Friday, 20 August 2010

About dogs, kids and standardized tests

Can we compare the kids we meet in our class room with dogs? Are we trainers or educators?
Source image

Jason Flom has posted a highly peculiar metaphor at Ecology of Education. He has been on vacation to Scotland and has admired the remarkable skills of the Border Collie.
This leads him into thinking about a crucial dilemma in education. Shouldn't we accept that some children are inept at maths or science, or history?
It isn’t that many different breeds can’t be taught to herd, lead high-altitude rescue efforts, or kill foxes. They can. It’s just that teaching all dogs to do things which one particular breed can do better than any other doesn’t make much sense.
We accept the reasonableness of that argument for dogs. We reject it for kids.
His observation of dogs shepherding in the Scottish highlands triggers Jason Flom into rejecting standardised tests.
Think a promising trumpet player shouldn’t be kept out of the school orchestra or pushed out on the street because he can’t remember the date of the Boxer Rebellion?
This is a lousy metaphor. It is based on poor ethology. It results in detrimental ethics.

I have had a happy dog for sixteen years

Dogs are bred to demonstrate predictable behaviour to meet to their master's wishes. Being descendants from wolves, domesticated by mankind, they love to follow the leader of their pack, which happens to be a human being. That's why dogs are eager to show their innate qualities and don' t need to overcome their flaws. Dogs are not aware of their flaws. Don't teach your dog to overcome his dependency, it will result in a mean companion. You can train your dog to do tricks based on his natural behaviour, retrieve a stick and so on. That's all.

There is a difference between training and education

Humans are educated to enable creative versatile behaviour with which they can react to unpredictable circumstances independently and thereby pursue their personal happiness and shore up the common good of their tribe. They may heed the chief's stance, but only if it makes sense.
That's why they need a broad knowledge and understanding even in those fields in which they are not that talented. They need to learn a lot of things. Being able to learn a lot of things is the quintessential talent of our species. Homo sapiens is a far better learner than Canis lupus familiaris.

You do not own your classroom, you owe it to the world at large.

Secondary education must guarantee that everyone can participate in society and contribute to the survival of the species. That's why everyone has to attain a basic curriculum. On top of that everyone has to develop his natural talents for making a living as an expert, as a plumber, a rocket scientist or as a trumpet player. We need all those special skills and talents.
But we definitely need the excellent trumpet player to have also an educated opinion on matters of science: he has to vote on legislation which deals with environmental issues, for example. We don't want daft voters, do we? We don't want to treat musical talents like dogs who are rewarded with a cookie or hug when showing their tricks on request of the master, do we? We don't want the plumber to be invoked as a politician's running gag “Joe the Plumber,” do we?

No education without testing

Standardised testing guarantees that students push themselves to pass muster in a broad range of subjects, not only in their favourite activity. Without standards they would be too lazy and bail out. The trumpet player might get his applause but the world will collapse

I don't get it

I do not understand my fellow teachers from The United States. I only ran into this contentious issue while blogging. I am ignorant about “No Child Left Behind” or “The Common Core Standards.” I am a humble teacher from The Netherlands, who has been dogged for years and years by the standards of our national exams. But looking at international comparison of efficacy of education, I can only conclude that The Netherlands rank perennially in the top ten, if not the top five, while the United States lag way behind. Albeit, we, Dutch teachers, we are embarrassed, because we used to be in the top three. Apparently we have a problem and we are enviously looking at Finland: number one. Their secondary school concludes also with a nationally graded matriculation examination, devised in the ninetenteenth century, just like our national exams. They keep their exams up like we do.

Dear fellow teachers from The States: heed your chief's caution: you need standardised tests. You need national exams. It makes sense!

By the way

It goes without saying that any promising trumpet player who can memorise an intricate musical pattern is capable of remembering the date of the Boxer Rebellion. If he is too lazy to work at it, then just send him on the streets to busk. He may earn his bread and butter while other people decide on his future.


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