This was written fourteen years ago before NCLB and he criminal Bush presidency.  I post it now in the interest of ciritcal debate and dialogue.

WORLD CLASS STANDARDS?: WHOSE WORLD, WHICH ECONOMIC CLASSES AND WHAT STANDARDS?

If educational goals and core values are developed by a few  educators in isolation from their communities, no matter how well thought out they may be they will not create the conditions needed for change.

—— Tony Wagner

How Schools Change

Introduction

     Several years ago, while at an inservice day with elementary and middle school teachers in the state of Washington, I heard many teachers comment that if we are going to teach for thinking we had better develop new, authentic methodologies, theories, standards and instruments for assessment.  As the teachers began to discuss, question and attempt through dialogue to develop a clear vision of critical thinking and what it means to be an educated person in today’s society, it became apparent to them that the standardized tests predominant in education today are simply not able to meet the challenge of quality assessment of student performance and what it means to be a human being.  In fact, almost all of these primary and middle school teachers agreed that the standards debate in this country was little more than a hindrance to real educational reform as teachers consistently complain that they must prepare their students for assessment instruments that test for simply basic skills and rote memorization.  These teachers remarked that standards, or assessment in American education, continues to be linked to a form of anorexic bulimic learning whereby students starve themselves until test time only to stuff themselves with skills, facts, and details to be regurgitated without the benefit of intellectual digestion.  Laced to this, they argued, was the teaching and assessment of basic skills divorced from meaningful tasks and critical inquiry.

As we sat and discussed the necessity for authentic assessment, as opposed to the inauthenticity of standardized tests, almost all teachers, especially in elementary school, commented that their students never asked them how they performed on the standardized state tests once they were completed; nor did their parents seem to use the information the scores provided to develop a clear idea of what their children were able to do as a result of the time they spend in schools or what it really means to be educated.  For other than political pundits, real estate agents, and bureaucrats, the test scores were of limited use and represented little more than a collection of anonymous numerics linked to issues of bureaucratic control and power, as opposed to wedded to critical sensibility, self-assessment, and achievements in performance.

While listening and participating in the dialogue with these teachers, it became clear to me that these teachers were becoming aware of the ideological nature of the current testing debate and what it implies for teaching and learning; they were beginning to see that the controversy over standards and assessment, in fact the question as to the purpose for the entire enterprise of education itself, was a political discussion. Realizing that the debate over education was in fact a political debate that included issues of class, race, culture and gender, afforded these teachers the capability to begin to move towards an understanding of what Paulo Freire so aptly characterized as “education as an act of freedom as opposed to education as the practice of domination” (Freire, 75).  It also afforded them the ability to connect education and its purposes to larger issues in society itself and begin to formulate their own perspectives as to the role of education, intelligence and what it means to be an educated person.

Many, if not all of these teachers, had never been afforded an opportunity to discuss the role of education and what it means to be intelligent.  There work was defined as a “divorce from conception” as they executed methodological techniques and practices most of which they had never even been asked to think about.  As teachers, they had been told in “training” programs that learning and knowing were neutral acts separated and divorced from ideology and socio-historical, economic, cultural and political dimensions of life.  The schools of education that “train” teachers as opposed to “educating them” (Dewey, 1997) produce teacher-technicians who have never been asked to think about the philosophical act of teaching, why they teach, for whom and what purposes knowledge and education serve, or how educational practices relate to dominant and privileged theories of learning.

As we continued our discussions and questioning over time, pondering about our work and critically problematizing and examining the theories that guided our practice, we became aware that it was important to first broach the fundamental question rarely discussed: what is the purpose of education and why should we educate human beings?  Of course, depending on ones’ point of view, the answer to this question can vary considerably. Yet we all concluded that before we could even think about what it means to learn or what it means to educate, let alone delve into the role of standards and assessment, the fundamental question of what we are trying to assess and why must be tied to the deeper question of why society even bothers to educate its citizens.

 

 

 

LINKING THE DISCUSSION OF STANDARDS TO EDUCATIONAL PURPOSE

 

Reporter: Mr. Ghandi, what do you think of modern civilization?

Ghandi:  That would be a good idea.*

 

Perusing the newspaper or listening to television or radio, one would walk away thinking that we are all in agreement as to what educational standards should be adopted and what they should assess.  The debate has been cast as a national debate and yet as a nation, we as people have not been involved in theorizing the debate or developing its actualities.  There is no discussion as to how the current standards proposals have been designed, who designed them, or for what purpose.   Leaders and elites have designed the discourse, tailored the contents, and dictated the terms of debate.

Yet the current national debate regarding standards is important for it points to the fact that it is not the debate we should be having.  Debating standards is putting the cart before the horse.  The real debate would ask us to incorporate into consideration such questions as what is good teaching, how does one learn, what is intelligence, whose interests does it serve, and how is it  achieved?  It would be a debate that invited community, parents, students and teachers to engage in discourse about what it means to be human, how to act in and with the world, and how to make sense out of personal life in light of historical and cultural change..

There are many points of view regarding the role or purpose of schools in society and the aspiration of this article is not to give a prolonged or detailed characterization of the myriad frames of reference on the subject.  However, I think that by characterizing at least some of these points of view in terms of how the debate is currently viewed, is essential to engage in a truly meaningful dialogue about assessment and standards. Currently, popular political debates regarding literacy, standards, and assessment continue to concentrate on anecdotal evidence and attention seeking headlines that really do little or nothing to help teachers, their students or their students’ parents move towards a genuine curriculum of thinking and learning.  Furthermore, many parents and community members continue to labor under old paradigms of

what it means to be literate, intelligent and assessed; paradigms fueled and nurtured by an ignorant and

demagogic media that continues to separate assessment from learning while seeking to frame the complex issue of education in either back-to-basics or outcome-based education—public schools or private schools.

Economic Conservatives and the Neo-liberal Argument

 

The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people….  We have, in effect been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.

 

—– A Nation at Risk

The prevailing point of view at this juncture in history, one that is embraced by both economic and neo-liberal assertions and resonates throughout the media, seems to be that school is merely a training ground for the necessities of market civilization—i.e., preparation in school is preparation for work.

* all quotes not specifically referenced are from Peter’s Quotations

Fundamentally, this means that students go to school for the purpose of learning how to compete in a capitalist global society where they are taught job skills they are told are essential to get ahead.  The National Skill Standards Board, containing appointees by President Bill Clinton, adopts this position in their discussion of standards:

 

The National Skill Standards Board is building a voluntary national system of skill standards, assessment and certification that will enhance the ability of the United States to compete effectively in the global economy.

 

From this point of view, education, beginning in primary school, should be designed to create producers and consumers who accept and adapt to the business models inherent in capitalist society as well as the power relations that govern them.  The new political discourse of conservative neo-liberalism discusses education only as it relates to markets, national identity, global competition, increased productivity and unbridled consumption.  Nothing is said about helping students relate to the world in critical ways.  For economic conservatives, schools serve national and market forces—not people.  Even for those CEO’s and neo-liberals who bemoan the current state of education as an antiquated testimony of the past and talk about the need for critical thinking, their goal is also clearly tied to the bandwagon of individual economic necessity, as illustrated by an educational speech made by the former CEO of Apple Corporation, John Sculley, at Bill Clinton’s 1992 Economic Conference:

We are still trapped in a K-12 public education system, which is preparing our youth for jobs that no longer exist.  A highly skilled work force must begin with a world class public education system which will turn out a world class product.  …It is an issue about an educational system aligned with the new economy and a broad educational opportunity for everyone.  Our public education system has not successfully made the shift from teaching the memorization of facts to achieving learning of critical thinking skills. …It’s America’s choice: High skills or low wages (Sculley,1992).

