Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Vomiting Canaries in the Coal Mine

We've all heard of the famous canary in the coal mine, whose sensitivity to toxic gas provided an early warning to miners. (But who knew they were in use in British mines as recently as 1986?)

Like canaries, kids are also sensitive to a toxic environment. They show their distress through depression, anxiety, crying jags, tantrums, regression, and psychosomatic ailments like headaches, stomachaches, and vomiting.

Increasingly, I'm seeing reports of kids vomiting because of the pressure of standardized tests. Here's a few I've rounded up:

from the Pro Teacher Forum:

When I taught in a different state, we tested in first grade. Kids cried, threw up, got headaches. It was horrible.

and again:

When I taught in Missouri, we gave the ITBS to our first graders. Most didn't care. Some, the really good students got headaches, some cried, one actually threw up. It was just too much for those first graders who understood that it was a test.

and here:

A grandfather I know is raising a granddaughter. He went to her school on taas (taks this year) day, despite the wishes of the school. He stood in the hallway and watched teachers take *9* children (probably third-graders) to the bathroom to throw up. The teachers were shaking their heads and making comments such as "This is so wrong."

(Note: "taas" and "taks" are standardized tests implemented in Texas.)

The kids are telling us they're too stressed out, but are we listening?


  1. PsychMom said:

    And then there were the teachers who were discussing cheating on the tests and what happens when test forms get ruined, and one teacher commented on how a kid had vomitted on a form once and the principal had to save the form regardless.

    It's really sad because if biologists noticed this kind of behaviour in a population of wild animals, there would be such a hue and cry over it, about how mankind is stressing these poor animals. Nobody likes to watch a caged lion or tiger pacing back and forth. We recognize this as unhealthy for animals. Why can't we see the effects of stress in our own children?

    Clearly something is wrong with this system.

  2. Time to throw the test off by encouraging our children to FAIL THEM ON PURPOSE. See who can get the most wrong answers! Make it a game! :)

    The children don't get sick over tests because they're tests. They're getting sick because their favourite teacher could lose her job if they fill in the wrong stupid bubbles on a scan-tron sheet!

    WHY AREN'T THE TEACHERS REVOLTING?? I mean, the union is supposed to work for good WORKING CONDITIONS for its members. Having the workers' jobs dependent on the test is not the smartest thing, I wouldn't imagine...

  3. It would be bad enough if high schoolers were throwing up over the SAT -- but at least there really is a reason for them to care about what scores they get on the SAT. But first-graders? What possible excuse is there for putting any pressure on them to do well on standardized tests? A good score doesn't benefit the kid who gets it at all; it just benefits the school personnel. Could there be a clearer case of schools putting the interests of the institution ahead of those of the kids?

  4. Where I live, hockey coaches don't' think kids have had a good practice unless they throw up afterward! But at least you could argue that in sports, the kids (or their parents) have a choice. With standardized tests the kids have no choice. In Ontario, students aren't tested until grade 3 (and then again in grade 6). Still too early in my books (I'd prefer never), but to test in grade just boggles the mind!