Thoughts on coloring and confessions about standardized tests.

As the girls colored this morning, Max took a few practice tests from one of our standardized test books. I read the instructions, set the timer, and provided his two sharpened pencils with a heavy feeling in my heart. In all honesty, sometimes I worry that unschooling is “not preparing Max for the real world” (to quote a family member). What if this is true? What if Max’s happy, carefree childhood leaves him at a loss in our competitive, success-oriented culture?

The test is a symbol of that tension- a symbol and a measure of how what we are doing “counts” in this real world we hear so much about. As I stood next to the table feeling rather authoritarian and explaining to Max that he couldn’t make a sound or ask questions or get up during the testing time, his huge chocolate eyes smirked back at me.

“Okay Mom, I get it. I’m ready.”

But what if I’m not ready to know how we measure up? This question was left hanging as Max scribbled away. I wanted to stop and remind him that he needs read the instructions and follow them exactly- not to invent his own instructions or puzzles or problems. I wanted to grab him and say, “This is NOT about creativity, Max- you’re being tested on your ability to do exactly what is asked in exactly one way!”

Pacing the room in my mind, I looked up with surprise when Max announced he was finished exactly 7 minutes and 45 seconds into his 30-minute section. How could he be finished? Why was I so sure that he had skipped something or overlooked something? Where was my faith in my brilliant, thoughtful child?

As I scored his test results, Max peeped over my shoulder with excitement. He got every single question right. He followed every single direction correctly. He did not cut corners or give sloppy responses. He amazed me. And he redeemed me from all the doubt and fog in my head about the way we learn in the Coryell Castle.

I still feel pathetic for allowing the test to mean so much in my mind. All my overachieving and schooling continues to influence the way I think about learning- and it is revealed at moments when push comes to shove, when there is something to prove. But I am learning. Always learning. I grow and learn with Max.

When I asked him how he felt about his test results, I realized again the distance between his unschooled insights and my hyper-schooled perceptions.

“Mom, that’s so cool. It means I did what I was supposed to do exactly right. But I don’t think it says much about being smart because lots of those questions didn’t make you think at all- they just wanted you to give their answer. Oh, and thanks for teaching me stuff.”

No, Max- thank you for teaching me everything and not giving up on your wild, unusual, wierd, and restless mom who has been given the honor of learning with you and who is humbled every single day by your candor, your scruples, your curiosity, your love for knowledge, and your relentless pursuit of all things new and wonderful.

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