by Lael Ewy
We need to teach students not to meet benchmarks but to question the very premises upon which those benchmarks are based.
What is or isn't “excellent” is the wrong aim of education in a democracy. We should be able to create standards and critique them, not just to live up the standards those-who-would-have-us-think-they-are-our-betters set. We should be well-versed in making meaning, not just in coming up with answers.
All this dilly-dallying about with “performance” is actually selling education far short, and we, as a nation, should be ashamed of settling for it. Performance standards are, at best, a distraction from the potentials of education and, at worst, part of a concerted effort to reign in the more independent-minded, and therefore more subversive and revolutionary, aspects of being an educated person.
The fact that school systems find it difficult to meet (often arbitrary) performance criteria is not a measure of the “rigor” of those measures but rather an indication of their irrelevance. We are a culture full of people who find themselves falling behind economically, losing collective power, and constantly facing new struggles that our existing power structure, instead of helping us solve, helps to compound. None of these more salient problems are addressed by standardized tests, and we feel it, even if we haven't the language to express it.
One's self-discipline is a factor of one's motivation; it isn't “laziness” to not want to play a game that you know is rigged against you. Rather, it is common sense to opt out, screw off, half-ass it. It's a good deal more compelling when what you need to know is presented as a factor of what you need to do. Exploring ways to better yourself that you can see and touch makes much more sense than granulated, preprocessed abstractions and idealizations of “knowledge.” Paulo Friere understood this, and his “problem-posing” education was thus attacked as being “theoretical,” the antithesis of what it actually is.
All we've done with “excellence” is increase the minimum allowable balance of our current “banking” style of education; we've done nothing to put that value to work for a people increasingly impoverished in both real and intellectual ways.