperately trying to master the ladder and slide at the park (this is the vast body of water – the opportunity with challenges). Brooks and Goldstein outline 5 principles that they say will help our children develop skills that are essential for foundations of success and resilient mindsets. Kohn would argue that celebrating successes means that we demonstrate that we love our children more when they do well. There seems to be a fine line between acknowledging our children’s successes and praising them to the point where the successes are measured by others (us), and not inwardly by our children. It is the hands-on approach we take as homeschoolers, where our children supply their unique ideas and we don’t do the tasks for them. This is the wonderful idea that recognizes that children have different talents, abilities, and inclinations, and encourages parents to support them in their endeavors. All of these developmental phases contribute to just when our kids are ready for various activities or challenges, and some of them just can’t be altered, no matter what we do.
It is not easy to let our children try and fail or to see them frightened and unsure, but allowing them to move through these phases gives them the tools they need to develop confidence (their islands of competency). Parents are often responsible for making sure their children are constantly preparing for these tests. Among these facts, Kohn disseminates the ever-increasing trend to test more and more, and to place increased value on standardized tests as well. Kohn, Weinstein, and others like Sir Ken Robinson, find many reasons why standardized tests are not leading our children into brighter futures, but instead showing them a limited viewpoint of themselves, as if they are seeing themselves in a mirror which is mostly covered in black and only allowing small glimpses of reflection.
However, perhaps this is because those students who are able to “test well” are the same students who are able to “test well” on in-class pop-quizzes and the regurgitation of information in college courses.
While the idea behind “No Child Left Behind” is admirable, the execution has been extremely lacking. Elect officials on all levels who have reasonable, intelligent plans for the future of education. If your school cuts the arts programs, try to make those opportunities available to your child through community programs.
The less emphasis you place on the scores, the more confident your child will feel about all of her abilities. I felt as though I was about to be assessed more than she, and the future of our academic choices resided in those test results.
How can we develop a country of leaders, innovators, and high achievers when we disallow children to participate at their highest levels? Not only are football players in Arkansas being benched for scoring too many touchdowns, but on Little League and soccer fields across the country children are not allowed to keep score and teams are not rewarded for anything but the exact same effort that everyone else made.
Is this type of reaction really going to accomplish these goals, and are these goals going to help us raise the kinds of children who are emotionally healthy and successful? Instead, it panders to the foundation of kindergarten in this country, a setting where children are evened out so that a more level teaching field is created.
In the process of impeding their own success, they might get the false sense that they don’t have to do any more, work any harder, or compete any longer, because they have been led to believe that they have reached the pinnacle.
That is not real life, nor is it the way to lead through innovation and ingenuity, or to allow our children to feel real emotions in real, tangible situations.
He was concerned about the two imaginary friends our son created, just as we moved into our new home in a new neighborhood.
Parents were warned to proactively seek out the negative reasons why their children had developed these friends and work to see them quickly out the door. Authors Dorothy and Jerome Singer conclude that children with imaginary friends are not typically those who are ill, socially deprived, or isolated. Even though I was introduced to Oval on several occasions it took me a few weeks to understand that Oval was actually oval in shape and therefor had a challenging time sitting down easily. Well – maybe those guys who have learned through experience or even scientific research that when boys have close relationships with their moms they generally grow up to be healthier adolescents and men.
Boys who are close with their mothers and more aware of subtle emotional signals (and act on them) tend to be less violent and develop stronger relationships with peers. I believe that they are hardwired differently and I respect those differences and honor them in my home. I also repeatedly let them know that whatever emotions they are experiencing are OK – we just need to work to find healthy ways to show those emotions.

However, in that split second before I turned around I knew this was more – my boys are competitive yo-yoers and recently bought metal yo-yos.
I don’t want to raise my boys to tough it out and suck it up – I want to raise them to acknowledge these situations and changes in their lives and react to them with dignity and respect – for themselves and those around them. If we imagine a vast body of water (the opportunities and challenges we all face in life), it seems much more daunting without any of these islands of competence on which we can rely for support.
Each time the toddler can make it up just a few stairs independently, she is building her own islands of competence. Brooks and Goldstein, however, argue that “children will feel more successful when their achievements are acknowledged and appreciated by significant people in their lives.” The small steps our children take, whether when riding a two-wheeler for the first time or swinging the bat in Little League, are opportunities for parents to reinforce the accomplishments of their children, and recognize the small islands of competence that are emerging. If my 10 year old son wants to cook dinner (my chef in the making), it is so intrinsically better for him to do it his way, than to have me hovering and showing him how to do it the way I would.
