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Thompson: Polarizers Suck, Says John Merrow

PolarizingI applaud John Merrow's depolarizing statements in "A Polarized Education System."  But, I must admit, I am most supportive of his polarizing statements.  Even as he calls for an end to our education wars, Merrow speaks the truth in ways that are as vivid as the angriest of teachers.  He condemns the "vicious attacks" on teachers, while complaining, "Companies like Pearson are getting rich while we blather and battle." Merrow sounds as belligerent as any educator when he protests "turning away special needs children or suspending tough-to-educate kids just before the state tests are given."  Merrow is even blunter than teachers' representatives dare to be when protesting, "Why don’t we eliminate recess for white kids and replace it with drill and practice and test-prep? That’s what we do for (to) black and brown kids, isn’t it?"  In addition to articulating these perennial protests by our champions (who are called polarizing) he concludes with, "the important point — children become what they repeatedly do. So, if our kids spend an inordinate amount of time practicing to take tests, and taking tests and more tests, what will they be like as adults?"JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via.

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Answering your (both Johns, Merrow and Thompson) last question, based on what I saw in Asia, it may well be that they will be generally disciplined and responsible, but intellectually dead. One of the most extraordinary, yet common, there, sights for me in Korea was to see young men in their late 20s, dressed in semi-stylish suits and ties and looking like adults, engrossed in comic books on their subway trains, sometimes even getting off and stopping into comic book lounges on their ways home from work. This incongruity -- 20-somethings dressed like 40-somethings and reading like pre-teens -- may be the result of a system that stresses test scores and succeeds in instilling basic skills, but at an enormous loss to the kind of intellectual and cultural life that I admire.

I think that’s something I’ve talked about before, and agree with, Bruce. There is certainly admirability in being able to prove basic competency via test scores (well, okay, only minimally so), but it’s worth little without retaining cultural identity.

Thanks, Sarah; and I think it's not just cultural identity, but cultural decline, with regard to what's going on in the arts and humanities. Overvaluing, and underinterpreting, test scores can cause unnecessary and harmful consequences. For example, this week we received our son's scores from last May's state tests in English and mathematics, and while Ryan scored advanced in both categories, his (Korean) mom was dismayed that a Korean friend's son got a higher score than Ryan did in ELA, in spite of that boy's having only been here for a year or two. Jay's accomplishment is praiseworthy; but I've heard the boy talk, and there is no way that his English is better than Ryan's. Right now Ryan is writing chapter 44 (there are only 43 in Twain's work) of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", which Ryan recently finished reading; but there are no requirements for actual writing or speaking, that is, language production, on our state English tests, largely because that would make them expensive to grade; so the parents get back distorted, limited results, and make bad decisions on the basis of those data, because of a poorly designed testing and reporting system.

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