June 15 2015 11:24 AM

School of life teaches more than standardized tests

Aaryn Belfer

Last week was the first of two at my daughter's school during which the new Smarter Balanced Assessments would be administered each day from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. At the exact time most of her classmates were facing the zoom, help, next and back buttons on their computer screens, my child was at the beach, lying belly down on a surfboard, toes in the sand, learning the proper position from which to hoist herself to standing. 

Our school administrators have been fully supportive of those choosing to opt out of standardized testing and, other than two ominous calls home each day about my child's absence, I've gotten no resistance. But since the school couldn't guarantee my child wouldn't be stuck at a table doing worksheets every day, I chose to make an alternate plan for her. And when I saw the huge smile on her face as she and her friend (I'll call him Ben) came out of the water that first day, I knew I'd made the right one. 

"Mama, you're amazing," Ruby said to me as I handed her the lunch I'd picked up at a local deli. Was it the bacon on her turkey sandwich? The chocolate chip cookie? The Gatorade? I do not know. What I do know is that—after a particularly difficult and harrowing weekend of parenting that left me reaching for my resignation papers—those three words caused the earth to crack open. Doves flew toward the horizon, angels sang in perfect harmony and the whole world was drenched in golden light. 

Menehune Surf Camp was at once a coup and a vindication. If I had any shred of doubt about opting out (which I didn't, but if I did), it was silenced when another parent told my husband that her 10-year-old had to re-take the Smarter Balanced test three times on the same day. In a word sentence: One day + one test + same test one more time + same test one more damn time = the computer deleted all of her answers. I was breathless when I heard this. Both at her child's suffering, and at my child's not. Other than getting whacked in the head by her surfboard that is. 

Ruby and Ben ate their lunches and told me with mouths full of food about the previous three hours (both stood up on the first day). Then I swiped away as much sand and salt from Ruby's face as I could, and rushed both kids back to school where my friend Nikki was checking her daughter in after a morning at the Natural History Museum. On our way out of the office, one of the employees said, "It must be nice for the kids to sleep in." 

Must be. Wouldn't know. 

Nikki and I z-snapped our way outside where we did a high-five, took a quick selfie (we'd both gotten the horizontal-striped-dress memo), and continued on with our respective and absurdly over-scheduled lives. 

During the morning drive to surf camp each day, Ruby and Ben initiated conversations that ranged from black holes to black matter to black lives matter. Boom! Not happening in school. 

We talked about things that scare us, navigating difficult relationships, science fiction and hedgehogs, naturally. We talked about life and surfing and death, because is there anything else? Not happening in school. 

We talked about how many people are on the planet (7.125 billion as of 2013, per a backseat Google search), and how alone we are, given the size of our galaxy. We talked about what happens after we die and the kids invented a song. Sung with all the heart and most of the vibrato in nine galaxies, "Let It Flow" was the perfect segue from reincarnation to the hilarity of peeing in a wetsuit. 

This, they do not get in school. 

Things were all giggles until Thursday when my fearful cherub was paralyzed by thousands of tiny, red crab-like creatures that had washed up on shore. She refused to walk past them to the water, which greatly curtailed her ability to surf. But our research together taught us that these crustaceans were not California spiny crabs as I'd initially thought, but tuna crabs indicative of an El Niño. Then we learned about El Niño and the drought. Then we recalled the conversation about things we fear, and strategized how to navigate the last day of surf camp should the red dread still be present (it wasn't).

Meanwhile, I followed Nikki's adventures on Facebook. She'd taken her daughter to the Air and Space Museum where an exhibit with 20 cameras firing simultaneously provides visitors with a 360- degree photograph of their silliness. Nikki posted the image of her and her daughter facing each other while holding hands, her child suspended in the air, both of their faces alit with joy. 

"Best. Day. #optout," she wrote. Her coup. Her vindication. 

This week, we continue our modified schedule. We'll be hitting up the Del Mar Fair and, thanks to the genius of The Explorer Pass, we'll visit several museums in Balboa Park. Fleet is on the list, for sure. We want our own keepsake photo to commemorate this valuable time I've stolen back from the test zealots.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.


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