Why does my child carry his body-weight in books to school everyday?

Every now and then it’s good to vent. Why is it that my son’s backpack weighs more than he does? I am sure I am not the only one to have noticed the weight of these things! Our children are now like those ants we read about when we were children. You know, the ones that can lift 5 times their own weight. Or was it 3 times? Well, I’m sure I can find the answer in my son’s backpack because I’m pretty certain the sum total of human knowledge must be in there, somewhere.

No Child Left Behind?

When I first heard about the No Child Left Behind Act, I was so happy! Finally, the government had realized that our children’s book bags had gotten so heavy, our children were being left behind, literally. I envisioned the Secretary of Education coming home after a long day on Capitol Hill only to find her daughter toppled over on her back in the front hallway liked a flipped turtle, legs and arms waving furiously and pointlessly. The child had been left behind, and the Secretary thought to herself, “no more, this can’t happen, not in America, we have to do something!” Unfortunately, as we know, that was not the case. The No Child Left Behind Act had nothing to do with the Secretary of Education’s daughter. Turns out, it was her son. But I digress…back to reality. The question is, what is it that our children are lugging back and forth to school each day? One evening, I asked my son to go through his three (I’m not kidding) school bags that he uses. He actually takes a different two of the three to school, depending on the day of the week. So we went through every scrap of paper, every notebook, every textbook, and he explained why he needed that particular item. The shocking thing was that, aside from a few extra paper clips, he convinced me he indeed needed every item.

Paperless society?

“Paperless society?” I think not. More like “more Paper! less society.” What do I mean by this? Well, scientists have now determined that American children spend more time in school than the average life expectancy for children born 500 years ago. Could that be true? I have no idea. I completely made that up. But my point is that our kids are spending more time in school than kids born 500 years ago. Of course, there were no schools 500 years ago, but while we may think that not going to school is a bad thing, at least their book bags were lighter! Anyway, in addition to spending more time in school, our kids are actually spending more time in school doing core school activities, and less time on the non-core activities: recess, lunch, music, arts, breathing, socializing, unstructured play, civics, ethics, religion. You know, those things that bind us together as a society. So, taking inventory, our kid’s school bags are too heavy (and numerous!) and contain more information than the Library of Alexandria, our kids are spending more time in school, and more of that time percentage-wise is spent on schooling. So I would conclude that our children must be the smartest on the planet? Well, according to international studies, American children now rate 56th internationally in intelligence tests, right behind the sea turtles of the Galapagos Islands, who don’t even have book bags. I do have a theory as to why our kid’s backpacks have gotten so heavy that most children must now use wheelie-bags! Our schools are being handcuffed by standardized testing gone mad. This means that during school hours, principals and teachers are teaching to the test simply to survive. This means there is a great deal of learning that has been outsourced to the child and their parents. Which is why my son brings home the school with him each night. He learns how to take the FCAT (Florida’s standardized test) by day, and learns about everything else at night at home. It’s an over-reliance and over-focus on standardized testing that is killing our children’s education (and their backs!).

The solution?

The solution? Easy. I found the answer in my son’s school bag of course. The answer is we (parents, teachers, children, and principals) have to push back. Enough is enough. We’ve had enough standardized tests. Just because we can measure something, does not mean we should. Trust me, I tried to weigh my son’s bag and broke the scale. And we are breaking our children with heavy bags, and silly exams. We are burning out our children by having them spend more time filling in bubbles with a number 2 pencil than learning about music, society, or simply how to get along with each other. It’s time that we let children be children, schools be schools, and homes be homes. When we turn our schools into standardized testing sweatshops, we risk breaking more than their backs. We risk breaking their love of learning, in which case, we are all being left behind.