"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Ethical use of testing comments

A couple of days ago I posted a draft of a Statement on the Ethical Use of Testing.

I think that such a statement that places a humane limit on testing in K-12 will be wildly popular with Americans who are not already bought by the privatization and the corporate welfare wizards at ED. I believe that those who have not constitute a clear majority. I believe, too, that a statement with clarity, humanity, and teeth can bring together organizations and individuals at all level around the idea of making our people fairer and smarter and more caring.

Some have expressed concern for what might result as "fallout from the approach toward poverty" taken in the Statement. It states that the disabled, immigrants, and the poor will not be held to the same standard as others. A friend who responded in an email that her primary concern was that recognizing economic disadvantage as a criterion for adjusting assessment requirements would lead to an institutionalization of low expectations.

My response, in short, was that we don't need this kind of concession to the poor to institutionalize unfairness--that has been the theme of minority education in America since the beginning. And such institutionalized unfairness has never, to my knowledge, resulted from a caring concern for acknowledging the realities of being poor, but rather as a series of wicked cudgels to beat down every attempt of oppressed people to claim a place in society where none was available.

I would argue that the "idealization" of fairness as miraculously appearing somewhere down the sunny road of the future, has been the chief weapon used by liberals to maintain inequality and inequity. Of course, conservatives simply deny that any unfairness exists. Those who insist on the same performance expectations for rich and poor do so to supposedly avoid a regime of low expectations, which reality tells us is all that we may expect with any certainty for as long as the poor remain poor. Such idealization is, in fact, a denial to preserve that which has not occurred and not likely to occur as long the denial continues.

The result, of course, to this kind of wishful thinking trumping reality is for the poor to continue the degradation of failure that poverty brings, while the policy that assures their continuing subjugation goes unchanged and is even ramped up by an empty-headed and inhumane notion that screaming louder at the poor to come along will somehow make it possible for them to move faster.

If this kind of blind stupidity could be pried loose and an alternative conception considered, then there may be hope for the beginning of an interim of sanity to ensue and for learning to begin again in schools. As long as the testing that assures failure continues unimpeded by blindness and insipid optimism, then public schools will continue to be blamed for not accomplishing that which public schools or any other schools will ever get done alone. In the meantime, the intellectual and emotional genocide against poor children and poor communities will continue.

Those who argue for the continuance of this blind idealization as a way to preserve a once and future date for justice and fairness to be wrought, would not be willing, I do not think, to apply the same argument to affirmative action practices. Would the preservers of a future fairness argue that affirmative action institutionalizes low expectations for poor students, thus stunting real opportunity that is sure to arrive if we simply pretend that it already has.

Of course, the need to confront these hard realities of poverty and race could be entirely avoided if we got rid of assessments that assure failure. Without that requisite, however, neocons would have no heavy club to complete the demonization of public schools, thus opening the door to the guaranteed corruption of the educational enterprise by corporate welfare artists, and the rendering of future populations much more concerned with any kind of job than with the preservation and extension of the democratic principles and human rights that made this place America.

God help us if we can't get this done.

Still open for comments. Please do.

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