 

According to the new gospel of neo-liberalism, there is a need not only for a different kind of production under Post-Fordism, but for a different kind of worker—the knowledge worker.  This is the worker who is adaptable and amenable to multi-task work environments, who has a theoretical understanding of systems and how they function, who can work in teams, accept new managerial authority, form data into patterns and then interpret this data for the good of company profits; workers who can operate within wider frames of reference, who seek out new information from multiple sources and who can solve business problems and make business decisions.  For neo-liberals and their economic conservative counterparts, the new millennium is foisting upon us new market-driven-cognitive demands, different productive relations, and schools must be ready to accept and meet this challenge if one wants to get ahead and if America is truly able to compete.

Former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, makes similar arguments in his book, The Work of Nations:

We are living through a transformation that will rearrange the politics and economics of the coming century.  There will no longer be national economies at least as we have come to understand the concept.  All that will remain rooted within national borders are the people who comprise the nation.  Each nation’s primary asset will be its citizens’ skills and insights (Reich, 1992).

 

For neo-liberals like Reich and Sculley the rhetoric is clear: less desirable jobs will not exist in the US but will be shipped overseas to third world countries—the new assembly line of global capitalism. More complex, intellectually challenging work, they argue, will become the norm in the United States and of course, there will be winners and losers.  However, this time the winners and losers will not only be within nations, but will actually be nations themselves.  The message the neo-liberal agenda promotes is very clear: global economic necessities demand an educational system tied to the skills and training necessary to compete in the new millennium of a cybernetic global capitalism.  Critical thinking is important only as it relates to creating critical mass—designing better products, boosting productivity, fashioning better customer service, creating stronger national identity and creating a new class of disciplined consumers—preparing citizen-consumers for this “new world order” becomes the raison d’être of education and educational sites.

Economic conservatives and neo-liberals, however, go even one step further, arguing that there is now a need to eliminate what they term “frills” in education, to narrow the offerings in curriculum, to increase the number of required subjects, to standardize schools across the board so that they are barely distinguishable from community to community, and to support and promote a culture of private accumulation of wealth and individualistic choice.  Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Ron Unz recently made this point:

The problem isn’t what schools lack but what they possess in abundance, namely half-baked educational fads produced by elite educational theorists.  The list is quite long: whole language, bilingual education, inventive spelling, fuzzy math, constructivist science, endless self-esteem programs and other wrong headed pedagogical experiments.  According to numerous studies, this educational machinery produces students with the highest self-esteem but the lowest academic test scores of any of their global peers (Unz, 6-7).

 

Unz goes on to propose that the problem be corrected not by adding to the curriculum, but by subtracting from it.  He continues:

Instead of more money, more teachers, more programs or more days of schooling, we should be reducing as much of the burdensome nonsense in public schools as possible.  If a straightforward academic curriculum seems to work reasonably well in nearly every other major nation, the burden of proof is on those who say that it can’t possibly be tried in America’s unique society (ibid. 7).

 

Some of this “nonsense” can be found in such “frivolous pursuits” as recess in elementary schools.  For many elementary school students, recess and student play has been eliminated in favor of rigid, authoritarian and regimented learning.  Joy, relationships with others in the world and about the world become educational add-ons that threaten the authoritarian structure of education. Even kid pleasures seem to be under attack as “cheap frills” (Aronowitz, 6).  And of course the main culprit, as defined by these elite voices of industry, rests with public schools and public education.

From the economic conservative and neo-liberal perspective, educational assessment and world class standards must be linked to what it means to be successful in the new global economy.  Through their efforts, they have created standard and assessment think-tanks, such as Achieve Incorporated, a non-profit creation by a group of CEO’s and the National Governors Association that is currently co-chaired by IBM’s Chief Executive Officer, Louis Gerstner Jr. and Governor Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin, as well as the National Education Goals Report, launched in 1989 as a result of the controversy over the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk.  The Goals Report announces its mission as:

By the year 2000, American students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern society (National Education Goals Report, 1991).

 

By adopting what they like to call “world class standards”, these corporate and business leaders are working to identify what Post-Fordist skills will be necessary for the workplace of the future (Mid-contintent Regional Educational Laboratory,1997).  The clamor to define world class standards and skills has been linked to America’s presumed continued dominance in the world economy and both economic conservatives and neo-liberal policy makers have tied the development of these standards to American market competitiveness.

Diane Ravitch, recognized as one of the darlings and chief architects of the modern standards movement, has stated the economic conservative and neo-liberal rationale for standards:

Americans expect strict standards to govern the construction of buildings, bridges, highways, and tunnels; shoddy work would put lives at risk.  They expect stringent standards to protect their drinking water, the food they eat, and the air they breathe…Standards are created because they improve the activity of life (Ravitch, 8-9).

 

For conservative standards advocates, like Ravitch, it seems that human educational standards can be equated with “quality control” in industry, assuring that the product conforms to industry standards.

Cultural Conservatives and the Crisis in Education

The national debate on education is now focused on truly important matters: mastering the basics…insisting on high standards and expectations; ensuring discipline in the classroom; conveying a grasp of our moral and political principles; and nurturing the character of our young.

 

       ——– William Bennett (p. 9)

 

Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?

 

       ———Ronald Reagan

 

     For cultural conservatives, the role of education is far more complex than simply producing workers who can compete in the global economy.  Although they agree with the notion of education for the new workplace of the future, cultural conservatives argue that the real role of schools is to transmit a common individuality, a single American identity.  They understand that education is political and moral activity and look to schooling as a site for the transmission of Judeo-Christian values, conservative morality, a common American heritage and they place great emphasis on manipulating symbols, such as the bible and the national flag.  Arguing for back-to-basics and privatization in education, these conservatives lament what they characterize as the Balkanization of American identity; and they abhor diversity as a threat to national unity and a common American psyche.  In the minds of cultural conservatives, loyalty, patriotism, and obedience to authority must be rigorously and uncompromisingly taught and can be accomplished by establishing a common curriculum (E.D. Hersch, 1988).  The cultural conservative movement also argues that schools must teach specific facts and that these facts must never be challenged, but rather accepted as immutable, permanent  truth.

For cultural conservatives, the educational crisis is really little more than an indication of a larger crisis—a quandary whereby society has fractured into diverse points of view, where civility has eroded and where standardized interpretations of the world have been forsaken for what they term a moral relativism (Bennett, 1988) or values deficit.  They blame the “excesses” of the 1960’s for what they see as the current crisis in schools and society in general, going so far as to claim:

For the half decade starting with the late 1960’s, long established academic standards were abolished wholesale in a spasm reminiscent of the Red Guard’s destructive rampage through China’s classical cultural institutions (Pines, 59).

 

Despondent over the loss of what they see as the “golden age of pedagogy”, where skills and common, unquestioned values were the object of school curriculums, cultural conservatives embrace back-to-basics as the panacea for what is wrong with America.

