Over the years, an education system was created for children that took pressure as one of its foundational points. We all remember it from our own education, a snakes and ladders game or preparation, rote memorization, seemingly pointless testing. We remember how we felt when we were on that treadmill and we empathize with stories about students today who have to endure the same and worse.

On Friday, the New York Times published a superb piece on this, which you can read here.

It’s a very humane piece, one that examines why some students seem to deal reasonably well with the pressure of school while others come close to completely falling apart. I highly commend this article to you and ask that you share this blog post among your family and friends – it’s truly a piece that everyone should read.

I get stuck on phrases such as “Never before has the pressure to perform on high-stakes tests been so intense or meant so much for a child’s academic future.” That makes no sense to me, and it actually and fortunately runs counter to the direction we’re heading here in Ontario, Canada. Our Ministry of Education now mandates a form of student assessment that takes into account the totality of a student’s work over a course, including upward trends and more weight being gives to good work (a product of a student’s cumulative learning) late in a term or semester. In other words, a student doesn’t pay too large a price for one of two missteps in a course; rather a holistic perspective is taken whereby, contrary to what we see in the article, the teaching and learning in class is at least as important as a somewhat arbitrary final result.

Intellectually as well as practically, the fact that so many school systems are stuck in the antiquity that is the focus of the article is silly. Few jobs in this world focus only on the final result or see success through a standardized lens. We see success in our labours as an ongoing thing, our achievements as a product of a body of learning. We acquire experience and walk down a longer road of success.

I flash back to the words of David Bowie in his classic song about pressure (and a remarkable collaboration with Queen’s Freddie Mercury) where he sings:

Insanity laughs, under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance

Yes. I think we should.

Don Adams, Head of School

Feb 11th, 2013 – Under Pressure