My heart broke today as I watched one of my high achieving students grab her hair with both fists and clutch it in panic as she looked at her computer screen. Then, with reddening cheeks, she clenched and unclenched her hands in front of her in frustration. This same young lady, only an hour earlier, had told me she was excited about the test she was about to take because she loves to write, which is natural since she is an excellent writer.
Ahhhhh, welcome to the joys of standardized testing.
Heartbreak was not my only emotion while observing the students today. I was proud because I saw a student that is notorious for blowing of state exams put real effort into his writing. We had talked ahead of time about how much it would mean to me if he tried, and, as far as I can tell, he actually put some energy into his test. Granted, I’m not allowed to see his response, so he might have spent the entire time intently writing about how much he was wishing to be somewhere else. Either way, he looked very pleased with himself when the test was over.
One standardized test- two very different responses. One student, who can easily produce five paragraphs, clearly felt pressure and frustration. Another student, whose writing in class has struggled all year, seemed triumphant and content.
I have many thoughts on the effects of standardized testing on our students, but that isn’t what this post is about. It is about not allowing standards to hurt us. Standards are not innately bad or good. It is our interactions with standards that determine their impact.
Our society judges us, and we judge ourselves, against standards: standards of living, standards of behavior, standards of beauty, etc. etc. We have standards we place on ourselves, and we have standards placed on us. We also expect others to live up to our standards. You get the point- standards, and lots of them….
Some standards are great. They help society to function by creating order. They can also push us to reach new levels of achievement. However, sometimes standards can be harmful.
It is time to reconsider the standards we judge ourselves against if they are so low that they prevent us from excelling or so high that, regardless of our efforts, we are left feeling inadequate.
Lately, I have been reevaluating my approach to standards. I’ve been attempting to view them through the lens of my faith. I don’t think you need to have the same faith system as me to apply the principle of it.
If you are not familiar with the Christian faith, or have had a negative experience with people who failed to live it out, you may not realize that, unlike standardized testing (which promotes the production of standardized people), God’s standards leave a lot of room for diversity. (You know, that whole “For God so loved the WORLD…” bit…as in the entire world and everyone in it.)
God’s standard is all about loving people enough to accept them where they are and giving them the instructions that help them to become the best versions of themselves. There is also a ton of grace provided for the times people fail. Sometimes there is correction and grace, and sometimes there is just grace.
The Bible is full of God loving some pretty messed up people in the manner I just described (and instructions for us to do the same).
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, this is an excellent approach to the standards you set for yourself and for those around you.
I’m going to try to apply this approach by loving and accepting myself (with all my imperfections) and investing in the areas where I need growth. I’m also going to try to remember to leave plenty of room for grace- grace to mess up and grace to try again. The real application will come in doing the same for those around me.
As my children’s Bible says, “You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children- with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” This is the kind of love that can help us approach standards with a healthy perspective.
If we love ourselves, and we love our neighbors, our standards will not become a source of pain, but a source of grace.
I’ve had my fill of standardized testing, but I’d love to see people test this approach to the standards we hold for ourselves and others.
* The quote used comes from The Jesus Story Book Bible published by Zonderkidz.