One of the best indications of this thrust can be seen in a 1977 article that appeared in Phi Delta Kappan.  Here, Ben Brodinsky characterized the back-to-basic conservative movement in terms that resonate even more loudly today.  Back-to-basics proposes, according to Brodinsky, among other things, that the school day be devoted solely to reading, writing and arithmetic and that phonics be the method to teach reading.  Textbooks should not display non-traditional values in sex, religion or politics and any criticism of national identity and American values should not be tolerated.  Pedagogy is to be teacher-centered with stern discipline, not child-centered with student autonomy.  Frequent drills and skill-based curriculums should be the norm along with teaching facts to students.  Academic criteria for promotion must be advocated in place of social promotion.  There should be no frills in education, such as sex education or controversial discussions of current affairs.  Fewer electives should comprise the day along with more required courses in the basics.  And, the elimination of experimental and innovative courses and methods for value clarification, critical discussion and inquiry should be purged from educational corridors.  Finally, back-to-basics, both then and now, advocate the return of patriotism in schools along with religious instruction (Brodinsky, 87-94).

Cultural conservatives call for a curricular restoration of authority in schools whereby teachers are to be colonial administrators of an educational plantation.  And the themes that underly the cultural conservative calls for curriculum restoration can also be found in the attack on what they term “secular humanism”.  U.S. Senator, Jesse Helms, commented not long ago:

When the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited children from participating in voluntary prayers in public schools, the conclusion is inescapable that the Supreme Court not only violated the right of free exercise of religion for all Americans, it also established a national religion in the United States—the religion of secular humanism (Helms, 1979).

 

The movement today towards vouchers for religious schools, home schooling and the effort to abolish the teaching of evolution in schools has its roots in the Religious-Right’s efforts to place religion squarely within the sphere of public education.  According to cultural conservative, Tim LaHaye:

Today public education is so humanistic that it is both anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant—because it is anti-God.  …The chaos of today’s public education system is in direct proportion to its religious obsession with humanism (LaHaye, 1980).

 

 

By defining education as training, moral indoctrination, authoritarianism, religious instruction and back-to-basics, we can easily see why the national debate over standards, from the cultural conservative point of view, is tied to advocating a calibrating apparatus that measures students’ progress as the ability to memorize and regurgitate pre-ordained and prescribed facts and data, exercise skills in isolation, digest jingoistic curricula without questioning, read phonetically, and obey authority. William Bennett, the arch cultural conservative and former educational “czar”, stated the cultural conservative position clearly:

We neglected and denied much of the best in American education…. we simply stopped doing the right things and allowed an assault on intellectual and moral standards (Bennett, 9).

 

For Bennett and his cultural conservative cohorts, the assault on intellectual and moral standards has led schools away from their mission—indoctrination and inculcation.  These conservatives now rejoice at what they feel is a return to the “real” purpose of education—they see their judgment day as having arrived.

Critical Pedagogy and the Progressive Post-Modernist Position

The problem of education in its relation to the direction of social change is all one with the problem of finding out what democracy means in its total range of concrete applications: domestic, international, religious, cultural economic and political.  …The trouble… is that we have taken democracy for granted; we have thought and acted as if our forefathers had founded it once and for all.

 

——John Dewey (357-358)

 

Unlike cultural conservative, economic conservative, and neo-liberal notions of education, radical pedagogy and progressive post-modernism, as pronounced and defined by Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, in his landmark book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), attaches a completely different and contrary meaning and purpose to education.  For Freire and his progressive post-modern contemporaries, education is not an impartial act, but a conscious political act of freedom and love aimed at subjective exploration, self-reflection and should be grounded in an ethical format that embraces human beings, their historicity and their search for emancipation.  Much like W.E.B. DuBois, who early commented that the role of education “is not to make carpenters out of men, but men out of carpenters” (DuBois, 50-54), Freire envisioned education and its goals as the eradication of human exploitation, the abolition of human manipulation, the elimination of avarice and greed, the rejection of insipid individualism devoid of individuality, and the rejection of racial, class and sexual discrimination and exploitation—not capitalist competitiveness. Freire himself was very clear in this regard:

My point of view is that of ‘the wretched of the earth’, of the excluded (Freire, 22).

Radical pedagogy believes that teacher preparation must not be married to training, but instead should be attached to a search for personal and social meaning within historical and contemporary understanding.  And, they believe that knowledge can never be conveyed or transmitted as mere facts and information, but must be invented and reinvented through discursive inquiry and a problem-posing curriculum that seeks to help citizens make sense of their cognitive and emotional lives and the world within which they live.

This does not mean that these post-modern theoretical positions do not think that basic skills are important or shouldn’t be taught; post-Formalists argue it is how they are taught, the context within which they are taught, and how they are incorporated in the service of enabling the human being to think and act critically.  Teaching skills in the context of reasoning, where emotional intelligence and rational thinking are reconnected in the pursuit of intelligent activity orchestrated and incorporated in the service of a problem posing curriculum that is based on inquiry and discovery, is much different than teaching skills in rote isolation along with indoctrination in the form of culturally legitimized facts disconnected from meaning.

Where conservatives and neo-liberals attempt to regulate the world of students through standardization, indoctrination and the removal of discourse and autonomy, radical pedagogy and progressive post-modernist educational claims assert that education must be interested in the consciousness of human beings and a determination to help them “read the world” through interaction and dialogue (Freire, 1970).  Post-formalism would advocate teaching ethics without indoctrination, where students are encouraged to forge their thinking skills in the fires of controversy and critical scrutiny.  Again, Freire states this position clearly:

Problem-posing education affirms men and women as beings in the process of becoming—as unfinished, uncompleted human beings in and with a likewise unfinished reality.  The unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity (Freire, 77).

RADICAL PEDAGOGY, PROGRESSIVE POST-MODERNISM AND THE EDUCATIONAL CRITIQUE OF STANDARDS AND ASSESSMENT

 Let us view understanding not as a state of possession of knowledge, but one of enablement.  When we understand something we not only possess certain information about it but are enabled to do certain things with that knowledge.

—–David Perkins

                                                                                                                                        Smart Schools

 

As pointed out earlier, for radical pedagogues and progressive post-modernists who embrace democracy and the need for a democratized self as the focus of education, schooling must be linked to what it means to be human.  Currently, with preparation in school tailored solely for preparation for work; this preparation for work is sold to the public as preparation for life.  Radical pedagogy and progressive post-modernist positions disagree vehemently with this predication and posit the contrary; that preparation in school should be for preparation for life; and preparation for life will, by its very nature, enable students to be prepared for the exigencies of work.  Certainly rational production is a necessity for human endeavors, but a critical and democratically committed citizenry, they argue, is much more capable of rational production than an unconscious manipulated citizenry grafted onto corporate agendas only.  They argue that schools should be centers for utopian thinking, laboratories of wonderment, and environments of inquiry available to all students.  Yet, unfortunately, amidst all the talk of educational reform, progressive post-modernists argue that schools are still seeped in the past and thus can do little to help children create and invent their future or the future of society.  Because of their emphasis on education as liberation, progressive post-modernists have constructed powerful critiques of economic conservative, neo-liberal and cultural conservative arguments for education and educational standards.

THE STANDARDS DEBATE AS SOCIAL PREVARICATION AND MYTH

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of modern man is his domination by the force of {these} myths and his manipulation by organized advertising, ideological or otherwise.  Gradually, without even realizing the loss he relinquishes his capacity for choice; he is expelled from the orbit of decisions.  Ordinary men do not perceive the task of the time; the latter are interpreted by an “elite” and presented in the form of recipes and prescriptions.  And when men try to save themselves by following the prescriptions, they drown in leveling anonymity, without hope and without faith, domesticated and adjusted.

