My opinion is that we don’t test enough in schools, and that we should lengthen the school year to accommodate more testing. (James Conner)
I linked to this post by Polish Wolf earlier, but took it down as it was also mixed up with Dr. Kailey. The post, entitled “Assessing Standardized Testing,” concerns that topic obviously, but is dry and unsatisfying, like most classes I took over the years (and continue to take to keep my CPA license in force). Somehow these two teachers (I include James Conner, who comments under PW’s post) have done what so many teachers do so well – they have taken an interesting subject and by brute force have made it dreary. Rote testing as the centerpiece of our education system is not a learning system, but rather one of thought control. Kids are restricted in avenues of inquiry. Teachers are removed from teaching. Most know it, but these two are doing what Democrats do (surprise!) – internalizing the concept, intellectualizing it, and submitting to it.
I should add here that I am an excellent test taker. I mastered the art prior to sitting for the CPA exam. Before studying any topic under review, I would take a self-administered test. I would get most of the answers wrong, of course, being unfamiliar. I would then study the material, and had questions in place. Lights came on as I read. I then took another test on the same material, getting most of it right. Those questions I still got wrong were the only things remaining to understand.
The CPA exam in those days was a rigorous two-day 19-hour test. It was draining, but I managed to pass all five parts my first sitting. What do I remember of all of that material? Not much. But the object of the exam is not so much the material as a weeding process, a barrier to entry to a lucrative profession. It’s not a test for the sake of a test so much as a way to keep in place artificially high prices for specialized services. Throughout all of my career I have automatic credibility because of those three letters after my name. But it’s only been years of practice and errors and cold sweat knowing I have screwed up that have made me worthy of the credibility. It was not the damned test.
Both Polish Wolf and Conner are missing out on teaching as it ought to be done – forget about spilling out what we already know and demanding that the kids read it back, rewarding those who best recall the boring details. That’s a sure-fire way to reinforce what we already have – systemized mediocrity. We have average people at critical junctions in every aspect of our lives except music, perhaps science. In those two professions, you cannot fake it. These average people are our teachers, administrators, gatekeepers, bureaucrats, dietitians, journalists, bankers. They did well in the testing system. They should be set aside for waiting tables or some other profession that does not require creativity. Instead, they run our damned lives. Look what they are doing to our kids – testing them to utter submissiveness!
Creative people often don’t test out well. We all develop by practice and failure, and when we are hit with a bad grade at every perceived failure, we learn to restrain our creative impulses. When we learn at the starting gate that the rewards are only for regurgitation, we lose our best people (bad students), and end up in a tyranny of mediocrity.
Here is Chomsky on this subject, taken from a recent interview:
The conflicts about what education ought to be go right back to the early Enlightenment. Here are two striking images that I think capture the essence of the conflict. One is the view that education ought to be about pouring water into a bucket. We all know from our own experiences that the brain is a pretty leaky bucket, so you can study for an exam on some topic in a course you’re not interested in, learn enough to pass the exam, and a week later you’ve forgotten what the course was. The water has leaked out. But this approach to education does teach you to be obedient and follow orders, even meaningless orders.
The other type of education was described by one of the founders of the modern higher education system, Wilhelm Von Humboldt, a leading figure and a founder of classical liberalism. He said education should be like laying a string that the student follows in his own way. In other words, giving a general structure in which the learner – whether it is a child or an adult – will explore the world in their own creative, individual, independent fashion. Developing, not only acquiring knowledge. Learning how to learn.
…this was described nicely by one of the great modern physicists, Victor Weisskopf, who died some years ago. When students would ask him what his course would cover, he would say “it doesn’t matter what we cover. It matters what we discover.