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Colorado is flat

By {screen_name}
With apologies to Thomas Friedman, let's look for a moment at the flat and featureless state of Colorado education. Take, for example, the recently completed Colorado Geographic Bee conducted at the University of Denver on Friday, which I attended. The winner was one Autumn Hughes of Wheat Ridge, one of a string of home schoolers who have distinguished themselves of late in various bee competitions. It's worth noting that while her middle- and elementary-school companions were prepping last week for the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests (and taking them this week), Autumn was curling up with her beloved geography tomes. For her trouble, she gets a half-scholarship at DU, which ain't a bad day's work for a pre-teen, and a shot at $25,000 at the nationals. Now this is no brief for home schooling. Some kids do well, others return to public classrooms far behind their peers. Autumn's win is hers, not that of home schooling per se. But let's look a bit deeper. Autumn outdueled a Littleton eighth-grader, Alex Paul, by whose strong upper-class Brit accent we can reasonably infer reflects a wider experience than is offered in most Colorado public schools. Alex wasn't alone. There was a strong Brit accent in another finalist and then there was Jirka Hladis, who now attends middle school in Boulder and whose family hails recently from the Czech Republic. Four of 10 had, or so it appeared to a relatively trained eye, a limited acquaintance with Colorado public education, which is, as we know, geared to processing students to pass tests. Yet when it came to passing a geography test, students whose lives were geared to other priorities shone brightest. There's a lesson in there and it has nothing to do with CSAPs. It might have to do with passion and determination, neither of which is measured by the CSAP, but both of which are infinitely more important. As it happens, I was there with Mrs. Oh Really and the Oh Really siblings, one of whom was in the top 10 finishers. As to why Paul Harmon didn't do direct battle with Autumn, suffice to say that he was an early victim of The Mumbler. more on which another time. For now, though, it would be good to remember that the sinew and muscle of Colorado education is straining not for the heights of excellence as scaled by Autumn Hughes, but to get as many students as it can to huddle up on the broad, flat featureless plains of proficiency, well below the ken of Pikes Peak.