Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How The Peanuts Movie Failed Our Children

Rejection after rejection after rejection.

As my high school classmates were receiving big, thick college acceptance letters, I was opening only paper thin, small enveloped rejections.  But it wasn't until opening a rejection from my "safety" school, the lowest ranking of any school I'd considered, that I started to worry.  See, though I'd applied to 8 or 10 universities, there was only one I was willing to attend.  I'm not sure what set my sights on the highly acclaimed Boston College, but I knew that was where I needed to be.  So much so that if I weren't accepted, I told my mother I wanted to take a year off and reapply.

While she never said so, at least to me, I know that declaration made my mother a nervous wreck.  "Numbers don't lie" people say.  So when my SAT scores came back in a three digit number, she had plenty of cause for alarm.  I held out hope.

When my college counselor spoke with the admissions department at Boston College, shortly after my acceptance, she was told I would not have been accepted if it weren't for my essays.  "By the skin of your teeth" people say.  And surely that's how I got accepted into Boston College, where I landed on the Dean's List 7 of 8 semesters and graduated with a double major.

Thankfully both BC and I knew I was worth way more than my SAT score.  Sadly, Charlie Brown may not know the same.

Overall, The Peanuts Movie was cute.  Visually it was well done, and though the main plot revolves mostly around Charlie Brown's silly crush on a new neighbor, the story successfully involves each of the characters in a nature true to the history of the franchise.  Charlie Brown is the same "lovable loser" as we've always seen him.

Until, that is, he learns he is the first student in the history of his school to receive a perfect score on a standardized test.  Once surrounded in the hallways by googly-eyed schoolmates staring at his "100%" on the bulletin board, suddenly Charlie Brown is worth something.  Not only to himself, but to everyone around him.  Suddenly he is the most popular, most sought after boy in school, showing more confidence than ever before.  Even Lucy wants to be near him.

It isn't until during a school assembly set to celebrate Charlie's achievements that he learns (*spoiler alert*) that the perfect score is not in fact his.  His cheeks blush, his voice cracks and his self-worth plummets right before the eyes of the entire school, the crush- and the young film audience.

No one tells Charlie Brown that his intelligence, imagination and value as a human being have nothing to do with the standardized test score.  No one tells him that his creativity and caring nature cannot be reflected in a number.  And certainly no one tells him that sending a message to impressionable children that their ability to succeed (or be loved) can be numerated by a bubble test is as dangerous as it is irresponsible.

I'd always assumed that by the time I entered my forties standardized tests would be a thing of the past, just as I assumed we'd be driving spaceships as cars like The Jetsons.  We've made some progress toward both, but aren't there quite yet.  My own daughters, now 5 and 7, don't have long before sharpening a number two pencil, squeezing their too long names into too few bubbles and answering multiple choice questions strategically written to confuse them and gage their ability at the same time.  And while I'd like to say their scores at that time will be somewhat irrelevant, I know they won't be.

Hopefully, no matter the result, I can convince them otherwise.