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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why Standardizing Lowers Thinking Requirements

"I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think."
-- Socrates

"I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think."
-- Anne Sullivan

When I taught Social Studies, I started each class period with a motivational quote and "This Day In History" brief. I had a former student (from 9 years ago) tell me he still has his Daily Starter Notebook with each quote and history quip.

I like quotes. I like to exegete and interpret them. So I came across the two quotes above a few days ago, and began to work on understanding these out of context thoughts.

At first glance these sentiments appear to contradict each other. But upon closer inspection, they really say the say thing. Socrates is not claiming that he taught his students to think, but that by his method he encouraged the innate curiosity of the brain to work. Sullivan, the miracle worker, said the same thing; the brain seeks to understand, we don't have to artificially make that happen.

As we have made education a Henry Ford type of assembly line, it should not come as a surprise to us that the thinking requirements have decreased. However, it amazes me that so many people do not see this as a result of standardized education. To be standard means to be alike, the same. Some try to preach "high standards" but that is doublespeak. High standards compared to what? I still claim that the "normal" classes I took in school required more thinking than today's "advanced" classes.

Common sense tells us that not every child will reach the highest level of thinking at the same time (if ever). Mental disabilities will hinder the standardization of the brain among children. But Sullivan knew that Helen's brain was looking for stimulation and could already "think."

Can we admit that our country does not value the individual student? We can't. The system, under the current paradigm, will not allow it. We are forced to dumb-down the curriculum to meet standardized measurements. Once we determine an acceptable, standard level of the masses, one of two things will happen: a) we will find that our standards were too low, and raise them slightly (which will become someone's political platform) or b) we will find that the standards were too high, and restructure tests to provide an acceptable level (to save someone's political platform). Seriously, it will be easier for the government to change tests than to improve student accuracy.

My opinion is that option B will win out. I also think it will win out within the next four years, just before the 2012 elections. You heard it here first. :-) Statistics will tell any story one wants to tell.

What's easier?
Raise levels of thinking;
Make questions easy to answer?

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