 

—— Paulo Freire

                                                                                Education for Critical Consciousness

 

Human beings seek to exist in the world, to make sense of their peculiar relationships with external and internal reality.  They seek dialogue and relationships with others in order to claim their humanness and become free from the external and internal bonds that bind them.  Standards, claim progressive post-modernists, are part and parcel of the sickness, the cognitive dis-ease that is rampant in education today precisely because they reinforce the meaningless of education — giving meaning only to what education can do for one materially, not psychologically or subjectively.  They become little more than a prerequisite for accepting and adjusting to a market society.

To begin with, radical pedagogy and progressive post-modern educational theory, hereinafter referred to as post-formalism (Kincheloe, 1999), argues that tests and testing do far more than simply seek to measure academic performance or basic skills.  From a post-formalist point of view, standards and assessment as put forth by both economic and cultural conservatives, give a false illusion—an ideological myth of meritocracy and objectivity that really operates deceitfully as technologies of power and control (Foucault, 1977).  Standards operate as part of a modernist project, dissecting thinking into minute fragments and then testing the fragments separate from the whole.  They also are part of a mono-cultural or Eurocentric and androcentric tradition that place value on socio-centric truths and cultural claims to superiority.

Post-formalism would argue conservative standards, hereinafter referred to as universal standards, are culturally biased, gender discriminative, and class based sorting and classifying mechanisms that surreptitiously seek to motivate students by holding out the promise of extrinsic material rewards if the standards are met—i.e., better jobs, college entrance, higher incomes and better employment.  They create a false ideology of “fairness” that proclaims that individual effort is the controlling factor in determining success, regardless of ones’ social class, sex, race, cultural background or particular place in the social system.

Post-formalism argues that the current standard debate actually serves to suffocate a truly genuine dialogue about the purpose of education, of history, of human beings as subjects seeking their freedom in the enterprise of life; instead, the debate demagogues and couches the controversy over schooling as market competitiveness, global production, better goods and services, and strong national identity.

Unfortunately, and yet understandably, the notion of universal standards resonates with many parents, especially minority parents and the economically and culturally disenfranchised, precisely because they want their children to become successful in a racially and sexually biased, class society where wages, for the majority of people, have scarcely risen in more than twenty five years (Sklar,1999).  And as new jobs emerge and old ones die out, education is increasingly looked upon by citizenry as a way to endure rapid changes in economic life—to get ahead —a way out, or at the very least, a way to stay even and survive.  Lower wages, unemployment, and jobs relocated  third world countries have created economic insecurity, misery and uncertainty among American citizens with people scrambling and trying to avoid being the next victim of reorganization, reengineering, downsizing, restructuring or businesses disappearing, merging, and being bought out overnight.  The Right exploits these fears and economic uncertainties with the rhetoric of universal standards, falsely arguing that if we just had higher, normative standards, education would prepare everyone for the “new world order” and assure that security and equality would be re-instituted in mental and material life.  The message is clear:  don’t change life, change standards.

THE ILLUSION OF INDIVIDUALISTIC MERITOCRACY

     The universal standards debate disguises the way that history constructs meaning and opportunity by eternalizing itself behind false images of meritocracy, scientific rationality, and truth. By giving illusion to the mythology of meritocracy, standards serve to marginalize, discourage and disenfranchise, precisely because they propose that those who fail to live up to the technicistic standards are individual failures, do not belong in education; that they would be better served in vocational programs or, in the alternative, perhaps not be educated at all.  The failure to meet normative standards becomes defined as an individual problem devoid of social context and culpability. The debate refuses to recognize and discuss socio-economic issues such as crumbling school infrastructure, overcrowded schools, inadequate teaching resources, dysfunctional teacher training programs, the clandestine nature of teaching in isolation without mentorship or guidance, the shortage of qualified teachers (especially among minority communities), poverty, dysfunctional families, the lack of early childhood nutrition, health care or preschool, low salaries, the dismal state of parental involvement, poverty, low wages and the economic and political arrangements of post-modern capitalist society that creates, if not allows these conditions to exist.  Nor does the debate recognize intellectual diversity, cultural distinctions, intellectual diversity, epistemological processes and concerns, language disparities and differences, or gender discrimination.

Education is a uniquely public and cooperative activity done in concert with others for the purpose of reading the world, forging loving relationships, living a productive life and developing personal and social understanding.  Yet standards create a scarcity mentality—a win-lose situation where competition and ruthless grade acquisition landscape educational discourse and practice under false claims of meritocracy.  Standardized tests base themselves on, and reinforce, an ideology of insipid individualism where others exist only as rungs on a ladder, to “get over”, to compete and measure oneself against.  What is uniquely a public, collaborative activity, learning, becomes a privatized, competitive activity, getting good grades.  For this reason, universal standards are antithetical to human agency and authenticity; they are testimonies to class, race, and sex-based privilege and the objectification and reification of human intellectual endeavor.  They tear all forms of educational community asunder, pitting students against students, teachers against teachers, and citizens against citizens.  Universal standards rigidly enforce hierarchies, acquiescence and submission in place of cooperation, collaborative problem solving and shared experience and dialogue.  They operate as an ideological moral authority in the hands of an immoral constituency.

Furthermore, the current standards’ debate gives the false illusion that “we are all in this together” and that the standards proposed are objective, fair and not culturally, racially or sexually biased.  The debate does this by couching rhetoric in words such as “we”, “us”, “our”, and “together”. The discussion provides an individualistic rational that serves to temper resentment when somebody else gets into college, or gets the “good” job.  “After all, we’re all working under the same standards, aren’t we?  If you just would have done better!”  They impose an “unnatural selection” on citizens by proclaiming their naturalness, and in doing so they ideologically manipulate the public with the falsity of their own mythology.  All of this serves to surreptitiously beguile students, teachers and community into believing that there is no political agenda, no cultural norms being advocated, no prevalence of hierarchical classifying and sorting—that standards are a neutral, generic conception and operation applicable equally and fairly in the interests of everyone.

STANDARDS AND THE FALSE CLAIM TO UNIVERSALITY AND OBJECTIVITY

     Human beings come to educational sites with different cultures, backgrounds, opportunities and constraints.  Post-formalism alleges that rationalistic universal standards are really socio-historical constructs, and at this juncture, peculiar constructs allied to the needs of a particular socio-economic system—post-modern capitalism.  They argue that they are little more than dominant-based claims, scientific, mechanical formulas and regulations that educational elites proclaim as immutable and non-transformatory, but which in actuality are socially and historically created.  By masquerading as objective science, standards become a tool for imposing conformity and ideological servitude on people and communities by those in power—they become, what Foucault termed, a technology of power (Foucault, 1977)—i.e., a way to decimate difference in the interest of privilege and ideological domination by instrumentalist policing.  The current standard debate masks difference by failing to acknowledge the diverse epistemological ways of knowing and perceiving the world.  Difference, be it cultural, gender based, economic or otherwise, is sacrificed to a debilitating reductionism that must locate itself within the modernistic conception of scientific, rational Newtonian thought.

