Harper Lee and Standardized Tests

My daughter, who is a high school freshman, is reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Well, she’s supposed to be reading it. She told me when she was attempting to read the book, she was constantly drifting off, reading the same sections again and again, and nothing was penetrating. She concluded something might be really wrong with her, maybe a disability.

Disability, my ass.

She’s just not a reader. Never has been. I checked out the film To Kill a Mockingbird from the library, and my son and I talked her through the movie, stopping along the way to point out characters, plot, and theme.

It is preposterous that my daughter should think something is wrong with her because she dislikes and struggles with reading–the same way it would be preposterous for my son to think he has a huge advantage in life because he reads constantly.

I remember learning about Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences in college, and as soon as I felt my kids could understand, shared it with them. Gardner proposed that there are 8 intelligence modalities:

*Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
*Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
*Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
*Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
*Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
*Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
*Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
*Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

My kids enjoyed hearing my opinion on what intelligence was theirs, and now they are old enough to be able to identify it for/in themselves. My older daughter is clearly not linguistic (but my son and I are); she is bodily-kinesthetic and logical-mathematical. Silly then to think she could concentrate on and comprehend the meaning of Harper Lee by only being handed the book! On the other hand, in 9th grade, I would have zipped through the book and underlined important information, written a super paper without help–and suffered in gym class and daydreamed in math.

We parents can’t have our kids thinking they are stupid if they can’t stand Harper Lee–any more than we should let our kids go on feeling like failures for sucking at volleyball. This is a conversation I plan on continuing with each of my kids indefinitely. Unfortunately, my daughter can’t take a pass on English class (Sorry, but I’m not a word person. Can I double up on gym?).  She’s going to have to come to terms with the fact that she has to spend copious amounts of time in school doing things in which she’s not exactly a natural. To be fair, she has other venues in which she can and does excel, almost all ball-related.

This “Harper Lee incident” only deepens my belief that the educational system is antiquated and many of its goals irrelevant. Give my athlete a book and tell her to read 11 chapters. Useless! To tell the full truth, I think most homework is senseless busywork, and standardized tests are garbage. I was alarmed when, years ago, my kids got their test results in the mail and fretted over them. Now I chuck out the test results in unopened envelopes.

Postscript: Last night, after I’d written this, my above-mentioned daughter asked to read all the blog posts that mentioned her. She read a few aloud, which she claimed was giving her a headache. When she read this one, my son, who was listening, said, “I vividly remember when we first talked about multiple intelligences!”  My daughter asked what “antiquated” means. 



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