Student Speaks Out


Student Speaks Out Against Standardization

Traditionally, in the American college and university, professors designed the content for their own courses based on their expertise, and then assessed their students’ grasp of that material using a grading system. In today’s academy, the simple logic of this relationship has been undermined by a cadre of highly paid administrators of assessment, accreditation, and compliance, who do not teach but create and collect “data” re-assessing faculty evaluations of their own students.

John Allen Paulos, a professor of mathematics at Temple University, observes that we live in an age of “metric mania” and “hold an outsized belief in our ability to gauge complex phenomena [such as learning], measure outcomes and come up with compelling numerical evidence.” The upshot of this “metric mania” is that American universities and colleges are heading hastily down the road of standardized curricula and testing that resembles the oft-maligned “Common Core” movement in secondary education.

Recently, a high school student laid out a withering critique of the Common Core to the Knox County School Board. In his five-minute address, Ethan Young exposes the veiled corporate origins of the Common Core and notes that it offers only “national testing and a one-size-fits-all education.” As a result, it can never adequately address “our academic deficit.” Moreover, these standards illustrate a mistrust of teachers who, in his words, have to “jump through flaming hoops to earn a score” due to “erroneous evaluation and strategic compensation” built into the Common Core.

Presciently, Young places human relationships at the heart of the craft of teaching, and observes that by definition complex personal interactions, such as those between a teacher and student, defy quantification. In fact, “there will never be a system by which it can be measured.” In Young’s estimation, “standards based education is ruining the way we teach and learn” largely because of “bureaucratic convenience.” As Young points out:

Education is unlike every other bureaucratic institute in our government; the task of teaching is never quantifiable. If everything I learn in high school is a measurable objective, I have not learned anything.
Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness, these are impossible to scale, but they are the purpose of education–why our teachers teach, and why I choose to learn. And today, we find ourselves in a nation that produces workers.  Everything is career and college preparation. Somewhere, our Founding Fathers are turning in their graves, pleading, screaming, and trying to say to us: “we teach to free minds!”

Young concludes his remarks by encouraging Knox County School Board members to consider one simple question: “Haven’t we gone too far with data?” In my view, and that of many educators around the nation, the answer is unequivocal. Indeed, we live in an age when quantity reigns over common sense.

Inside the halls of American higher education, tenured faculty members are perhaps best positioned to pushback against this wave of assessment and standardization, which is another symptom of the corporatization of the academy. For this reason, when parents and students select a college or university, it is important from them to ask how many of the faculty are tenured or on the tenure-track, and how many hold renewable contingent and adjunct positions.

Demand more tenure-track appointments at your college or university! Make the choice to attend an institution that invests in you by investing in the faculty!

2 Responses to “Student Speaks Out”

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