Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Faster than you

My husband and I decided to do away with cable television a few years ago.  We reasoned that we didn't watch more than 3 shows and were tired of paying the increasingly exorbitant bill.  Since we have young children who didn't agree to this decision, we bought an Apple TV that streams online shows that are either free (Hulu), free with a subscription fee (Netflix), or charge a la carte (iTunes).  This has worked for our entire family with little guff.  The only problem I have with Hulu (upon which we depend for network shows such as "Community" and "Bob's Burgers" and basic cable shows like "The Daily Show") is the commercials.  I realize that Hulu is free because they use paid advertising, however my husband and I moan at every one of those cash cows that interrupt our regularly scheduled programming.

This post is not about the evils of marketing, however.  No, I have a bone to pick with one in particular.  You've seen it, don't lie to me.  AT&T has this ad campaign, "It's Not Complicated," in which they send a guy in a suit to a school to ask elementary school kids at a round table stupid questions, such as "Is it better to be big or little?"  Really?  It all comes down to a dichotomy?  Hey kids, is it better to be evil or kind, because we all know that bigger is better and little is weak and evil and something to be mocked in gym class.

The particular commercial that gets my goat every time I see it is this one:


Yes, that little girl and her lisp are darling.  Yes, the little boy next to her making subtle faces at her imaginative ramble is also adorbs.  But why is AT&T pushing this message at kids?  Faster is better than slow.  Didn't Aesop prove this wrong centuries ago?

I take umbrage with this idea, with the entire dichotomous ad campaign - even if it is meant to be somewhat coy - because of what I witness with my kids and kids who I have taught over the years.  The message that faster is better is not just coming from the jackass in the AT&T suit, it's coming directly from the school systems.  It's coming directly from the Department of Education and from the Princeton Review.  It's coming from the Olympics and every sports team that rejected me as a kid.

Case in point: my six-year-old son is funny and sweet and smart, but he's not a talented athlete, at least not yet.  After dinner one night, he and his athletic older sister and a seven-year-old neighbor were racing down the sidewalk.  My son came in the house, head hanging.  He wasn't crying, just sad.  When I asked what was wrong he said, "I'm not good at anything."  How did he reach this conclusion?  Because he wasn't fast enough to ever win the race between two older girls with longer legs.

Second case in point: my daughter has been stuck on the same math facts test all year.  Math facts tests are 100 problems - usually one type of problem, like multiplication of single digits - timed over 5 minutes (I think, maybe less).  She knows the math and only misses one or two problems, but she cannot complete the test.  Ever.  She has taken the same test the ENTIRE year!  Why?  Because she works slowly.  She may be doing long division, geometry, and fraction homework, but she's still on that bleedin' multiplication math facts test.  I worry about what will happen with the standardized test she's required to take next week.

I asked around for information about test accommodations and learned that a.) I will have to pay for a full IQ battery to have my daughter's processing speed tested; b.) these are the only tests (administered by a licensed psychologist and if not covered by insurance ranging between $400-$800) that are accepted in the public schools; and c.) she has to have a 20 point discrepancy between her speed and her IQ to receive accommodations.  That's a huge discrepancy, one I doubt she has.  What does this mean?  She may not finish the test or any of the tests she has to take on her journey through elementary, middle and high school, which eventually will effect her ability to receive college scholarships.

Why is faster better, tell me?  If a child is able to exercise, does it freakin' matter that he doesn't come in first?  If a child is able to understand math concepts, does it matter that she isn't able to pump out equations in two minutes or five minutes flat?  Why are we emphasizing speed over conceptual mastery?

In this age of high speed data, are we missing the point?

20 comments:

  1. Amy, I absolutely LOVE this post. While I do absolutely LOVE the AT&T commercials--purely for the adorableness of the kids--I wholeheartedly abhor this continual hounding of our children to "be the fastest." My 5 year old had the same experience as your son. She came home from school and sadly told me, "Everyone in my class is faster than me." Oh, it near to broke my heart--well, not near, it did. It did break my heart. And don't get me started on Math Facts and timed tests and the frickin' Dept. of Education. Man, would I have some words. But it's so true--and I preach constantly to my kids: "Being kind is more important than being first." Imagine if the rest of the world adhered to this mindset. Thanks, Amy. Brilliant.

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    1. Coming from a teacher, this means a lot. Thank you for your commiseration. I have my kids in a Montessori school so that they can learn to be good citizens and to work at their own pace, yet the Common Core Standards interfere and screw up this beautiful pedagogy.

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  2. Amy, I would find out if giving the multiplication test in this way is mandated by the school or chosen by the teacher. There are simple ways to modify this so it tests accuracy and fluency without holding a child at the starting gate all year. You shouldn't have to ask for accommodation over such a small point in the curriculum. A Montessori school of all places should know this.

