Friday, September 3, 2010

Have you been standarized?

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

İ am of the mind that much of the conformity we walk around with belongs in the category of foolish consistency to which Emerson was referring. Toward this end, İ want to thank Alan Watt for bringing to my attention a little book called " An Anatomy for Conformity". I want to share the closing passage of this illuminating text:

How to Do İt

İf one wishes to produce conformity for good or evil, the formula is clear. Manage to arouse a need or needs that are important to the individual or to the group. Offer a goal which is appropriate to the need or needs. Make sure that conformity is instrumental to the achievement of the goal and that the goal is as large and as certain as possible. Apply the goal or reward at every opportunity. Try to prevent the object of your efforts from obtaining an uncontrolled education. Choose a setting that is ambiguous. Do everything possible to see that the individual has little or no confidence in his own position. Do everything possible to make the norm which you set appear highly valued and attractive. Set it at a level not too far initially from the starting position of the individual or the group and move it gradually toward the behavior you wish to produce. Be absolutely certain you know what you want and that you are willing to pay an enormous price in human quality, for whether the individual or the group is aware of it or not, the result will be CONFORMİTY

I recently received a message from a long time friend who just left the teaching profession after over 15 years of service because of her frustrations with the public schooling system, in large part to its overweening fixation on testing which she characterized as an interference upon the actual teaching of the schools. It is often assumed that a high quality standardized test is a reliable measure of learning which provides meaningful feedback to students, teachers, parents and administrators about student achievement and thereby providing a measure for accountability for all involved. Part of the logic underlying such testing is that the learning being measured must conform to the parameters of the test in order to be valued. Implicit in this logic,learning that falls outside these parameters is not measured and therefore not valued. To be sure, some learning may be measured in this fashion, but if we allow for individual learners and their unique needs, it is easy to see that the cost/benefit analysis of such testing endeavors favors the test makers over the test takers.İf you think of such tests in light of what İ shared earlier about how to create conformity, İ think its quite clear that tests are part of the armaments used to induce conformity and ease the prospects for control within the populace. Having been a teacher for ten years now and a student for too many years beyond that, İ am sad to admit how much İ have been involved in the machinery of conformity.
Over time, İ have become more and more convinced that such things as tests and other standardized forms within modern schooling reflect not flaws of the system merely requiring enlightened revisioning and reform but rather key features of a dehumanizing process. The negative outcomes of this process should be understood as evidence of the malevolent success of this system. İt has not been poorly designed to create an enlightened populace, but rather brilliantly engineered to pump out broken humans ready to take their appointed place. Outside of my experience in support of this view and İ would argue, in line with much of the school experience of anybody reading this, İ would like to share some relevant points raised by John Taylor Gatto in his essay, The Six Lesson School Teacher:

Lesson One: Stay in the Class Where You Belong.

Lesson Two: Turn On and Off Like a Light Switch.

Lesson Three: Surrender Your Will to a Predetermined Chain of Command.

Lesson Four: Only Authorities Will Determine What Curriculum You Will Study.

Lesson Five: Your Self-Respect Should Depend on an Observer's Measure of Your Worth.

Lesson Six: You Are Being Watched.

Gatto has lots more to say about our educational system and I highly recommend reading what he has to say. İ'll be looking for ways to get out of the foolish consistency İ've found myself in.


  1. These are some of the reasons that I chose to teach early childhood special education. It's a specialized field, one that operates within our public school building and systems, but allows for real learning experiences before conformity becomes the main goal. We work with the students on communicating their needs and wants, we follow the child's learning preferences and styles, and we allow for authentic assessment; observing their abilities and needs, and then creating experiences to meet those needs & build on their strengths.

    Although I must answer to the authorities inherent in the system, I am allowed much more freedom by designing curriculum for individuals first. Teaching so far has allowed me to combine art, music, social skills, humor, listening & overall, communication skills that provide a foundation for the children's future learning.

    I also enjoy the opportunity to work with the students for 2+ years at a time, so that there is less of a rush to accomplish anything, and we can go at the child's pace.

    Thanks for this inspiration. It's reminded me of the gems of opportunity that I do have in the classroom, and to not lose sight of that freedom while operating within the system. It's my fourth year this year. Never know what direction or depth it will go. But I will refocus on the things I love about it - the music, and building a community of learners.

  2. Glad to hear you found some cracks in the system that you to bring such wonderful things to bear.Your students are blessed.

  3. Thank you, Tony
    Your students are lucky to have you teaching them, too, challenging them to think through their learning.

  4. Tony,

    Found this motivational video and having read your post earlier in the day thought they dove tailed nicely.

    The video says something along the lines of "if you've never failed, you've never lived," which I happen to agree with. But my question would be how often is "failure" really just not meeting certain people's narrow view of what success is.

  5. İ will check it out once YouTube is opened again for Turkey. İ concur that both success and failure are in the heart of the beholder.