Education Reform: Testing doesn’t have to interfere with real learning

The accountability movement and the NCLB (No Child Left Behind legislation) has been an important step forward in American education. Now we find ourselves in a period of change and adjustment as a natural result of this progress. The benefits of the NCLB far outweigh the losses but the onus  is on school administration to help the faculty and staff transition into 21st century teaching skills and strategies that reduce the obstacles and expand the benefits, literally to all children, not just those in danger of being “left behind” by our traditional approach to learning and teaching.


Teachers and administrators have long (always?) relied on a definition of education that approximates an exposure to and retention of facts. This is no longer a reliable paradigm. Students today are exposed to more information than any reasonable person can contain. Additionally they have no driving need to contain this information in their brains because multitudes of data storage devises exist to render the holding of information in conscious memory obsolete.

info overload

Compounding this new reality is the increased pace of scientific discovery and refutation of old beliefs. In short, the “facts” themselves change much too rapidly to make it practical for students to hold on to them as static reality. Students must, instead learn to sort, evaluate, use and extrapolate rather than contain factoids. The new definition of education we need to embrace is more along the lines of “learning how to learn” “learning how to think” and “learning how to create”.

A paradigm shift is always difficult. The shift is made more difficult by inflexibility and a desire to stay right where we are. Resisting the natural impulse to do things as they have always been done is really our greatest challenge. Along with that comes the challenge of learning from our students. Most teachers know this is a natural dynamic in the classroom but it takes a bit of humility to consciously use that skill.

Benefits of NCLB Legislation

One of the greatest benefits of the NCLB legislation has been the raising of standards of learning for all teachers and all students. Clearly, it is impossible to reach a goal when no goal has been set. Thus, the NCLB and the standardized tests resulting from it have set goals to be reached by all teachers and studenst. Those goals provide clear directives as well as a measurement of progress in which both students and teachers can take pride.

Another benefit of the NCLB legislation is the attention that gets focused on struggling students and those who are not learning well by the standard methods of teaching. It has been said that the purest form of love is attention. Indeed, it is the attention of caring adults that motivates learning and growth in all children regardless of up bringing. Children enter this world ready to learn and expand their lives. Homes filled with neglect and abuse in all its many forms stunt the growth of the child’s learning capacities. NCLB legislation and testing has had the benefit of engaging the attention of teachers and administrators and focusing it on the children who need that attention the most, the ones who project an image of being less, the ones who have received only negative attention and have never learned to attract the positive focus of adults. These very children are our most critical assets.

Challenges of NCLB Legislation

One of the greatest challenges resulting from the NCLB legislation is the tendency for teachers to focus only on the factoids and specifics most likely to appear on the standardized tests. This is what is commonly known as “teaching to the test”. It is tempting in the absence of quality teaching instruction and proven methods of effective delivery, for teachers to simply give notes, lectures, and memorization drills on the key facts. The problem of “teaching to the test” is that teachers may lose their sense of what good effective teaching is. In a desperate attempt to raise student scores teachers may completely fail to teach students the most important thing they learn in schools: how to think and how to learn.

Another challenge presented by NCLB legislation is that the needs of advanced level performing students are sometimes pushed aside as teachers focus on bring all students up to minimum competencies. As I see it this challenge goes hand in had with the problem of “teaching to the test”. Though in this case different students and different voices are involved, the problem remains that of helping teachers to build effective strategies for teaching students to think, challenge themselves and grow while still covering the core learning standards.

Sadly, many school administrators compound the obstacles and minimize the benefits by putting undue pressure on teachers without providing well-supported strategies of instruction that use the NCLB standards of learning as a substrate to the learning process, rather than the end goal. The key, I believe is in a new way of looking at learning. Our present learning paradigm was developed long before the flood of information technology we now live with. Our students are growing up knowing that there is “too much” information available on any given subject. Yet, we, based on our 18th century teaching paradigm, are still approaching education as if students’ brains need to contain the specific tidbits of information that our old brains have engulfed and hold dear.

keep in head

When young people cannot read time on an analog clock we are shocked, never mind that multiple digital time devices are readily available at any given minute. We are aghast that students cannot do basic mathematics in their heads, yet with the availability of calculators they will never need such antiquated “skills”. Moreover, by freeing their minds from the task of “fact holding” that multitudes of electronic and data storage devices can do more efficiently, students could expand their skills to 21st century problem solving and creative innovations (also known as “higher order thinking skills”).

