Two weeks ago, I turned over this space to Fedup Mom. In her first post she suggested that people read “Such, Such Were the Joys” by George Orwell and then answer several questions.
I read and loved the piece but I couldn’t be bothered to answer FedUp Mom’s questions and neither could anyone else. So for the next several Thursdays, FedUp Mom will answer the questions herself.
Such, Such Thursdays
by Fedup Mom
(from Such, Such Were the Joys)
Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas… At St. Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else.
[Vocabulary: “confidence trick” is the British equivalent of the American “con”.]
How does Orwell’s experience relate to today’s standardized-testing-infested public schools? Compare and contrast, if possible.
FedUp Mom’s ANSWER:
The parallel here is so close it’s painful. There is nothing new in schools staking their reputation on their student’s performance. There is nothing new in students being force-fed just what they will need for an exam, and no more.
In Orwell’s day, schoolboys had to study Latin and Greek to do well on the exams that would take them to the best “public” schools. Once they were done with school, of course, only a tiny minority of students would have any use for the Latin and Greek they worked so hard to learn.
In our own time, we have cut out the middleman. We teach test-taking skills directly, with no intervening content. Our kids work hard to learn to write a 5-paragraph essay or Brief Constructed Response that they will have no use for when they’re done with school.
What gets tested is what gets taught. If our goal is to get all kids testing at grade level, the child who starts the year testing above grade level can comfortably be ignored. Even better, why not lock in the test scores, by starting the year with most of the kids performing above grade level? This can be achieved by pushing the goals of each year down to the previous year. Kindergarten is the new first grade, and high school is the new college.
Of course, kindergarten kids may not be developmentally ready for first grade, and high school students have nowhere near as much free time as college students, but if the standardized test scores look good, why should the schools care?