Friday, April 4, 2008

The Hostile Educational Climate of Testing

I'm a teacher. At this point, I'm just about a year away from having earned a doctorate in Education. I can't stand the thought of my kids going to school when standardized testing is ruling the terms of the classroom.

No Child Left Behind is un-researched, underfunded, and simply senseless. I can't imagine why--despite the glittering generality of the title of the bill--people voted for it. There is no reason to believe that all children learn at the same pace. There is no reason to believe that some students just aren't ready to go on to the next grade. There is no reason to believe that every student in every corner of America should be learning the same things at the same times and demonstrate the same skills. It's nothing short of madness.

The federal government pays for about 10% of public schools. Despite that small amount of funding, No Child Left Behind intrudes upon each and every classroom and, essentially, dictates a common curriculum for all students to learn. I see three major problems with it.

Problem #1: Educational Diversity

In nature, species survive through genetic diversity. If the climate changes, a new predator is introduced, or a certain disease comes through, the variety of genetic make-up will help some of those creatures survive. Those advantageous genetic qualities will the be passed on, improved upon, and posterity will benefit. You can't expect every creature to survive every epidemic, but you can, reasonably, expect that the species will push on. This is why inbreeding is frowned upon in polite societies of animals; too much of one specific gene pool will result in decreased genetic diversity.

In Universities, they don't hire their own graduates most of the time. If UT hires only UT alumni, they will, in effect, be in-breeding. They will have a lack of educational diversity which will lead to narrow thinking. This narrow thinking will result in a lack of diversity for problem solving--all people will approach problems in the same way, drawing from the same education, and at some point, a problem will come along that will be unsolvable to them.

This is what we're doing to the nation at large. If every student is forced to learn the same materials for the same purposes, the homogeony will make the country much less creative problem solvers. We will be faced with plenty of problems that will be unsolvable.

Problem #2: Common Denominators

Many students who are behind in class are there because they are way ahead of the class. They get bored, frustrated, and end up living in their own heads rather than paying attention. Then they can't demonstrate the skills that were taught simply because the subject matter wasn't engaging to them.

This is why we push for smaller class sizes. It's not just that each student gets more attention, but that each class can move faster, or, at a pace more common to all the students. By saying that we won't go on without every last student, even the bright students might be chastised for holding the classroom back.

Problem #3: Negligence

The worst advertisement I've ever seen was for Kindermusik. It showed a girl playing a drum and said, "The same rhythm she uses for music, she'll use for dribbling down the court." So that's the value of music education? What it can do for your basketball skills?

This has been the attitude towards educating the arts for as long as I can remember. I took a lot of music when I was younger and was always disgusted when someone would mention that music was good for your math skills. I always thought that math was good for your music skills.

Arts aren't just good for learning the important stuff: they are the important stuff. By focusing testing and benchmarks on English and Math, schools neglect not only music and art, but science and history as well. These things are important. These are the way that we move a culture forward. They are what being human is about, even if they don't use it to benefit society. Or basketball.

No Child Left Behind, by focusing on the "practical skills" is, in a sense, saying that education is for making money in the future. It's not. Education is supposed to be for thinking for yourself, understanding of your place in the world, and should, ideally, enhance your creative skills. Let's see them demonstrate creativity by filling in a bubble with a number two pencil.

I live for the day when we realize that some students may not be ready to move on--even emotionally. And when we see that some students should move very much farther on. If we could take the funding for NCLB, and many other ridiculous educational programs and put it to making smaller class sizes and increasing the range of subjects that students can learn, we will make out country a stronger place.

Or, we can just give programs fancy sounding names that limit our students and look fancy to our constituents so we can stick around the beltway a little longer and increase our salaries. That's a good idea, too.

Education vs. Schooling (On


Roberta said...

I just Stumbled Upon your blog today and read this old entry, but I have to say "Amen!". Our children are losing so much to NCLB - a quality education, the ability to think critically, recess in many places! My daughter will soon be 4, and I dread sending her to public school because of the current atmosphere of education.

Dave Yates said...

I'm a stay-at-home Dad and am enjoying looking through your previous articles and this really hit it home for me. My wife is a teacher of six years and finishing her masters, and you have reflected her thoughts on this almost exactly. I think it is so bad that we will fine a way to do our own schooling or "unschooling" as it may be. My wife feels that all she does is test the kids on everything, sometimes spending more time testing on a subject then teaching it. I'm not sure either candidate for president had the right plan, and unfortunately I believe Ron Paul might have had the best ideas. Unless something changes drastically before my 3yr old is ready for school we will be taking matters into our own hands.