The White and Blue National Standard Box
This week the internet world was bombarded with seemingly pointless debate around the colour of a dress. To me, it was quite clearly white and gold, and impossible for me to see how it could be any other way. While I could see how people saw the blue, the suggestion that the darker strips could be black was preposterous. But then when my wife commented on the black and blue dress, I was flummoxed. Seriously? I’ve stood by my artistic eye for my entire life; and now it starts to play tricks on me?
However, when I was thinking about this, it immediately made me think of each and every classroom around the country. We have many, many students who would answer “white and gold” to this question in a test, and many, many students who would answer “blue and black”. Some are restricted by the colours they see from the photo, and others are able to translate that and see the actual colour that the dress would be, based on the white balance of the background. And yet, because of this, many, many students would end up failing this test, through no fault of their own mind you.
Many teachers all around the country would argue for and against the correct answer, and many, even when faced with evidence, would find it hard to fathom that they too, got it wrong.
And yet we would continue to use a faulty system. A test that labels students as wrong, as failures, through no fault of their own, purely and simply because their brains aren’t wired that way. It puts everyone in the same box, and only those who are wired a particular way are filtered through to the top of success.
The National Standards Box
National Standards is the same. While we’ve come to accept them and we’ve had to work with them since 2010, it doesn’t make them any less flawed. Yes, we have come to manage them and get used to them, but deep down, I am still morally opposed to them. I’ve seen too many fantastic students with so much potential get labeled as “Well Below” or “Below” purely because their brains aren’t wired to think in terms of Reading, Writing, and Maths. They are considered unsuccessful, and targeted programmes are put in place to monitor and try and make these students fit into the box of the National Standards. We’re trying to make them see the dress as blue and black, when all they can see is white and gold. Even if we reason around it, and show them evidence, their eyes will still see white and gold, because thats how their brain is wired.
Case in point is an ex-student of mine, who at age 9 was reading at an age of a 5 year old (that’s when you could get him to read), and writing not much better. Maths was passible, but only through drawing diagrams rather than numbers, of which many he wrote backwards. However, put a blank page on his desk and a pencil in his hand, and he would draw the most wonderful creations I’ve seen from a child. He had depth of tone, shading, details, feeling and mood, emotion and passion compressed into the graphite lines of his art. At times, he would draw beyond anything I’ve come to expect, even from myself. His talent was incredibly well developed, and I would have loved to continue to work with his drawing and develop it, honing his skills, and encouraging his internal well of creativity that was bubbling away inside. Instead, I spent 80% of the year fighting to get this child on task with his writing, force feeding him books with pictures which he just wanted to draw, and trying to get him to fit into the National Standard box. The other 20% was made up of 15% of me trying to think creatively about how to use art as a means of developing his reading and writing, and the remaining 5% giving up on anything structured and letting him do what he wanted – draw! It was a year filled with frustration, torment, arguments, negotiations, and ultimately, very little progress.
We label them as they head into the prime of their learning and into the big wide world. They may be genius artists, or fantastic sportsmen, and will be incredibly successful in these fields once they leave high-school. But while they are in primary school, they have to fit into a different box and be measured. And they fall short. The message they get is negative. The internal self talk begins and the possibility of them reaching that potential lessens. Of course some will make it, but many will self combust and be filled with self doubt and lack of confidence in their ability, whether ‘academic’ or not. They call themselves dumb, and they know it. Because that’s all they’ve known since 2010.
And teacher’s have their hands tied. On the one hand we have a beautiful and wonderfully wide curriculum full of opportunity and wonder, and in the other, the narrow field of vision as we peer into the National Standards box. “Integrate these through the other learning areas” they say, but the desired effect isn’t as easy to come across. As with last year, I never found a way to integrate reading through art, and I’m unsure whether I had, whether it would have made a difference in raising this child’s reading ability. Regardless of this, the dress was still white and gold for him, because that is how his brain is wired.
As a teacher, what I want to teach is the ability for all students to see the dress as white and gold and blue and black, and accept the differences, while knowing deep inside that no matter what they actually see, that they are right in their own way, and that others are also right. I want them to be able to see them as successful, even if that’s just in one subject or curriculum area. Obviously they still need the basics, but labelling them a failure just because they don’t see blue and black isn’t the way forward to a successful future.