“Ok class, clear your desks and take out a blank sheet of paper.”
That sentence still sends terrifying shivers down my spine. I remember the countless times I heard this statement all through my learning career. Those words should not be so scary, but we became conditioned to know that it meant a pop quiz, a test, or something to assess our level of skill or knowledge would shortly begin. So conditioned that today it still sets off a PTSD type hypersensitive moment, where I immediately think “Oh please let me remember everything”!
Would it not be great, if our students today could get excited by hearing this request from their instructor? Perhaps curiously thinking what kind of exciting journey will be taken where we need to clear off desk space and have a blank canvas? Unfortunately, we are still steeped in a world full of testing, assessment, standardized learning, and focusing on a student’s ability to regurgitate information in a specific way.
However, fortunately, there is a wind of change starting to blow. Minds like Alfie Kohn in The Case Against Grades who are pointing out how assessment is undermining a true desire for learning. Or like Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon who in 2009 reminded us to keep the flame of imagination alive in their book Imagination First: Unlocking the power of possibility. Reading these works, and several others, give me hope that one day students will learn for the education of it, rather than how well they perform on standardized tests.
Let me say just a few things about testing and the killing of imagination. I do not test well, especially on standardized testing. Then imagine layering that anxiety over top of the thought of the results determining how my future may unfold based on how high my test score outcomes. So I boycotted. Yep, I totally did. Did not take the SAT. Still got into college. Did not take the GRE. Still got my master’s. Got into a PhD program at a pretty impressive school (ahem, VT)….but I did need the GRE. Which I did finally take, but was a formality of getting in; so I felt no pressure for scoring. All that said, I think I’m doing fairly well without the percentile ranking lurking in my virtual file.
I also remember being a senior in high school at a career fair where a female interior designer told me to my face (at 16 years of age) that it was too late for me to choose that career because I did not have the background. That felt like a slap to my face. Needless to say, I am not an interior designer. Good thing she was not a counselor. That was something I began my specific formal training for at age 34. And here I am today, still continuing to educate myself.
What got me to this point was not mapped out curricula, standardized testing, plotted target dates with specific goals, or grooming from Kindergarten to be sure of my education path. What did get me here was my life experiences, my curiosity, my desire to learn more about what fed my passions, and a lifelong goal to learn because I WANTED to know more. There is no test to prove my worth. No test to measure the value in what I have learned. We need to get back to feeding the want to learn rather than teaching our students how to jump through hoops to measure what someone else deems valuable.
What do you think? Should we be placing more value on the process of learning and education versus measuring the outcomes of canned educative studies? And if so how do we inspire the learning in better, truly valuable ways?