"Students often come to school with a tactile deficit."
This article from NPR about the Maker movement and mainstream education was introduced with that sentence. It grabbed my attention immediately. I talk a lot on this blog about hands-on education. There's a reason. Multi-sensory education is the most memorable.
It's often the most joyful. And empowering.
So what does a tactile deficit look like?
As a preschool and kindergarten teacher I frequently encountered children who had never used scissors at home, nor glue, glitter, play dough, or paints. "I don't want that mess in my house!" And then there were the anxious parents who made sure to spend extra time every day on workbooks and skill/drill activites with their young child, to help them get ahead.
These children were often lacking in the most basic skills of childhood. Some were reluctant to cut or glue because they didn't know how. Some were afraid to get dirty and risk parental disapproval. On the other hand, some were so desperate to have these messy, squishy experiences that it was hard to get them to do anything else.
There is a deep need in all of us to touch, manipulate, create, build, experiment. It is a sensory need and a cognitive need. It supports a willingness to take risks and fuels a healthy sense of well being.
And none of it can be assessed through high stakes testing.
When we went to the fireworks the other evening at Talbott Springs, my daughter marveled at the activites around us. "We never got to use this field," she said of the big, beautiful green space where children were running free. "Well, sometimes for soccer. And sometimes they made us run around the field four times."
"I don't know. It was some kind of a race between the grades that we had to, I don't even know why they made us do it. We got a sticker on our charts."
She just kept looking around. "They never let us use the field the way we wanted to."
She pointed to a little boy digging in the dirt with a stick. And someone nearby was playing a pretend game at the base of a tree where the roots spread out.
"And they used to let us play over there but they stopped because the sand made our hands dirty."
Some children come to school with a tactile deficit. And some have it thrust upon them. Every time hands-on, multi-sensory ways of learning are replaced by subjects that can be assessed through high-stakes testing, we sacrifice the best kind of learning. And therefore, we are sacrificing our children.