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    1. In fairness to my daughter's wonderful teacher, Christina, she did offer a different format for the test last week and my daughter finished more problems. Still, she didn't finish and therefore can't move on. I will ask who mandates these tests, however. I suspect it's the state board of Ed.

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  3. This is great. Carter and I are at odds, as usual. I am a really fast tester and he requires extra time. But he is an exceptionally fast athlete and I require... lots of extra time.

    I'm with Anna - the commercials crack me up (with the whole "Strap a Cheetah to her back"-ness) but I do wonder why the emphasis is placed as it is.

    When it come to my internet, I want lightning fast. Absolutely. But in life, I think it is far less black and white. Fast in life is not always better. There is something to be said for keeping pace, for steadiness, for evenness, and for treading softly and slowly.

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  4. Yes. This. Fast is not always better and standardized tests are ridiculous wastes of time.

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    1. Is your daughter in school yet, Kristin? Let me know if ever you need to talk through the options or want me to hold the paper bag while you inhale.

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  5. I spent years working with students with disabilities at the college level. Many of them used extended test time as one of their accommodations. Occasionally it would stick in some professor's craw and we'd have to remind Dr. Him or Her that "we're trying to ascertain if they student knows the information, not necessarily if they can spit it all out in a pre-assigned amount of time." Sigh.

    And we got rid of our paid TV years ago too with very little family hoo-haw. We have Netflix and quite frankly I love it because I can do away with the stupid commercials.

    And furthermore... Ok I'm done soapboxing it. But I really feel like an "Amen Sistah!" is in order.

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    1. Thank goodness for people like you who remind crusty old professors to calm their tits! Unfortunately, it isn't so easy in the public school system. Everything is covered in red tape. I'm afraid to even broach this topic because frankly, by kid does not have a disability. She just moves slower and more thoughtfully than test practices allow. I will say this: with 3 weeks of school left in the year, she freakin' finally finished the math facts test yesterday!!!

      Thank you for getting me, Julie.

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  6. oh sweet amy - a very long time ago we adopted our first child, a little girl with FAS. when it came time for her to go to school she knew her colours, numbers, letters and she could print her name. halfway through her kindergarten year. the school told me that in grade 1 they would not be pursuing an academic curriculum with my daughter. they said they felt that no funding was available for an aide and that the teacher's time would be better spent teaching life skills like making a sandwich to my 6 year old. i fought the school and the county board of education but maybe not hard enough. my feelings were shattered that the pride we felt in our child and her accomplishments did not even warrant the school system to try and pursue academics. we withdrew her from school and home schooled all the way through. she learned to read, print, cursive write, and many other things.

    we never argued that she wasn't handicapped, we only wished that she be given a opportunity to learn. my darling girl was to them so slow that she didn't even get to enter the race. xx

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    1. Oh Bev, this breaks my heart. You, my dear friend, are an amazing mama. I would have done exactly the same thing and I know other parents who made similar decisions and sacrifices.

      How is your daughter doing now?

      xx back atcha

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  7. I wish I had something incredibly intelligent to say other than I agree. I like the commercials only because the kids are cute but really speed is not the ideal and leads to mistakes on all levels.

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    1. No intellectual screeds necessary, Zoe. Thanks.

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  8. Amy, I am SO IN LOVE WITH THIS POST. It sure does seem like we have a love of breaking values down into dichotomies where if something i not A, then it's B, but clearly A is where it's at and B is synonymous with sloth and/or evil. Why can't we just have a multi-modal values system? I suppose because it's too hard to fit into a standardized test?

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    1. I'm all about areas of gray, Liza. That's why I steer clear from most political discussions on Facebook - I see things so differently than pro/con. I look at the nuances which just pisses off both sides! I guess this is why I have problems making decisions.

      I'm glad you liked the post. Next time I'll work in a photo of RuPaul.

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    2. I'm so frustrated by your story, I want to puke. We are all living in a game show. Aliens from other planets are looking at us "on the clock," in every aspect of our lives, and they're laughing their butts off (if they have butts). Hmm, I think I might have to blog about that... Anyhoozle, I do often look at some of these ridiculous reality shows where everyone has to do these complicted feats in 30 minutes or 60 seconds. It's preying on our already screwed, I mean skewed tendency for immediacy. What's the point? I'm so fed up with the educational system and the NJASK and SATs which are no measure of a child's intelligence or indication of their future success. I think your kids are young enough that you will see real change in education while there is still time to make a difference in their lives. We have to stay noisy about it.
      PS. love "pizza parlors" haven't heard that in years!

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    3. Eva,
      I certainly didn't mean to nauseate you! I do hope you're right that we will see change soon. I don't like to get political on my blog, but I really do think W screwed up the education system worse with No Child Left Behind.

      Thank you for commiserating.

      Take care,
      Amy

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Comments for me? Thanks a bunch!