Brooks and Goldstein give a great example of traditional education plans that most often address the weaknesses of students – the subject in which they need to improve – and the goals are about improving the weaknesses, but rarely about supporting the strengths.
Let them fight the good fight – it is the only way they will know what victory feels like. Students have perhaps the biggest burdens of all: they must not only repeatedly attempt to regurgitate information in the forms of lead-shaded bubbles, but they bear the labels those test results give from the earliest ages. Perhaps both standardized tests and college grades are not the best predictors of life successes and abilities after all. Although I knew she was extremely capable and bright, I did not know how she would perform on a test where each circle needed to be shaded precisely and she could not question the questions. Teachers focus on children who are behind to bring them up to a minimum working level, and children who are excelling are often given the responsibility of being role models, but not challenged to their full potentials.
When there are those once in a lifetime opportunities for children to learn from peers who are excelling, we have to jump at the chance to have models for success. The risk is also there that the child will feel even more ostracized for being benched for being too good than if he just had the opportunity to reach his own limits.
Actually, he was concerned that the 2 new friends meant that our son was not handling the move and our new living arrangements well.
In their book, The House of Make-Believe they discuss how the imaginary friend is not just for the only child, but is a childhood comfort for more than 60% of young children. But when they are young boys and men, they don’t always care about what might help improve their futures – they just don’t want us to embarrass them by blowing them kisses at the ball field. The same emotional intelligence that close relationships with moms provide for their sons does not appear to be replicated through close relationships with dads.
I have to – I have 3 sons who fill my home with testosterone, bounce off the walls and each other, and find nothing more entertaining than the sounds their bodies make. When I turned around I saw my young son with blood on his face and a huge welt right between his eyes. These islands do not emerge because someone else put them there, but because we build them for ourselves. She might fall occasionally, but as she experiences more independent successes, the overall challenge isn’t as daunting and her confidence builds.
Children who are constantly reminded of their weaknesses are at risk for “swimming in a self-perceived ocean of inadequacy” according to the authors. They also suffer the unintended consequence of not having the opportunities to learn how to learn. Teach the children that they can be amazing, even before they are old enough to stay home by themselves. It sounds pretty cliche, but it taught us an immense amount about our children and how imaginary friends are not only common, but should be welcomed guests in our home. A couple of months after we lived in our new home, Oval and Charlie stopped coming to visit. It wasn’t about having him sob on my shoulder, but it was about letting him know that it is OK to admit when something hurts. We need to work with our children to support their strengths and allow them opportunities to pursue these, which in turn often improves their weaknesses naturally. However, we need to be extremely careful that we don’t somehow impress on our children that those differences equate to disappointments we feel in them. If you have a child in the classroom who always scores 100% on a math tests, it would be ridiculous if he were suddenly not allowed to do that 3 times in a row.
You most likely see others in your workplace or social circle who have awesome talents, and from whom you could learn a few things. The comforting memories they gave our son still sit with all of us, including him, and we giggle about how these magical creatures became a part of our family for a short while.
Teaching our sons tools for emotional intelligence means they can grow up knowing how to honor loved ones in their lives, and how to care for their own needs. Before you roll your eyes and think Great, another bunch of “experts” giving me another round of advice, consider their premises for how to raise children who develop resilient mindsets.
This is where Kohn and these authors would agree – if we fail to accept the unique strengths and successes of our children, we risk teaching them that we love them conditionally.
You can’t expect to learn much from a talented chef if he is only every allowed to show you the appetizers he makes and not the dessert.
There were no lasting detrimental effects, no scars, and no social backward behaviors that developed as a result.
Raising mama’s boys doesn’t mean that my kids won’t grow up without grass-stained knees or belching with the boys – they are 2 for 2 on those. In fact, they were quite in awe of the goose-egg and how long it took for the blood to stop flowing (and I’m guessing a few of them were glad they didn’t have the 3rd eye).
Their ideas are sound enough to give me pause, and reasonable enough to incorporate into real-world positive parenting. It could be my mother’s bias, but I would dare to say that Oval and Charlie were lucky to meet such an amazing young man who impresses me with his maturity and sensitivity, as well as his independent strength.
Go welcome your child’s imaginary friend – they too could meet an amazing person waiting to burst forth!

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  1. 3001, 10.12.2014
    And 6 months, despite the fact that breaks my heart and basket in the bathroom.
  2. hgk, 10.12.2014
    Some children to poo much less graduating to training pants or underwear is a big can keep the.
  3. AHMET, 10.12.2014
    The toilet to get less risk for.
  4. seker_kiz, 10.12.2014
    That he or she will only get it if targets are met.