Wednesday, December 30, 2009

teaching to the test

In schools, we have become so focused on measuring that right and wrong answers rule the day. Black, white, no shades of gray and no polka dots or other forms of creative expression. Subtlety and nuance are out. A populace able to discern the value of diversity of opinion is nearly gone. In politics, right and left are at each others throats, and extreme partisanship threatens gridlock. There are nuts loose with guns threatening violence. Many observers are concerned that we are facing the end of effective governance, but I think that actually took place back when the US Congress failed to prevent George W. Bush's ill-conceived war in Iraq.

But what are the values we teach when we focus on right and wrong answers and directing our teaching efforts toward success in standardized testing? Do we tell our students that the subject material is of less importance than their success in memorization? That the grade is more important than the mastery of the material? ...That education is a pointless and unfulfilling game?

If any single child feels compelled to cheat to get better grades or test scores, then we have failed to convey to that child a clear sense of the purpose of education. And if we have no clear sense of the purpose of education to convey, then we have also wasted the opportunities that young lives present for the construction of a just and humane democratic culture. With that being too often the case, is it any surprise that we have a 30 percent dropout rate in American high schools?

There are better ways to measure educational success. For instance, when you make something from wood, you learn that there are many correct answers, but there is one "correct," purposeful and meaningful attitude, that of caring about the materials, the tools, and the quality of one's effort.

I have this strong suspicion that if we were to have woodworking education for all students, as was proposed by educational Sloyd we would have a populace much more capable of dealing in sophistication, subtlety, nuance, more tolerant of diversity of person and opinion, and far more capable of economic and cultural success. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be many who have noticed.

1 comment:

Cyrus said...

This was a well thought through argument and I completely agree. I am worried that our countries approach to education is failing too many and not getting the children engaged with the world with their hands and their minds. I applaud your approach.