The interesting thing is that a shift in the direction of more effective teaching and higher student performance scores would mean less work for teachers and more engagement by students. Right now many teachers feel as if they are running to stand still in their efforts to meet the demands of NCLB legislation. However, using the standards of learning as a substrate or guideline for engaging students in higher order learning activities would net more results in shorter periods of time.



No sources were used. This information has long been collecting, marinating, and stewing in my brain case. Thanks for the opportunity to serve the dish.


Curing Mental Illness and Preventing Suicide

The ever-expanding brain

The ever-expanding brain

When I studied Neuroscience in medical school we were still being taught that neurons could not regenerate themselves.  What this translates into is a basic belief that while most any part of the body that sustains injury can be expected to heal and recover, any damage to the brain was permanent and irreversible.  In other words, if you break your mind, you will never again be “sane”.

Though many discoveries have been made since then that stands that notion on its head, most doctors still deeply believe the myth that any form of mental disorder is forever.  This crazy belief has driven the creation of terrible inhuman institutions, treatment, and drugs that are essentially little more than attempts to sedate, contain, and “keep away from US” anyone manifesting a mental disorder. The paradigm is insidious.

Then, because we have so little understanding of what causes the brain to “break” in the first place, ordinary folks have a long held tendency to fear mental illness and the mentally ill.  Of course, this vast generalized fear leads to all kinds of mistreatment and cruelty. Perhaps more importantly, it leads to a trust in a system of medicine that keeps the ill permanently in that state of suffering and illness.

I have discovered there is a cure.  I have discovered a cure to every kind of mental illness.  In fact I would go so far as to say that I have discovered that there is NO ILLNESS of the brain or mind. Each state that we so carefully pick apart, categorize and name with our DSM-5’s, then maintain with our vast array of psych meds, is actually a useful process or an important function in the brain. Most mental illness is actually a transition into better brain function. But, fearing the worst, we shut it down.  We rarely see the other side, the side where brain function blooms magnificently before our very eyes.

The brain is easily the most perfect of all organs.  It never stops healing itself.  It never stops growing. It has no limits.  Babies are born with all the knowledge of the ages in their little heads.  As they learn and grow their tiny brains eliminate neurons that are not stimulated in their everyday life.  That’s right, babies learn to dumb down their brains to better function in the home in which they find themselves. Babies are dumbing down their vast remarkable brains to better deal with us and our world. Nice.

But the Very Cool Thing is that vast array of neurons, knowledge and performance ability is not lost. Nothing is lost.  Our DNA remembers each pathway we came in with and, given the right stimulus, can and will re-grow.

True, the regrowth process is daunting.  Imagine, if you will, that you enter a store and see signs stating “pardon our progress”.  You see plastic sheeting hung everywhere, dust, drywall, tools.  You hear the grind and buzz of power tools and have to brush past busy workmen.  Some of us would want to turn around and go someplace else.  Well, imagine that store is a person’s brain.  That person cannot leave and go to another store.  That person must find a way to run his life working around and through the frustrating, slow and sometimes inadequate brain filled with new construction, dust flying, plastic drapes, and the buzz of tools.  This is the dynamic state that we see and call “illness”.  There is no illness, there is only a transition through a period of deconstruction and recreation.  Then, if we are patient, gentle, and kind, there are remarkable new abilities and ways of functioning never before dreamed of.

Isn’t it funny that the highly motivated graduate students particularly in sciences have such a high rate of mental “breakdowns” and suicide. No. Not really, when you stimulate brain growth enough, the brain begins to grow by leaps and bounds.  Once it has exhausted its present capacity, the brain is spurred to grow physically.  It begins that remarkable growth by literally breaking down neuronic pathways.  Unfortunately, that student only has the one brain to work with and will feel rather incapacitated with all that dust flying and staircases leading to nowhere.  But treated correctly, the process can be completed in only THREE DAYS.

Now, I expect it will be many years before all the double-blind placebo controlled, AMA approved, insurance certified tests have been done and published to give the go-ahead to believing in and treating the brain (and patients) with the respect they deserve.  Until then, you do have an option.  I am presently treating and CURING a vast array of mental “illness” and “disorders”.

If you or anyone you know has had a mental breakdown of any kind, ADD, ADHD, Aspergers, Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, IBS, or any undiagnosed state of mind that reduces function, I can help.  Call me…504-312-3097

Write me:

Visit me:     10349A Warwick Blvd Newport News, VA 23602

And, YES – I can also help you if you are not here in Virginia.