I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Calling Stupidity Stupid

Earlier, I blogged about the one absurd test item (that we know of) that came out of the last round of the NJASK. This follows on the heels of Pineapplegate, the absurd question on the 8th Grade NY Regents exam.

Diane Ravitch turns to the NJASK story, and asks a very good question:

What exactly is the point of this question? It does not ask the students to explain what he or she has learned. It is not related to what they were taught or should have learned.

It is intrusive, nosy, pointless, and stupid.
Hmm... what is the point? I think Jonathan Kozol, speaking on another topic, gives us a clue:
In some districts, even the most pleasant and old-fashioned class activities of elementary schools have now been overtaken by these ordering requirements. 
A student teacher at an urban school in California, for example, wanted to bring a pumpkin to her class on Halloween but knew it had no ascertainable connection to the California standards. 

Only Exam Stuff 

She therefore had developed what she called the 'Multimodal Pumpkin Unit" to teach science (seeds), arithmetic (the size and shape of pumpkins, I believe— this detail wasn't clear), and certain items she adapted out of language arts, in order to position "pumpkins" in a frame of state proficiencies. Even with her multimodal pumpkin, as her faculty advisor told me, she was still afraid she would be criticized because she knew the pumpkin would not really help her children to achieve expected goals on state exams. 
Why, I asked a group of educators at a seminar in Sacramento, was a teacher being placed in a position where she'd need to do preposterous curricular gymnastics to enjoy a bit of seasonal amusement with her class on Halloween? How much injury to state-determined "purpose" would it do to let a group of children have a pumpkin party once a year for no other reason than because it's something fun that other children get to do on autumn days in public schools across most of America? 
"Forcing an absurdity on teachers does teach something," said an African American professor, "it teaches acquiescence. It breaks down the will to thumb your nose at pointless protocols— to call absurdity 'absurd.'" 
Writing out the standards with the proper numbers on the chalkboard, even though these numbers have no possible meaning to the children, has a similar effect, he said. [emphasis mine]
Stupid questions on a pointless standardized test are coming from exactly the same place: this is all about control. Forcing students, teachers, and parents to accept this useless nonsense breaks down our will to call it what it is: stupidity.

It is stupid to think these exams should have the importance they have been given. It is stupid to think merely saying, "This is only part of the assessment!" validates the inappropriate way they are used. It is stupid to think these exams should be used to judge teaching practice.

No one wants to believe that they would waste their time - or worse, their children's time - with such idiocy. So our first impulse is to try to convince ourselves that there is some shred of value in any of this. We give the people who push this crap the benefit of the doubt. We mock those who point out that maybe the reformyists who push this stuff don't have the best of intentions.

But every time we docilely accept these stupid tests with their stupid questions, we learn passivity and compliance. Every time we shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, that's dumb, but whatever..." we learn to accept whatever new foolishness is shoved down our throats.

Forcing students to answer this test item, forcing teachers to administer this question, and forcing parents to accept this question is a particularly pernicious form of control, because it tells all of these stakeholders that they must passively accept stupidity when it is foisted on them.

I've worried about this before. Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex, but we ignored him; look where it got us:

Now we're prepared to head down the same path with education. But this time, I have more hope...

Because they are now messing with the lives of our kids. These people can throw a ton of money and mendacity at us while they sell the corporate reform agenda, but they will never be able to buy our love for our children. They will never convince us to do what we know is against the interests of our own kids.

So, all of you who send your children to private schools with huge per-pupil budgets and small class sizes and no standardized tests: keep trying to tell us that what's good enough for everyone else's kids isn't good enough for yours. All of you who have never spent a minute in front of a classroom: keep trying to tell us teachers how to manage our profession. All of you failed educators who now cluck your tongues at us from the seats of your limousines: keep trying to blame those of us who actually do the job for problems we never created.

You only dig your own graves deeper. Parents and teachers and students began by giving you the benefit of the doubt; we didn't want to believe you were really as duplicitous as you are. But you are messing with our kids, and we will not stand for it. We've have started to figure you out.

The rest of the nation will follow soon enough.

1 comment:

jcg said...

Stupid is as stupid does. (Sally Fields in 'Forrest Gump')