|A land surveyor from the perspective of an eight-year-old|
How do we evaluate progress in our children? Whether we are measuring academic progress, spiritual progress, progress in their chores, progress in their sibling/social interaction, how do we surmise that they have gone from a position of relative immaturity in an area to a place of more maturity? I am not a trained educational expert, nor am I a child psychologist, nor am I a pastor or certified counselor, but I am a land surveyor. I am a professional measurer. People pay me to measure their real estate to a very high degree of precision, culminated by a rubber stamp on a plat by which I stake my livelihood on the fact that I’m right.
I am also a father—have been for 15 years. I never finished college, but I’m working very hard on my PhDad. By God’s grace we’ll graduate these six young people into godly adulthood.
So, I’ve been thinking lately that measuring our children’s growth is a lot like measuring land (and also a lot different, but work with me here.) What many people don’t know, or at least don’t think about very often, is that the boundaries of a piece of property can never be measured any more precisely than the instruments used to measure it, combined with the ability of a surveyor to use those instruments well. On top of all this is the fact that land surveyors are human. This is not to say that they’ll make mistakes, although that will happen; this is to say that a surveyor can only measure as precisely as a surveyor can see, hear, touch, and reason, i.e., surveyors are limited by the reality that they are finite beings.
For example, someone may say, “My deed says I own 100 feet of road frontage, and, by golly, I want my 100 feet—no more, no less.” What the poor land owner doesn’t realize is that there is no way for a human to measure EXACTLY 100 feet. Exactly 100 feet would mean not 100.01 feet, nor 99.99 feet. It would also mean, not 100.001 feet, nor 99.999 feet. It would also mean, not 100.0001 feet nor 99.9999 feet. Do you see what I’m getting at? No man or woman can measure 100.00000000000000000000000000…ad infinitum feet. It is impossible. Those significant figures you learned about in 9th grade Physical Science actually do have a “real world” application. By Tennessee Statute, I am required to certify to the hundredth place, but in all honesty, 100.02 feet or 99.98 feet is highly likely to actually be the measurement for a distance that I certified as being 100.00 feet. There is simply no human way to avoid it.
What does this have to child-rearing? A child is not a distance in a deed, and the tools for measuring are neither analog nor electronic, therefore no one can measure a child’s progress who does not know that particular child. A child is a person, created in the image of the triune God of heaven and earth. Outward growth, in height or in shoe size, can be measured to about the same degree of accuracy as a piece of land, but what about the rest of them? They are every bit as much spiritual beings as they are material beings, created in the very image of their Creator. Therefore, the Creator’s very own nature—revealed in His creation, in His Book, and in His Son—is the only possible standard for fully measuring those who bear his image. The standard for measurement is more than material, and the progress to be measured is more than material. The fruits to be measured are words and attitudes and actions.
Standardized testing would be an example of measuring children like you would measure land. If the goal of child-rearing is a 36 on the ACT, which is a fine goal in and of itself, don’t get me wrong, then at the end of the test you can check that particular box a “pass” or a ”fail,” but kids don’t come with pass/fail boxes, at least not in the long run. They can fail a math test; they can fail a Latin quiz, but not by getting less than a certain percentage right. That percentage is arbitrary. It is an assigned value; it is not the whole story.
If your child gets 9 out of 10 correct, then the grade of 90% on a quiz is actually 90.000000000000000...%, which is even more accurate than land surveying, but the child is more complex than that one test. The child is more beautifully complex than all the tests from K-4 through their PhD could ever hope to evaluate. A gifted student could simply do their homework and score 100% on many Saxon math tests, and to the contrary, a student who struggles with math could study for hours and only get half of them correct. A percentile cannot measure diligence because it cannot measure the heart nor can it measure the effort that went into that percentage.
In surveying, my equipment can only measure to the level of precision inherent within the design, even if I use it perfectly. In life, your child’s progress can never be totally encapsulated in a percentage point, which may be totally accurate but will never tell the whole story. Our children are so much more than “test-takers,” albeit that is one of their jobs, and we will never be perfect “child surveyors,” although that is one of our jobs. They are finite, moreover sinful, image-bearers of God, and we are finite, moreover sinful, image-bearers of God. In Christ, they are not condemned for failing a test, and in Christ, we are not condemned for testing inaccurately. If He had wanted us to run like cogs in a machine, He would’ve made us cogs in a machine. Instead, He made us people, so the limitations inherent within the design are the limitations we have to work with.
Sometimes in land surveying we run across what we call a “paper survey.” This is a survey that reveals to a high level of certainty that the certifying surveyor of a particular plat never cast his eyes on the subject property, much less set foot on it to take an actual measurement. There are several ways to guess this is the case, but without going into details here, I want to make an application to child rearing: we need to be careful to avoid “paper surveys” of our children’s progress. In other words, in order to know if they’ve progressed, we have to have attended unto them personally in great detail for a long while. We have to set foot on the property. We have to be there to measure. We have to know where they’ve started in order to know how far they’ve come toward their goal. A measurement cannot be taken if a line (or a ray) does not have a starting point. We must know our child’s individual starting point if we are ever to know if they’ve made progress.
This was made clear to me just a couple of days ago. On Wednesday, I reviewed my son’s “phonogram” flash cards with him. He got most of them right, but not all. On Friday morning, he came to the breakfast table with face all aglow, a smile from ear to ear, and good news to tell me. He reported to me that he had gotten two more of his flash cards mastered during school on Thursday. This is memorable for me because this is the first time he has ever come to me with “academic news” from the previous day. What changed? Why did he have news to tell me? Why was he grinning?
What changed? I had worked with him personally on Wednesday. I thereby had my “starting point” from which to measure. I had a starting point; he had a starting point, and he KNEW it.
Why did he have news to tell me? Because news isn’t news unless something’s changed. The status quo has to change in order for anyone to care what the news anchorman is saying. My son’s academic progress had become news between us because I knew the status quo from Wednesday, and he knew that it had changed on Thursday.
Why was he grinning from ear to ear? Because he knew I cared about his education. I had taken the time on Wednesday to show that I cared by reviewing his flash cards with him. He knew that I cared, and he knew that I would be pleased that he had made progress. Without the starting point, there could have been no measurement. Without the flash card review, there would have been no news report for me on Friday and certainly no grins for papa caused by academic progress.
If we, as dads, can make the time to be directly involved in our children’s education, there will be farther-reaching progress than higher grades on spelling quizzes. For that matter, there will be higher gains than a PhD from Harvard Law. God designed children to be nurtured by their parents. God designed little boys and little girls (and big boys and big girls) to want to tell their dads how well they’ve done. We are designed to do this together. If we are absent, then it doesn’t matter how much we may say we believe in “intelligent design,” we will have denied that design at its core. As surely as a land surveyor cannot measure a deed distance without being present on the property, we cannot measure their academic progress without being there…on the ground…in the fight, and we cannot minister to their eternal needs of love and sanctification if we are not there in their lives…on the ground…in the fight.