By casting standards as a form of scientific truth, a techno-rationality that is universal, standards furtively promise to abolish cultural and class differences by imposing a universal, scientistic normative that is claimed to be “truth”. Imposing uncritical acceptance and passivity through universal assertions of truth, standardized tests cloak prevarication in the clothes of veracity.  They foment the idea that there is a pre-established, non-historical, universal standard for acceptance into the community of human beings and as such, they are an attempt to maintain a passive public that refuses to challenge the historicity of cultural norms and the social context and construction of knowledge.  Furthermore, current standards teach the hegemonic lesson of obedience by offering ecumenical rules and pre-ordained procedures that must be followed in order for both teachers and students to adapt.  In so doing, they serve to reduce education to a mere recipe that must be followed, as opposed to an artful process that must be created.

STANDARDS AS INSTRUMENTS OF TECHNOCRATIC CONTROL

     Teaching is an act of love, a performance art involving creativity and intelligence.  Yet post-formalism argues that standards hold students and teachers hostage to an ideology and practice of inauthentic learning and being—a loveless, antiseptic relationship between students and teachers, a false dualism between the world as an object to be understood and the knower seeking to understand.  For this reason they serve as a straightjacket that binds both the heart and mind, for they impose teaching as an act of functional, instrumental control — of technological device—not of compassion, caring, and love.  Standards become a means of  covertly managing people and knowledge for private ends.  John Fiske reminds us of this when he notes:

Knowledge is never neutral; it never exists in an empiricist, objective relationship to the real.  Knowledge is power, and the circulation of knowledge is part of the social distribution of power.  ….  The first is to control the “real”, to reduce reality to the knowable, which entails producing it as a discursive construct whose arbitrariness and inadequacy are disguised as far as possible.  The second struggle is to have this discursively (and therefore socio-politically) constructed reality accepted as truth by those whose interests may not necessarily be served by accepting it (Fiske, 149-150).

 

Critical consciousness and education for freedom asks men and women to critically examine and scrutinize their social order, not to blindly accept it—to expunge that which oppresses them and embrace that which promises to liberate them.  Yet post-formalists would argue that universal standards operate as way of maintaining the inequitable social order; a way of controlling both students and teachers and the production line they work on so that they might blindly and obediently reproduce their own oppression.

Standards as they are currently designed, are also a way of controlling, chloroforming, and policing curriculum to ensure that what is taught conforms to what the cultural conservative and economic conservative elites feel is important.  Teachers are mandated to teach to the test and those that do not are labeled “maladjusted”, in need of remediation, and punitively dealt with accordingly.   In Delaware, for example, 20% of the educational evaluation of teachers will be based on whether students make “progress” within one year with a particular teacher; regardless of whether students have come to the class ready or prepared to learn (CNN, September 2, 1999).

“Accountability” becomes the buzz word for those who embrace the need for universal standards.  Yet the accountability that is advocated is a one sided individualistic, accountability; not a shared socially collaborative, accountability— a mutual accountability between socio-economic arrangements and individual effort and responsibility.  Under the rubric of “accountability”, individual teachers and their students become solely blamed for poor individual academic student performance, regardless of the students’ history of achievement, their attitudes regarding learning, or their readiness to learn.  George W. Bush made this position quite clear in his elitist and cynical dismissal of social accountability and culpability when he smugly stated, “Pigment and poverty need not determine performance” (Bush, September 2, 1999).  The rhetoric appears equitable, responsible, and logical—as it seeks to remove issues of race, gender and social accountability from the debate while putting forth the hidden claim that we all operate on a level playing field.

Universal standards also impose psychological fear among educational community members while simultaneously de-skilling them by turning lesson plans into instrumentalist recipes and antiseptic and generic teaching formulas. The Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory, for example, is just one of many think tanks that now have lesson plans available on-line that are linked to any state standard (Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory, 1999), further de-skilling teachers by separating them from the conception of their labor and reducing them to simply technical instruments—objects in the service of education as training—slaves to the state standards.

America once proclaimed that education was a human right, a Jeffersonian legacy of a common democracy.  Yet  standards insidiously operate as instruments of power, secretly seeking to destroy public schools through economic strangulation in favor of private and religious schools and vouchers.   They do this ideologically by feeding the mythological claim that public schools and public school teachers are failing; that they are not living up to the universal standards that elites have imposed.  The former president of the Xerox corporation made this point quite vigorously when he stated:

At a time when our preeminent role in the world economy is in jeopardy, there are few social problems more telling in their urgency.  Public education has put this country at a terrible disadvantage (Kearns & Doyle, 1).

Universal standards are currently being used to belittle and destroy public schools and the students and teachers who work in them in a particularly disturbing manner, in Florida.  For example, school-by-school report cards have recently been released that assign each public school an A, B, C, D, or F based largely on how the schools and their teachers and students measured up to the state’s predetermined standards for competency on the reading and mathematics portion of the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test.  Released on June 24th, 1999, these school scores serve as an attention-getting aspect of the new statewide accountability system and foster in the public’s mind the notion that public schools are failing students and the public at large (Education Week, July 14, 1999); that teacher unions are dismissive regarding accountability and holding teachers responsible and interested in only higher wages and benefits for teachers, regardless of their level of competence.  The debate rarely focuses on the fact that that in Florida, there are 75,000 students who are foreign born, many of them living in situations of high poverty (Education Week, July 14).  From conservative perspectives, that would just be offering an cultural and class based excuse for individual failure and thus more apologies for lack of accountability and social responsibility.

According to the school reform measures backed by Governor Jeb Bush and passed by the Florida state legislature, the state will now offer vouchers worth $4,000 each to students attending Florida public schools that receive F’s two times in four years.  The students may use the vouchers to pay tuition at private or religious schools (Education Week, May 5, 1999).   This will in turn take more monies from public coffers—bleeding the public schools, economically strangling them, further reducing their ability to function and then hypocritically blaming them for low achievement.  This is how standards have become an insidious tool, an instrumentalist weapon in the political conservative fight to dismantle public education— stigmatizing schools and those who teach in them while simultaneously withholding funds and allowing them to hemorrhage to death.

Publicizing test scores is another attempt to publicly shame teachers, to humiliate them, to let low-income and minority students to see themselves as incompetent or less educable, while teachers are told that they are dysfunctional and in need of remedial adjustment.  It also serves to propagandize and concretize in the mind of the public that unions, in this case teacher unions, are to blame for the problem; that tenure, collective action, or job security rights shields poor teachers and prevents principals, now called CEO’s in the vernacular of privateers, from hiring good teachers and firing bad ones.  They want the public to uncritically believe that unions tie reformer’s hands, stand in the way of progress, and act in students’ worst interests.  Certainly this article will not serve as an apologist for all that goes on in public schools, from they way they are managed to the way they are operated.  However, the universal standards debate is a clear attempt to belittle, rather than intervene and fix, one of the last vestiges of public life in America today—public schools.

Standards, prescribed more like mechanical operations and procedures and stripped of all humanness also become unconscious, ideological features of instrumentalism and technological hegemony.  They become the extrinsic reward structures that children in the early ages ideologically internalize for the future needs of the capitalist work force and the economic bonus and incentive systems which will eventually be offered to them to induce them to produce more.  Corporate society needs this psychological internalization process to ideologically begin at an early age in order to prepare citizens for the competitive rigors and inequality of capitalist life.  Cast in this role, universal standards operate in the interests of an authoritarian construction of  unconscious assumptions and patterns, as well as strengthening an insidious individualism so necessary to capitalism’s material and ideological survival.  They become the equivalent of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, guiding our privatized self-serving interests within a community of rapacious materialism; operating to diminish relationships, fomenting public distrust and disharmony, and inculcating the ideology of competition within the constructs of the human consciousness.   Because of this, they are a form of theoretical, techno-rational control in the hands of a bureaucracy devoted to the desires and needs of a privileged few.

