Bars and Numbers


FullSizeRenderShe pulls her folder out of her backpack, and then the white envelope, placing it on the kitchen counter.

I see the look in her eyes.

Nervousness.  Anticipation.

I look at her, a reassuring smile.

We see the black bars of progress, showing where she is, where she should be, what should be accomplished at this point in the year.

“…using coordinating and subordinating conjunctions in a sentence…”

“…multiply side lengths to find areas of rectangles…”

“…can recognize and generate equivalent fractions…”

We look together.  Some above, some where they should be, some with potential. Her mixed look of happiness and disappointment.

“But I’ve worked so hard.”

You have.  I know you have.  And the woman who supports you everyday at the front of the class knows you have.  And there is so much pride in both of us.

But these white pieces of paper, with their lines and bar graphs and numbers with decimals, they left off some things about you.

Some really important things.

This part about percentages?  It doesn’t show that you have three jars on your dresser – one for spending, one for saving and one for giving, and you know how much of your money to put in each.  (And that you know how to calculate how much the sales tax will be on the new shoes you want to buy out of your ‘spend’ jar.)

This part about connections of ideas in a story?  It doesn’t show the books you have written in your room, the characters you’ve dreamt up, the laughter we’ve had in the family room when you read them to us.

I don’t see anything on here about caring for another living thing – knowing when it needs food and water and love.  Being able to sense that something is wrong and she needs care when another may not be able to tell.

There is also no grade for seeing that your Dad needs help, putting your sweater and boots on, going outside to see what you can do.

I can’t see a section on being able to hike out in the woods alone with your pack and your dog, to travel to a part of our woods you haven’t been before, and being able to find your way home.

I look at her.  Her eyes looking up at mine.

Your Dad is starting a fire in the pit out back.   Let’s go.

The flame is high.  The white papers go in and are slow to start.  They begin to burn in an arched line, then curl up until they are ash.

These bars and numbers and scores don’t define you.  They never will.

What’s in here, my hand by her heart.  And in here, my hand on her hair.  These papers can’t begin to encompass what’s inside.

These categories hold you as much as the earth holds the ashes of the remains – there for a minute and then gone.

So we move on.  We continue to work hard, do our best, and remember that we are capable of anything.

And not to let the bars and numbers make us believe differently.










8 responses to “Bars and Numbers”

  1. I’m in tears because I love this. It captures everything in my heart and even though I push my kids to do well in school, it’s only because I know they can do better, not because I want to see the scores change per se. I just threw away the state scores yesterday, the kids don’t care about how they compare to the other kids in the state, so why keep it as a reminder of what they are not. I would much rather focus on who they are.

    1. Thank you so much, Elizabeth! I completely agree. 🙂

  2. Seja, you’re such an inspiration for your children, and for us the reader. I’m proud to call you family.

  3. I was forwarded this post from a friend and I love it. I, too, always recycle my kids’ scores on the state/standardized tests and always point to whatever anecdotal things I’ve heard from the teacher as the most important things I learn about how he’s doing in school.. not a test. I wish all parents did this.

    It’s a beautiful post. May I share?

    1. Thank you so much for your message, Cathy! I love your point of speaking with your child’s teacher, hearing how they doing on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis, as opposed to an envelope that comes home. Thank you so much. Please feel free to share!

      1. Thanks! Will share. I am the chairperson of non-profit advocacy group called Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana. I will also be sharing it on our Facebook page which has an odd name (backstory). We work to raise awareness around issues facing our public schools in hopes that we can get people to advocate for them–and, ultimately, vote in the best interests of them! Thanks for the beautiful post!

  4. Wonderful sentiment, and thanks so much for sharing it!

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