Kindness and sorrow

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“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.”

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, Kindness  (with credit as is often the case to Bob at

Why did I copy this quote? In a spasm of compassion, I saw my students. Where is the kindness in the endless barrage of testing? Where is the empathy that might help the data-driven leaders of our time to understand the sorrow they are creating? Students feel the pressure to get test scores which remain out of reach for them, those students who have not simply given up, trying to protect themselves from yet another emotional blow. They feel the sadness when they fail to come close to hitting expected targets.

Eduhonesty: When I bring this subject up with educational administrators, I am often treated to a speech about how we must get students ready to succeed. Failure is not an option, they say in so many words. Failure will be reflected in your evaluations, too.

But a review of the immense load of big data we are creating reveals that a great many students ARE failing. We document those failures all over school, state and federal websites. The cold numbers do not tell a larger story that needs to be placed front and center for the sake of America’s lower-scoring students.

Testing has become unkind in the extreme. You must test whether you can read the test or not. You must test if you came here two years ago from Cambodia without speaking English. You must test even if you are innumerate, illiterate and a lifelong special education student. You must test whether you are destined to fail or not.

Here’s the question that needs to be asked: How are these failures — often repeated failures — making our students feel? I have watched sadness on many faces as a result of these tests and hopelessness as well.

We don’t need to throw that special education student into the arena to be chewed up. A desire for data should not triumph over common sense. One-test-fits-all is not merely stupid, it’s a recipe for lifetime sorrow. We are making kids feel like failures with these tests.

Emotional effects of the data juggernaut are dismissed in the quest for ever more data, big data that we cannot even effectively analyze due to questions of methodology, validity and reliability, not to mention the sheer lack of time and personnel needed to tease out useful results from that data.

How do we stop the data train? It’s running over many of our kids, the ones in the far left tail of the bell curves of our tests. I wish bureaucrats and administrators could see some of the beaten expressions at the end of a day of school testing. We are teaching sorrow as we ignore simple human kindness.