As a parent active on a local school council, I've watched with apprehension as Virginia's high-stakes testing program has unfolded. But it was not until the day my third grade son, usually an enthusiastic student, came home sad and dejected that I realized my worst fears about the test were true.
My son's class was studying explorers - his favorite subject - and he wanted to write a report on Matthew Henson, his favorite explorer. Henson, an African American, was the first man to set foot on the North Pole. He was a self-taught sailor and astronome rwho rose above the racism and prejudice of his day to become one of the most important explorers of the 20th century.
Imagine my thrill as my son, without any urging on my part, went to the computer to do research on Henson. I was particularly pleased because after a tough first grade and difficulty reading throughout second grade, in third grade my son was at last learning that school could be fun.
While researching on the computer, my son took great delight in finding obscure facts about Henson. He fantasized out loud about how impressed his teachers and classmates would be once they saw his great report.
I had never seen him so excited about school work. He really identified with Henson, not only because he and Henson are both African Americans, which was clearly important to him, but also because he was excited about the opportunity to be an explorer himself. What excited him most was the novelty of the information and the fact that Henson wasn't one of the explorers the class as a whole was studying. As he said to me, "Mom, I'm being an explorer in social studies!"