This is entertaining and at least a little thought-provoking:
I agree that standardized testing is disastrous, and I think many (if not most) people working in education would agree. One problem I see in thinking through how this might apply to higher education is that those who end up teaching at colleges and universities (like me) are the people who were good at the system to begin with. We’re invested in it not only materially, because it is or we hope it will be the source of our income in the future, but culturally as well, because it represents an important part of how we think of our place in the world.
Even aside from that, isn’t it worth preserving some of that emphasis we have in the arts on aesthetic experience? I already have classrooms full of kids who can’t seem to disconnect from their smart phones and complain when I implore them to use the entire fifty minutes they have to take an exam, rather than finishing up and leaving after half an hour. I suspect that Robinson has primary and secondary education more in mind here, where kids are expected to sit for hours at a time, and the experience is often uninspiring. What about college, when students are still very much making the transition to adulthood and the environment is almost always less structured than the one they left behind?
I think we already try to do this in history, where a lot of us draw on the Socratic seminar model, trying to engage students in active discussion. However, in teaching I’ve found that they’re mostly not all that interested in grappling with big concepts or critically engaging with the material. Often, they just want you to spoon-feed them information, and only what’s going to be on the test. It’s likely that they’re products of the anesthetizing testing culture that Robinson describes, but they’re also stretched thin by heavy courseloads, jobs, and family commitments.
This intersects with some thoughts that have been swirling in my head as a result of the Wisconsin protests. Teacher’s unions are one of the last bastions of organized labor in the United States, and they’ve drawn a lot of fire for protecting the tenure system and generally, you know, wanting to be paid salaries that reflect their investment of time and social importance. Some critics have called for greater teacher accountability, usually measured at least in part through standardized testing. Rethinking Schools gives a list of reasons why this is a terrible idea, noting that it’s another step toward reforming the education system along free market principles. Of course, it’s absolutely detrimental to developing students’ critical thinking skills and creativity. If being able to conceive of multiple answers to the same question is a trait that we want to encourage, multiple-choice testing is obviously the wrong way to go about it. But what I really want to know is…
…does this mean I can feel good about playing a Monty Python clip in section since we’re talking about medieval slavery?
Ken Robinson would approve.