STANDARDS AS BIG BUSINESS

     Standards are also big business.  The math and reading lists, now linked to many state standards have a huge impact on what states can buy with citizens tax money.  The state of California, for example, which recently approved new state standards in reading and math, will spend more than one billion dollars of public monies over the next four years on textbooks for classrooms; purchasing texts from such from corporations such as Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Brace, and McDougal Little.   Yet of this amount, the $250 million spent each year can only be spent on textbooks that the state has aligned with the new standards.  And districts in California may only spend 30% of their grants monies on texts not on the state-approved list.  And these textbook adoptions are done by a select few, not as a result of a lively community debate or critical examination by the teachers who are forced to use these texts.  According to Judy Anderson, the President of the California Math Council, a group that represents 10,000 math educators in California:

If we define mathematics as simply following the rules, that’s what this textbook adoption brings about.  There’s not any thinking going on here. (Education Week, 10).

Corporations love the new standards as well as the nanny state and federal governments that promise to assure that the costs associated with text book adoption are socialized, while corporations and their stockholders privatize the enormous  profits.

STANDARDS AND THE DEFINITION OF INTELLIGENCE

      Critical inquiry, critical perception, and critical consciousness assists human beings to engage the world, to see the world as an object independent of themselves that is capable of being known, changed, and understood in relationship to themselves.  Education has as its responsibility the development of this critical consciousness and engagement, not the rote memorization and indoctrination of universally declared facts and behavioral norms.

As previously discussed, standardized tests, as presently constructed, are based on assessing whether students have digested a set of universally designated facts.  And facts are important to conservatives, for as Walter Feinberg noted:

Facts—uninterpreted naked facts—are a sign that the national identity is intact and that local cultural meanings and aspirations are under control.  When facts are challenged, when every ethnic and racial group wants its own facts taught in schools, when there are feminist facts, Afro-American facts, and gay facts—then conservatives worry that the school can no longer be counted on to transmit a unified national identity (Feinberg, 86-87).

Universal standards equates the intelligent person with a jeopardy contestant; a person who is a repository of facts and information.  Intelligence becomes commensurate with having information and basic skills, not using information and skills to gain knowledge and then enabling oneself through its use.  For conservatives, any counter interpretation of facts, any critical inquiry, questioning or interrogation of these facts threatens the single conservative national unity; i.e., it threatens those in power by stripping naked their moral and mythological political claims as to what ideology is, its implications, and how it operates to preserve inequality and the status quo.

And of course, universal standards serve another more insidious role: they help to define and reinforce an undemocratic notion of intelligence based on solely Cartesian scientific, rationalistic claims to achievement.  Multiple intelligences, as developed by Howard Gardner, indigenous knowledge’s, women’s consciousness and cognitive processes, emotional intelligence, and multiple ways of knowing are discarded in favor of a logical-mathematical, cognitive intelligence.   Any deviation from the universal standard becomes a deviation from the norm; and the rationalistic, Cartesian norm becomes defined as what it means to be human, to be intelligent.

WHAT MIGHT CRITICAL THINKING STANDARDS LOOK LIKE AND HOW MIGHT WE LINK THEM TO ACCOUNTABILITY?

 

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives.

 

——-Robert Maynard Hutchins

 

There are no eternal facts as there are no absolute truths.

 

                                                                                                    —– Friedrich Nietzsche

Although post-formalism is critical of the current conservative standards debate for the reasons discussed, post-formalists also recognize the need for authentic standards to assess and measure progress among students.  They too believe that teachers and students should be held accountable and responsible, but they also believe that society itself must be held accountable; that accountability must be shared between individuals and the social structures they live in and that both the objective and subjective conditions of society must be understood to create this shared accountability.

Post-formalism is interested in assessing how students think, not what they think, and they want standards and accountability tied to what it means to be a critical thinker.  Post-formalists are also committed to helping students develop the ability to assess themselves; the ability to develop and apply criteria to their thinking in the interest of self-improvement and continuous lifelong learning.  They begin with the human being—looking to define what it means to be human and intelligent and then develop “standards” to assess this humanness and intelligence.  Authentic standards, as they might be developed by post-formalists, don’t abandon the teaching of basic skills. On the contrary, they seek to teach basic skills within an environment of inquiry that enhances and assesses critical and creative thinking—not simply to teach basic skills in isolation as repetitive boring activities.  They are concerned that skills are best learned and internalized through their use in harmony with the construction of collaborative and individual projects.

Teachers who teach for critical thinking are interested in developing within their students their capacity to solve problems, develop empathy and humility; to make rational decisions and continuously assess their thinking to determine its strengths, weaknesses and limitations.  They seek to imbue in their students a sense of imagination and curiosity that calls on them to seek complex answers to complex questions in a world with others — to approach learning as an act of “figuring out what they don’t know.”  They are particularly interested in helping their students develop effective modes of thinking in the cognitive areas of abstract, systematic, evaluative, and collaborative thinking and they are aware of the affective dimension of emotional intelligence and its dialectical relationship to creative and critical thought.  They endeavor to create a curriculum that helps their students subject what they think they know to critical scrutiny in the interest of achieving the best results, the best decisions, the best thinking and the best solutions to human problems.   They understand that the real curriculum is life and they work with multiple intelligences and offer varied and interdisciplinary opportunities for students to develop these intelligences.  Finally, critical and creative teachers are concerned with all of the above as it affects good judgment, innovation, cooperative living, collaborative problem-solving, and a developing a more productive and happier life—not simply making better machines or consumer products.  The following are just some examples of what some critical and creative thinking standards might look like, but they are in no way meant to be definitive or universal.  As you will see, they are what we want our students to do and can be assessed only through performance or portfolio assessment.  They are not offered as a checklist or processes that must be taught in isolation, but as the type of mental processes that critical thinking might employ when solving problems and making decisions.

 

  • Evaluate data and evidence
  • Ø
  • Compare and contrast similarities and differences
  • Ø
  • Explore actions, decisions, and conclusions of oneself and others
  • Evaluate actions, decisions, and solutions of oneself and others
  • Ø
  • Clarify generalizations
  • Ø
  • Reason inductively, from the particular to the abstract
  • Ø
  • Avoid over-generalizations and oversimplifications
  • Ø
  • Recognize the logic of points of view
  • Recognize arguments, analyze them, and then evaluate them
  • Distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information and data
  • Identify sources of information and develop a criteria for determining reliability of these sources
  • Develop one’s own viewpoint, perspective and outlook
  • Think about one’s thinking in the interest of transformative metacogntion
  • Listen critically to others
  • Transfer abstract insights into everyday life
  • Reason interdisciplinary and synthesize subject-matter insights
  • Recognize decisions, analyze them, and evaluate them
  • Identify, develop, evaluate, and apply criteria to ideas, products, and performances of one’s self and others
  • Make informed decisions by examining options and anticipating consequences of actions
  • Recognize and describe systems and their interdependence
  • Work effectively in groups to accomplish goals
  • Reason historically, conceiving of places, times, and conditions different than one’s own
  • Recognize the influence of diverse cultural perspectives on human thought and behavior
  • Develop independent thinking and an investigative orientation
  • Develop intellectual empathy
  • Develop intellectual humility and an insight into egocentric thinking
  • Develop intellectual imagination and curiosity
  • Develop intellectual efficacy and confidence in their reasoning abilities
  • Develop a tolerance for ambiguity
  • Develop intellectual perseverance and discipline when confronting obstacles and problems
  • Develop intellectual courage
  • Develop intellectual civility when dialoguing
  • Develop intellectual integrity

Discussing, questioning, and dialoguing about these and other critical thinking standards would serve to recast the debate regarding teaching as simply the transmission of information and ideas.  It would embrace and call attention to the fact that the act of education is at once an act of communication and dialogue in search of significance and meaning.  Critical thinking standards would allow teachers to engage in teaching as an act of love and creativity—as opposed to instrumentality and technological control.  And of course, since critical thinking develops and build character, these standards would help students manage their lives as opposed to having them managed, author their existence in favor of having their existence authored, and govern their personal and social behavior as opposed to having their behavior governed.

