I have been intending to write something about standardization for the past couple days, but became distracted and depressed by the tragic events in Japan. I can't get my mind off the devastation and terrifying radiation unleashed by the earthquake and tsunamis. I feel strongly that we, along with the rest of the world, need to rethink our dependence on nuclear power. There is a real potential for such an accident to occur here, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that "we ought not to make American and domestic policy based upon an event that happened in Japan." This, to me, is a staggering form of compartmentalization, i.e., gross stupidity, ever more likely to encumber our population as we churn out disconnected skills instead of engaged human beings who think and feel, whose hearts are not amputated from their minds.
As long as we drill, baby, drill our students to memorize information and adopt skills in isolation from their real world contexts and consequences, we cannot be surprised when those individuals fail to react to moral, spiritual, and material crises. The CAHSEE exam must avoid "sensitive topics" such as religion, war, politics and poverty, to name just a few. While we don't want to disadvantage any student by crafting test questions in a culturally biased way, our fixation on these tests as the true measure of learning is bound to infantilize our society to the point that we can't think about or discuss anything of consequence.
How are we going to preserve our democracy unless we teach our kids to greet controversy with healthy dialogue? How can we inspire students to seek knowledge and cultivate wisdom unless we embrace our role as intellectuals? We are teaching and thinking in a political universe with real world consequences, not a testing arcade in which players rack up points. As schools and teachers continue to be judged and ranked by their performance on tests, more and more educators will accept the devil's bargain of rewarding and/or punishing students based on solely on their high stakes test scores. In short, we will be tempted to do to the students what we feel is being done to us. If our teacher performance is going to be scrutinized on the basis of these arbitrary measures, then we want the students to "buy in" to the urgency of effort and results. We can tell ourselves this is for their own good, but I suspect there is a selfishness at the core of all this behaviorist conditioning. We will inflict even those values we reject on our students out of desperation, frustration, and misplaced resentment. If we don't have the guts to rebel against the corporate sabotage of our profession, I fear we may wield a coercive power over our students in compensation.
Let's not lend legitimacy to the tyranny of the test. By incentivizing learning with grades, scores and competitive games, we are trivializing what is truly at stake when we choose to think or not to think: to be or not to be. Isn't that the question?