Today my students are taking the ISTEP+. I have a really hard time finding value in tests like these. My students have read, understood, interacted with, and reflected on texts that are so much more meaningful than those provided by the state for the purposes of the testing. My only hope is that they don’t get flustered. Every day before we take the test, I remind them what my mom used to tell me. “All I ask is that you do your best. I can’t ask any more of you than your best, and I certainly don’t expect any less.”
I think my problem is that these tests serve one purpose and one purpose only, which is to rank students on an artificial scale. They are, in my opinion, a means to a capitalist end, as are grades. If we rank and file students, then it makes them easier to control as adults. We can begin, at an early age, to sort them into who they will become.We determine through these tests who will succeed and who will fail. Though we claim that they do otherwise, they do not. They do not access how well the students have mastered what they have taught, they simply measure whose parents have shown interest in them throughout the school year, whose home lives are relatively stable, and whose creativity and ability to be intellectually curious has been sucked from them to the highest degree. They don’t want you to be creative. They want you to be drones.
Imagine an educational system in which students’ levels of ability determined what section of each subject they would attend, instead of their ages or grade levels. Imagine if students were encouraged at whatever level they function at, instead of constantly being forced to attain a level beyond their capabilities or below their capabilities, in some respects. Imagine a school in which a student’s age did not determine your curriculum, but his intelligence and interest level did. Imagine graduating student who had for all the years of school been asked to do their best because teachers cannot possibly accept less nor require more. What would this world look like if we leveled the very first playing field, education? There is plenty of time to be sorted out into the haves and have-nots throughout adulthood, but I think if we re-imagined education, we’d eventually close that gap.Of course, it might mean graduating students at the age of thirteen or fourteen if they’re intellecutally capable. Are we ready for that? No.
Because we’d no longer be in such drastic and marked competition with each other, we’d also place equal value on people who work in the service sector, recognizing that their abilities are just as necessary for our culture to function. A custodian who cleans the hospital, a housekeeper who does the laundry, and the nurse who creates the sterile environment, are just as important in a successful surgery as the surgeon who performs the task and gets the glory. Without the hierarchical form of education we now deem necessary, the surgeon may recognize at an early age that his success depends upon the success of his classmates.
There may also be an increase in students who don’t feel the pressure of going to college, who will choose to live a different lifestyle by taking a minimum-wage job and living frugally. Right now education is on a strange teleological path that ends with the heaven of the ivory tower, but what if we taught our students that there is more to life than being financially stable, owning multiple cars, a big house, and a summer cottage? What would happen then? What our students realized they didn’t have to buy into the nonsense that is the US capitalist economy? We just might end up with a few more geniuses.