These critical thinking processes (I use this term to differentiate between these ideas as processes and these ideas as skills), can be seen as distinctly different than basic skills.  Both are important and both should be tested.  Yet many teachers have never thought about the difference between basic skills and critical thinking processes.  Understanding that these processes are uniquely different from what we are told are basic skills, is the first step in understanding how they might be taught and assessed.  It affords us a starting place from which to dialogue, discuss, and question the development of more authentic standards and assessment.

DEVELOPING A PUBLIC LANGUAGE OF LITERACY AND TOOLS FOR ASSESSMENT

In teaching for thinking, we are not only interested in how many answers students know, but also in knowing how to behave when they DON’T know.  Intelligent behavior is performed in response to questions and problems the answers to which are NOT immediately know.  We are interested in observing how students produce knowledge rather than how they merely reproduce knowledge.  The critical attribute of intelligent human beings is not only having information, but knowing how to act on it.

 

                                                                                                            —— Art Costa

                                                                                                                         What Human Beings do When They  Behave Intelligently

 

 Much has been written within the last ten years about authentic changes in critical thinking assessment tools and techniques— from the use of portfolio assessment to performance assessment.  And there is no doubt that some of the most exciting work in authentic assessment today is coming from those who will and are using it—classroom teachers.  Utilizing such authentic assessment tools as reading portfolios, video portfolios, journals, and thinking and listening portfolios to assess critical thinking, can all call upon students to assess their own thinking and the work they are doing while providing the classroom teacher with a documented method for authentic assessment that meets the needs of parents and the public who correctly search for some accountability in education.  This has both the dual benefit of allowing students to take responsibility for their learning while at the same time freeing the teacher to become a facilitator of thinking as opposed to a routinized clerk.  Teachers who utilize authentic assessment techniques to assess critical thinking, know that it is based upon authentic learning that asks students to probe the cognitive and affective dimensions of how they come to understand what they think they understand.  Furthermore, with authentic assessment, teachers, students, and parents can observe student performance and infer concepts about their literacy from these performances; thereby enabling them to work with students in the interest of continual self-improvement.  This can vary from the observing the range of reading and writing skills that students employ, to what these performances show us as teachers.  From observing students’ strategies and what they do when they read and write, for example, teachers can deduce their attitudes and dispositions and help them develop emotional and affective dimensions of intelligence.  Authentic also assessment allows educators to continually improve their own instructional techniques, to collaborate as intellectuals as they find out more about how students learn, integrate knowledge, and attempt to develop their capacity to think critically about their curriculum and how they might work with students to develop knowledge.

How we assess students and what we assess, virtually drives, shapes, and influences what happens within the classroom.   Assessment shapes the curriculum as much as the curriculum shapes assessment.  Understanding the underlying assumptions and inferences that guide the current conservative approach to assessment and contrasting this with an active literacy, or post-formalist approach to learning and teaching is essential for increasing our understanding of how students learn.  What’s more, we must make our post-formal positions on assessment understandable and accessible to parents and the community.  We must feel compelled to denude the mythology employed by the elite merchants of prevarication and work with parents to construct a vision of what it means to be actively literate and educated in today’s society—what it means to think critically.  This means that the education of children simultaneously develops as the education of parents and communities, as we collaboratively learn to forge a partnership and dialogue within our communities regarding intelligence and learning.  We must look for venues to discuss new ideas, whether it is in our unions, our churches, mosques, temples, at the grocery store or in the mall.  We can never allow the mythology of market driven forces to script educational theatre. Instead we must struggle to pierce the veil of social and political mendacity and proclaim the conservative standards debate for what it really is—a mythology, a prescription and recipe that is not in the interests of either ourselves or our children.

We also must document students’ performances and provide open, public meetings and forums where parents and students are invited to engage in a dialogue about learning and assessment with their children.  This will assist parents in understanding what it truly means to be intelligent and how to provide for their children’s intellectual growth outside of school.  All of this will be essential if we are to rupture the hegemony of the standard mythology and institutionalize authentic procedures for student assessment.

Finally, obviously one cannot assess what one does not understand.  We should not take for granted that teachers themselves have been exposed to progressive dialogues regarding intelligence, critical thinking, constructivism, multiple theories of education or post-formalist principles regarding learning, motivation and teaching.  In fact, in light of the disconsolate state of teacher education programs and the demagogic media driven debate regarding assessment, we probably should assume the opposite.

Similarly, as stated earlier, students must be taught how to assess their own thinking and the thinking of others so they can become life-long learners.  They must be motivated to see the logic of what they are studying and see the relevance of education to their daily lives.  Helping students find relevant significance and meaning within a community of learning will not only help them become life-long learners, but will equip them with an ability to monitor their thinking in the interests of self-correction and critical reflection.  Students and teachers must understand that assessing is learning and learning is assessing– that these are not separate and distinct activities as they have been characterized but life-long, ongoing activities.

      I have thought to use the chart below to compare and contrast what I refer to as  inauthentic standards assessment and authentic standards assessment:

