Yesterday’s Thoughts

May 25, 2009

Standardized Tests and National Security

One of James Fallows’ readers comments on teaching to students in China and their obsession with the standardized test (gaokao) that will determine their future.

The only thing that matters is the test, and doing well on the test is a matter of memorizing a number of decontextualized facts. The worst affect by far of the exam system is that it creates a distorted and poverty stricken idea of what education is and how to engage in it. These students hunger for real engagement, real knowledge, real education, but they don’t know what it is or how to look for it.

The thing that bothers me more than anything else, though, is that the educational system in the U.S. is being pushed down the same road. The increasing emphasis on standardized testing, something which teachers almost universally deplore, is leading to the Sinification of American education. If things continue in the direction they are going, the U.S. will soon have a system that is just as rigid and anti-creative as China. From having taught in both places, I think the U.S. is already well on its way.

From that point, my mind can go a hundred directions.

For some reason, today, it went to national security. Our educational system has already failed us, with catastrophic consequences for national security. Somehow we were presented with a pastiche of fact about Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, and threats to our national security and neither average Americans, nor elite-educated Americans, were able to shift fact from fiction in any significant numbers.

How many facts does one have to memorize in order to develop the discernment to note that the “facts” one is being presented, have no basis in fact? Or perhaps more correctly, how many “facts” does one have to memorize in order to lose the discernment that those facts have no basis in fact?

Post a Comment