26.10.05

KEEPING THE POOR POOR? Two views of the role of the university, its relationship to corporations, and the value of testing. Robert Miranda, writing at WisPolitics, is uneasy about workplace preparation and testing.

For decades our educational system has been structured through "testing"-the tests are designed to persuade the working class, and people of color that they and their children are intellectually incapable of performing as professionals, filling the better and higher paid jobs, or leading the nation. The book, "The Bell Curve" (Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray) provides us with an overt attempt to prove and justify this twisted logic. In fact, the book states that Latino immigration is contributing to the downfall of American national intelligence (p. 341). Statements such as this contribute to this wicked prevailing notion of intellectual inferiority within communities of color.

Indeed, tests help to screen the children of the working class, Latinos, Blacks and other communities of color away from universities and point them towards vocational and so-called "career" programs, effectively excluding them from the best jobs our nation has to offer. Many European and Asian models of higher education follow this doctrine of elitism effectively cutting off upward mobility of generations of workers.

University leaders understand this and over the years they have been eager participants and co-planners of the transformation of the university becoming a production-line plant for corporate research and development. [They] are ideologically indistinguishable as a group from the leaders of major multinational corporations, and share the same goals. The truth of the matter is that these ideological homogenous men (and women) have created a racially and class-biased system of education, and are doing so deliberately and with malice aforethought.

Kimberly at Number 2 Pencil notes that testing has some value. (Her focus is on a different argument than Mr Miranda's social stratification argument.)

What testing critics are hoping you don't notice with this type of criticism is the fact that, if you can't read and write and do basic calculations - skills for which test scores tend to be extremely good proxies - your chances of economic success in our society are extremely low, regardless of your academic or artistic abilities. Sure, there are kids with rock-bottom SATs who make big bucks on stage or on a playing field, but the percentage of Americans who make a living with those skills alone is pretty darn small.

What this type of testing critic wants you to conclude is that kids who do well on standardized tests have learned many literacy- and numeracy-related facts without really understanding them, that these skills are utterly separate from other mental and physical abilities, and that the development of skills that are measurable with tests always happens at the expense of other critical skills. I think that's nonsense. You want to teach your kids good habits of mind, good social skills, and some touch football or ballet as well? Then explain to them that, unless they're prodigies, they'll be supporting themselves with their minds, not their bodies, later on in life, and skills such as discipline and teamwork will serve them just as well later on life as they will on their upcoming exams.

Does research show that high test scores predict everything a kid will do later in life? Of course not. But I think there's sufficient research to show that low test scores are a sign of a real problem, and a strong indication that intervention is needed. Maybe if schools of education impressed this upon the would-be teachers and principals, educational research would have a bit more impact on education today.

Study both of these posts. I have been reading a series of gloomy if at times not-well-thought-through essays on meritocracy and college competition in the back-to-college section of The Atlantic. These will be material for some upcoming posts.

No comments: