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Testing and Censorship

September 29, 2014

Frank Bruni’s Sunday NYTimes column, “The Wilds of Education“, opens with these questions:

WHEN it comes to bullying, to sexual assault, to gun violence, we want and need our schools to be as safe as possible.

But when it comes to learning, shouldn’t they be dangerous?

Isn’t education supposed to provoke, disrupt, challenge the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?

Isn’t upset a necessary part of that equation? And if children are lucky enough to be ignorant of the world’s ugliness, aren’t books the rightful engines of enlightenment, and aren’t classrooms the perfect theaters for it?

Bruni used these questions to lament the censorship of some reading materials, grade inflation, the tendency for students to avoid taking difficult courses, and the stance some “liberal” institutions took last Spring when they dis-invited “controversial” graduation speakers.

As one who is opposed to the standardized testing regimen, it struck me that the narrowing to the curriculum that results from high stakes testing was overlooked in Bruni’s examples of how schools avoid thought-provoking and disruptive thinking. By insisting that standardized tests are the primary means of measuring student and school performance, public schools are increasingly narrowing their curriculum and constantly reinforcing the notion that there is one and only one answer to questions… and by limiting instruction to those areas where one and only one answer is applicable the increasingly prescribed curricula are NOT promoting the provocation of disruptive thinking or challenging “…the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?” 

This may have been lost on Mr. Bruni, because based on his previous writing about education he seems to have in consciously absorbed the paradigm of education as measurable by test results… a paradigm that needs to be abandoned if we are sincere about wanting “…to provoke, disrupt, challenge the paradigms that young people have consciously embraced and attack the prejudices that they have unconsciously absorbed?”

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