Some time ago, I wrote a post about a former teacher of mine who was facing some adversity. Actually, that may be an understatement. She was essentially fired. I found this upsetting for a variety of reasons, but as I expected, she landed in a good place, teaching a different subject in a different school. And while I’m sure that would not have been a career move she would have chosen otherwise, I have no doubt that it benefitted a lot of students.
Recently, I found out she decided to leave public education altogether. This news actually made the local newspaper in my hometown, which cited standardized testing as the reason for the decision.
I’ve only loosely followed the debate over the past decade about standardized testing, and more recently, common core. I have friends whose opinions I respect who are very passionate about it, many of them parents and/or teachers who are, as a result of their roles, far more invested than I. I am not terribly well informed about this myself. However, as I’ve followed the debate, a story I heard a long time ago keeps bubbling to the surface.
The Artist once took a course in herbal healing from a wilderness school known for teaching a variety of indigenous skills. Her teacher told a story of one plant that was scientifically studied and its benefits debunked. The study involved analysis of the chemical compounds in the plant itself, as it grew in the wild. What the researchers failed to realize was that indigenous healers would actually chew the plant before using it. Enzymes in their human saliva broke the plant down in a certain way, transformed it, and made it of use, unlocked the healing power, as it were, made it biologically available to the human body. Thus the debunking was itself debunked, for anyone who cared to pay attention and consider the human factor and the training and skill of the healer.
In healing and teaching (closely allied professions), we are in an era in which we seem to collectively discount the most important factors. We are obsessed with knowing “what works,” as if there is a set of actions any automaton could perform that will teach, or heal, a standardized person in a standardized way, with standard and measurable effects. After all this time, we really ought to know better. We have somehow failed to consider the human factor, the training, skill and intuition of healers and teachers, the human relationship, the enzymes in the saliva that bring about real change. How limited and small. How very sad.