Weekend Reading

These readings will improve your weekend:

The responsibility troll has a problem: he or she has a lot of thoughts about the way Women Ought to Behave, but knows that it’s socially unacceptable to insist directly on double standards for men and women. Luckily, however, our society is totally fine with restricting women’s lives if it’s for their own good (or, sometimes, for their children’s). Problem solved!

The responsibility troll won’t say that it’s not ladylike for women to drink the way men do – but she wants you to be aware that studies show that women who get drunk are more likely to get raped. The responsibility troll knows you think your right to choose is important, but he feels you ought to know that studies show that women who have abortions end up sad ladies who are full of regret. The responsibility troll doesn’t tell women that they should prioritize their babies over their careers – but does feel a need to point out that studies show that exclusive breast-feeding is best for the infant. Studies show, you know. The responsibility troll loves studies.

The image of 4- and 5-year-olds struggling to figure out how to take a multiple-choice test is heartbreaking enough, but the image that stuck with me was that of the children trying to help one another with the test and being told that they’re not allowed to do so.

When we talk about the values that students learn from standardized testing, we often talk about incentives to cheat (for both teachers and students) as the pressure on each individual test increases, or, as Jones noted in July, the removal of creative subjects from the curriculum. Less discussed, but just as important, is the way these tests make everything into a competition—they pit children against one another instead of teaching them to share, which can turn even a kindergarten classroom into a den of hyper-individualistic bootstrappers (or as Megan Erickson wrote, “little Lebowski urban achievers”).

This is a feature, not a bug, of the testing regime. While it’s always worth pointing out how big the testing business is and the identity of the people who stand to profit from its never-ending expansion, it’s also important to remember that testing is an ideological practice. Just as boiling teaching down to test administration breaks the bond between teachers and students and reduces highly skilled workers to automatons that can be replaced with inexperienced and often temporary Teach for America recruits, boiling learning down to filling in bubbles and getting a good score teaches very young children that they have nothing to offer each other—that their only goal should be stomping the competition on the way to the top.

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