Such, Such Were the Joys

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?

7 thoughts on “Such, Such Were the Joys

  1. Conversation with myself! A comment on another thread mentioned “PSEO”, which I had to look up because I had never heard of it. It turns out to stand for “Post Secondary Enrollment Options”, and is basically a program that enables high school kids to take college-level classes.

    This trend of pushing the curriculum younger and younger has gotten way out of hand. Education should not be a race.

    It’s no coincidence that the straw that broke the camel’s back for us was an “accelerated” math class that attempted to push my 10-year-old daughter through 2 grade levels of math in 1 year.

    Getting through material faster does not mean that education has been improved.


  2. You know FedUpMom what strikes me as odd too? There was such a hue and cry that high school students weren’t “prepared” back maybe 20-25 years ago, for the demands of college or university. There was the assumption (wrong) that ALL kids should go to college or university. I always interpreted the lack of preparation meant that they couldn’t put a cogent sentence together.

    But what was the fix? Now, kids in kindergarten are being tested, Grade 2 kids are introduced to probability theory, Grade 5 kids are learning trigonometry, and Grade 7’s are expected to do independent study projects using Powerpoint. High school kids are doing first year college courses. Everyone in the public school system ( and even more so in private schools) was pushed and rushed in their academic learning across the board, not just in reading and writing skills. So now we have kids that not only can’t write, they are wiped out and stressed, are proficient in nothing but book learning, and those are the kids that make it to the end of Grade 12. All the pushing (as is true of all pushing) didn’t really get us anywhere.


  3. This was well said on kitchen table math:

    This brings up something that’s been rattling around in my head. Seems like in so many realms, the schools have completely lost track of developmentally appropriate strategies. They are applying a very simple model. Whatever they are striving for, they try to accelerate. Doesn’t work that way.


    How to develop expertise:
    Schools–put the kids in undefined environments and encourage them to think and act like experts.
    In reality–provide kids (people) opportunities for knowledge acquisition, then synthesis and opportunities to apply their knowledge, over lengthy time periods (years), with the happy outcome of creating an expert (at the end).

    How to make sure kids learn algebra:
    Schools–teach algebra at earlier and earlier ages
    In reality–teach basic math better, prior to teaching algebra

    How to teach kids to handle long term/multiple projects:
    Schools–give them long term/multiple projects at earlier and earlier ages. If this does not seem to work, go even earlier.
    In reality–start with small nightly homework, several years of assignment books, parsed out assignments, frequent check-ins, short projects one at a time.

    This is true in other areas too–

    How to produce confident independent child:
    Wrong–force child into independence early, cry it out, tough it out, figure it out
    Right–meet child’s many needs with constant love, attention, affection; kill boogey men; kiss away tears.

    The general principle that I’m trying to articulate is that if you want to achieve a certain goal, you don’t do it by prematurely acting as if you’ve achieved the goal. You don’t do Z at an earlier age to achieve Z at a later age. You do X and Y at the earlier ages, which then allow you to move forward and achieve Z. The “X” and the “Y” are what developmentally appropriate education is all about.

    I don’t always agree with the folks at KTM, but in this case I’m on their side. If the curriculum isn’t effective, pushing it a year (or more!) younger solves nothing.


  4. On second thought, I’d probably argue about the “short nightly homework” too. It could be OK if it began late (middle school), and was short and actually useful.


  5. This message sings to me FedUpMom!…thank you.

    I’m struggling with a decision I made last week about allowing my kid to do a school event that I think she’s too young for but that is “something the school has done for years” with this age group. It just doesn’t work for me. I know that she’ll adjust, but why should she have to at age 8?

    “Wrong?–?force child into inde­pen­dence early, cry it out, tough it out, fig­ure it out”

    Soooo true.


  6. “On second thought, I’d probably argue about the “short nightly homework” too. It could be OK if it began late (middle school), and was short and actually useful.”

    I’m with you, FUM. I caught that too. I was on their side until that comment, short nightly homework. It jumped out at me, I began shaking my head. Don’t go there, I thought, don’t give that inch. I’ve heard too many parents say, well, it’s useless, but it’s short. In our case, it was never short. And if it’s useless, it doesn’t deserve a minute, let alone ten.

    A practitioner once said to us, “well, it doesn’t appear useful but well, you can’t change the schools. So just do it, promise a reward and then give her longer tv time.” What? Um, I don’t think so, not how we run things in my household. We didn’t do the “take this bitter pill so you can move on to the good stuff, television.” That is not how I instill a love of learning.

    If the homework is so short, what good does it do? If it’s longer, it displaces more important endeavors.


  7. Although it was supposedly a Montessori school, I went to a private school for elementary school as a middle-class kid on scholarship and had an extremely similar experience minus the corporal punishment and sexual taboos and rancid conditions. Sadly, among the upper-middle-class and upper class in America today, there is still a poisoned air of snobbery for the middle class children at private schools to inhale. Strangely, I took the opposite position of Orwell leaving elementary school, as I perceived (based on what I had heard) of middle school, high school, college, and the real world, as being far, far worse than my “cushy” elementary school, and resolved to work as hard as I could to prove my strength and endurance. Ah, how I do not miss those days of being filled with anger and contempt and never being good enough.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: