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Thompson: Its the Culture Stupid

Future-of-freedom-440 In one of his last posts, Gerald Bracey wrote: "I do think that US schools which, far more than schools in other nations, encourage students to ask questions (one of the best ways of learning), give us an edge up. In most nations, as neither a student nor a professor do you ask questions.... I know that some countries, like Japan, who beat the bejesus out of us on tests do not garner Nobels because their culture discourages professors from undertaking the high-risk research that usually leads nowhere but occasionally leads to breakthroughs and Nobels (no US educational researcher is currently in danger of winning a Nobel, for the same reason; maybe Geoffrey Canada down the road). I think that culture gives the US an edge, not the schools."

Bracey was not alone in worrying that test mania is destroying the best of public education. The ideas of the late Ted Sizer “were not compatable with the current vernacular of standardization and testing, ...

He believed you really have to know your students and your teaching, and your school has to be responsible to kids as they are and not as data points or widgets on an assembly line.” And Deborah Meier just wrote,"Passing the idea of democracy on to the next generation is also no easy matter. It's not intuitive, we're not born democrats. Children need to see, feel, hear, and touch what "society" itself means; best of all in a setting in which there are diverse subcultures, viewpoints, and, thus, disagreements to be contended with."

So, history teacher Christopher L. Doyle is in great company when he writes "I propose a brief experiment in citizenship: Find a teenager and ask her if she thinks she will grow up to lead a free life. The results might give you pause. When I asked this of my upper-middle-class high school students recently, nearly every one of these 11th and 12th graders said 'no.'

... Compared to other generations, children now seem overprescribed. They have less time to play on their own outside the authority of adult coaches, teachers, and minders. They take more standardized tests. They get more homework. They are far more likely to be diagnosed with a psychological malady of the stress, depression, or attention-deficit variety and to be medicated.

I like to believe we could change direction. For starters, we could repeal the No Child Left Behind Act, offer free public education through college, eliminate most standardized tests, reconfigure town planning to make neighborhoods accessible to bicycles and pedestrians, and slash homework requirements. ...

We see, already, that the current state of prescription has produced a backlash: binge drinking is up, rates of mental illness among teenagers have risen, academic cheating is on the rise. Jonathan Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation shows how poor, inner-city schoolchildren suffer intellectually and spiritually in overregimented schools.... I question how the ends justify the means.

Since 1776, Americans have touted freedom as the essence of our exceptionalism. We remove it from childhood at our peril." - John Thompson

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John--While I agree that the quality of many standardized tests is sub-par at best, and while I would love to see a richer array of measures applied to school accountability, do you think we can do without some degree of standardization? Aren't there big implications for equity?

Claus,

I realize that we aren't going to act on these reminders in the foreseeable future. But periodically we need to remind ourselves of the vision we need.

John, great post. Loved that you managed to squeeze in our entire national history. But re: the testing stuff. There is a pretty simple set of changes we could make that would, I think, give every one what they need without killing anyone in the process:

1. NAEP test used nationally at grades 4 and 8. (I know some changes to the statistical modeling would need to be made to scale up into the low millions but psychometricians aren't shy about new models.

2. ACT/SAT at 11th grade for HS diploma in three "flavors"

a. Two-Year Qualified. Take the median score acceptable for two year colleges in each state and set this as minimum passing pointl

b. Four-year Qualified. Take the median score acceptable for four year colleges in each state and set this as the next level.

c. Fully Qualified. Take the highest scored required by the most elite institution in the state and use that for the top band.

This approaches solves most problems currently associated wtih standardized testing:

1. Can't teach to the test anymore.
2. Can't justify taking learning time away from test preparation.
3. Data can't be gamed by states in "race to the bottom" fashion.
4. No more unfunded mandates to states -- Utah stays in the Union!
5. NAEP and ACT/SAT are the only tests people trust.
6. Number of kids who score at each level predicts the number of potential open slots states have to provide at two and four year institutions.
7. Much less likely to succumb to Campbell's Law effects.
8. Probably cheaper in the long run than what were doing now.
9. Reorients the standards movement in a way that might actually sense to people.
10. Kids get a break from non-stop testing and test preparation.
11. Narrowing of the curriculum is ended.

What do you think?

Steve

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