Word from Lowell: Proficiency testing fails to teach life skills

Lowell Perry Jr., director 

During this month’s Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood (CCPN)  advisory council meeting, discussion focused on activities available to CCPN kids during out-of-school-time hours. The group shared ideas for activities that are education but also contribute to helping children develop life skills. Things that help to improve academic performance and also stimulate the senses and curiosities of our young people. The robust group discussion yielded some very interesting information that confirmed a long held suspicion of mine – kids need more educational and fun things to do.

In our desperation to ensure kids are passing proficiency tests, have we unwittingly been making them less prepared for life, by taking away the things that can stimulate creativity and improve socialization and life skills?

A child can only absorb so much before the law of diminishing returns sets in and their brain shuts down. The things that stimulate creativity and may have been an incentive for some kids to want to be in school, things like music, art, and sports, are the very first things the “fun-suckers” cut when budgets are tight. I always thought the primary purpose of school, especially in K-12, is to stimulate critical thinking which is an important life skill when entering the workforce. Gaining solid social skills runs a very close second. School is more about learning how to learn than the actual stuff you get crammed into your head to get a grade. I have yet to use the pythagorean theorem throughout my life for instance. But the disciplines I learned from doing homework, working as part of a group, and how to get along with others who are different from me, have been invaluable.

I admit a bias when it comes to the subject of sports, being a life-long jock, but minimizing, and even eliminating sports in some cases, might well be one of the most misinformed actions far too many school systems have taken in the name of education. Is it any wonder that too many kids are overweight, emotionally distressed, and have a hard time getting along with others? Sports is not only a healthy outlet for kids, but is also one of the best ways to teach social skills around cooperating with others. Not to mention that the activity of sports contributes to better attendance in the form of mitigating some preventable health issues like asthma, as well as an incentive to not skip school. I know in my case, I rarely missed a school day when I knew gym class was on the docket for the day!

And let us not forget the fact that competitive sports in particular, contribute to the family doing something together as a unit in support of one another.  Music and art have similar merits in that regard. Let’s be honest, it is far more fun to go out and shoot hoops with your son than to labor over math problems!

So what am I saying here? We absolutely have to ensure our kids are learning what they need to in order to be proficient in their core academic subjects or they won’t graduate and have a chance to go onto college and/or career. But academic proficiency based on passing a test is far from an accurate indicator of success in college or life. Young people have to be allowed to be kids and have fun too, or I guarantee you, they will struggle at college and at life. To be fair, parents who focus too much on athletic prowess too early with their kids in the hopes of raising the next LeBron James, run the risk of ironically burning them out on the sport.  There must be balance.

So let’s cool the jets on making kids go to school on Saturdays, adding more hours in the school day to teach math, or enrolling them in homework boot camps. Get them involved in sports. Take them to the museum to learn about art and history. Go to the zoo or the aquarium to learn about wildlife and our environment. Encourage them to take up an instrument. Or get them bullish on STEM through coding or entering a robotics competition. All of the above is also a way for a family to share in knowledge together. The point is that learning doesn’t have to only be through boring repetition, but can also be fun!