INAUTHENTIC   STANDARDS AND ASSESSMENT AUTHENTIC STANDARDS AND ASSESSMENT
1.  BASED ON ISOLATING ITEMS OF   LEARNING THAT CAN BE COUNTED AND MEASURED 1.  IS BASED ON ORCHESTRATING   ITEMS OF LEARNING FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR GOAL, OR TO SOLVE A PARTICULAR   PROBLEM
2.  FOCUSES ON “GETTING THE   RIGHT ANSWER” 2.  FOCUSES ON NOT JUST GETTING THE RIGHT   ANSWER BUT ON UNCOVERING THE PROCESSES ONE GOES THROUGH TO GET ANSWERS
3.  PROVIDES A “QUICK FIX”   NUMERICAL UNDERSTANDING 3.  IS LONG TERM AND BASED ON INSIGHTS INTO   WHAT IT MEANS TO LEARN AND TEACH
4.  FOCUSES ON THE TRIVIAL ASPECTS OF LEARNING 4.  FOCUSES ON ASSESSING THE   BROAD ASPECTS OF LITERACY OR “THE WHOLE PERSON”
5.  IS SKILL DRIVEN 5.  IS BASED ON TESTING SKILLS IN THE CONTEXT   OF CRITICAL THINKING AND PROBLEM SOLVING
6.  LOOKS AT THE SURFACE FEATURES OF STUDENTS’   PERFORMANCES 6.  LOOKS AT THE TOTALITY OF STUDENTS’   PERFORMANCES AND SERVES AS A GUIDE FOR FUTURE GROWTH
7.  IS ABSTRACTED AND DIVORCED FROM THE REAL   LIVED LIVES OF STUDENTS 7.  IS RELEVANT AND STIMULATING, MOTIVATING   STUDENTS TO QUESTION AND DISCOVER
8.  PROVIDES MISLEADING INFORMATION AND   DIRECTION FOR FURTHER LEARNING AND TEACHING 8.  PROVIDES COMPLETE INFORMATION THAT HELPS TO   GUIDE AND STRENGTHEN THE CURRICULUM AND PROVIDE DIRECTION FOR BOTH TEACHERS   AND STUDENTS FOR FURTHER LEARNING AND TEACHING
9.  IS NON-INTERDISCIPLINARY AND FAILS TO HELP   STUDENTS TRANSFER INSIGHTS INTO THEIR OWN LIVES 9.  IS INTERDISCIPLINARY AND   HELPS STUDENTS TRANSFER SUBJECT INSIGHTS INTO THEIR OWN LIVES WHILE ENABLING   THEM TO SEE HOW DISCIPLINES, SUBJECTS AND WHAT THEY ARE LEARNING RELATE TO   EACH OTHER
10.  PROVIDES NO UNDERSTANDING FOR STUDENTS,   TEACHERS OR PARENTS AS TO WHAT IT MEANS TO BE INTELLIGENT OR EDUCATED IN   TODAY’S SOCIETY 10.  SERVES AS A GUIDE FOR PARENTS, TEACHERS AND   STUDENTS AS TO THE MEANING OF INTELLIGENCE AND HOW INTELLIGENCE CAN BE   CULTIVATED, FOSTERED AND LEARNED
11.  IS OF LITTLE USE TO STUDENTS AND PROVIDES   THEM WITH NO DIRECTION OR STANDARDS BY WHICH TO DEVELOP THE ART OF   SELF-ASSESSMENT 11.  UNDERSTANDS LITERACY AS SELF-ASSESSMENT AND   PROVIDES STUDENTS WITH A PROFILE OF THEIR WORK SO THAT THEY MIGHT DEVELOP   STANDARDS BY WHICH TO IMPROVE THEIR THINKING THROUGH TRANSFORMATIVE   METACOGNITION
12.  FAILS TO ACCOUNT FOR OR ASSESS EMOTIONAL   INTELLIGENCE OR ATTITUDES AND DISPOSITIONS OF LEARNING 12.  UNDERSTANDS THAT ATTITUDES AND DISPOSITIONS   OF LEARNING AND EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE ARE SYNERGISTICALLY RELATED TO WHAT IT   MEANS TO BE INTELLIGENT
13.  SERVES TO CONTROL TEACHERS AND STUDENTS,   WHAT THEY TEACH AND WHAT THEY THINK 13.  HELPS TEACHERS AND STUDENTS CONTROL   THEMSELVES, WHAT THEY TEACH AND WHAT THEY THINK
14.  TESTS DISCIPLINES 14.  TESTS DISCIPLINED THINKING
15.  FAILS TO ACCOUNT FOR DIFFERENCES IN RACE,   GENDER AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC CLASS AND REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE SOCIAL   CONSTRUCTION OF KNOWLEDGE 15.  UNDERSTANDS THAT KNOWLEDGE IS SOCIALLY   CONSTRUCTED AND CONCEIVES OF DIFFERENCES AS POSITIVE
16.  IS NON-DIALOGICAL 16.  IS BASED ON COMMUNICATION AND DIALOGUE
17.  LOOKS AT STUDENTS AS OBJECTS OR RAW   MATERIALS TO BE PRODUCED AND WORKED ON 17.  LOOKS AT STUDENTS AS SUBJECTS IN THE   PROCESS OF IDENTITY FORMATION
18.  CONCEIVES OF EDUCATION AS A RESULT ONLY 18.  CONCEIVES OF EDUCATION AS A PROCESS THAT   PRODUCES RESULTS

The implications of these different theories of literacy on assessment, teaching, learning, curriculum development, and praxis are paramount and cannot be ignored. A reading and writing social studies classroom, for example, that labors under the paradigm of in authentic assessment or passive literacy, might ask students to read short texts, answer simple questions, select from multiple choice answers, and supply missing words in cloze exercises.  The implications of passive literacy are explicit: teachers spend less time on subjects not tested, lecture to students rather than dialogue with them, and are unwilling to stray from the mandated curricula for fear of humiliation, penalization and ostracization.  As such, passive literacy builds on the model of teacher as all-knowing subject and student as spectator.

For those teachers laboring under a paradigm of authentic assessment or active literacy, students would be asked to read texts with depth and interest, thereby seeking to understand points of views, assumptions, and how people arrive at conclusions and decide to act in a world with others.   Students would be animated to problematize their learning and create and answer complex questions that call on multiple intelligences and a host of cognitive and affective abilities in the service of creatively accomplishing a project, or recognizing and solving relevant real-life problems; they learn to become participants in their learning.  Multiple choice, or limited response examinations might not be abandoned, but their use would be minimal and only applied to test students’ understanding of important basic skills; while performance and portfolio assessment would be recruited in the service of assessing the development of critical and creative thinking and communication processes, along with students’actual application of knowledge and basic skills.

CONCLUSION

A school should not be a preparation for life.  A school   should be life

 ——- Elbert Hubbard

From a post-formal perspective, what all this means is clear: we must begin to concentrate our efforts on a public language of literacy, authentic standards, intellectual diversity, and critical thinking assessment that will enable us to provide a vision of what it means to be actively literate as opposed to passively literate.  We must speak to issues of accountability and responsibility in education, but from a post-formal point of view.  It is important to recognize that institutional and societal support must be cultivated and nurtured in order to create an environment for the achievement of learner outcomes and goals; the current universal standards debate must be seen as inauthentic and antithetical to human development.   Once again, this specifically means that we as educators must come to understand that the debate regarding assessment and standards as it is defined in popular media is mythological, jingoistic, propagandistic, and disingenuous; that it does little to foster a healthy critical discourse regarding student achievement—that it is political.  We must reform this debate with a new language of assessment and learning; one tied to what it means to be a human being in search of liberation and subjective emancipation.  The standards we adopt should help students become global citizens, not simply global producers and consumers.  They should have as their purpose the promotion of healthy individual and social growth through critical reflection.  And they must truly be opportunities offered to all students, regardless of class, race, culture, or gender.

Societal support and a realignment of economic and cultural priorities and reality, on the other hand, also would serve as a means for accomplishing educational goals and commitments.  This would mean that the debate regarding education would need to confront objective reality— issues of racial, sexual, educational, and socio-economic equity, directly and honestly— to embrace the necessity for an acute paradigm shift toward general societal humanistic values and changes—from the classroom to the workplace, from the family to the state.  It would be perfidious to propose that equity can exist within the institutions of education while economic and social inequality pervades major societal institutions as a whole.  For this reason, teachers as intellectuals must become teachers as social activists, collaborating and re-oxygenating their unions with vision and struggling for a commitment on the part of society to make children the top priority, to preserve and strengthen public education, to provide adequate nutrition and health care to families, to furnish safe schools and neighborhoods, to assure the development and distribution of fair and adequate funding for public education, to equalize opportunity, and to support local decision-making by governing bodies.  As society and its institutions forge a partnership for critical thinking and educational opportunities for all students, the primary indicator of our effectiveness will be our ability to achieve our greatest goal: the education of all our nation’s children and the creation of a loving world of authentic agency and caring human beings.

REFERENCES

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