Americans are in love with numbers. The Common Core came with high stakes testing. The concept of the common core is as old as systems of education. Can we agree on what a person needs to know, master, understand to make them a good citizen, and can we agree when they need to know it?
Americans trust numbers the way the Romans trusted soothsayers and the Greeks trusted the Oracle at Delphi, and many folks today consult their horoscopes before they venture out. Two plus two is four, unless you are talking about rabbits.
Americans love to measure success and only trust measures that can be reported in numbers, and yet the most important things can’t be measured. When we try, we make the test score a goal and not what it really is. Often the test tells more about the tester than the tested.
It is time to have a conversation about what Americans need to know and what we can teach. Are there books that every American should read? When do we read them? How do we keep up with the books that are being written now? How much math, how much history, how many languages and which ones? No end to this conversation.
Education cannot be measured and schools are not businesses. Students are not products, and parents are not customers, and test scores are not the ultimate proof of value. Knowing the answers is not as important as knowing what questions to ask.
Knowledge is not just a collection of facts. Wisdom comes from knowing how to get information and how to put that information to good use. Good citizens do not need to be measured but need to know how to measure and what can be measured.
Diagnosticians are realizing that asking a patient to put a number on pain is not as useful as asking for a description. Teachers know that they learn from their students. Every group changes the dynamic, and every kid learns in her own good time and learns as much from the other kids as from the teacher.
Education is not a collection of facts, nor values, nor behaviors, but all of these. Good teachers should not be measured by an inaccurate measure of things that cannot be measured.
Tests are useful diagnostic tools. They may reflect effort. They can help us manage curriculum and help teachers to remediate.
School is also about shared experiences and developing relationships and learning about diversity- the lists goes on and on. An athlete finds his poetic side, an artist learns about competition. Schools should provide a safe place to fail, because fear of failure is the greatest barrier to success.
Elizabeth Barrett wrote to her husband, Robert Browning:
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
And then she did.
Great question, great answer and no numbers.