THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 512, March 29, 2009
"Maybe it's not such a bad thing to be thought a barbarian.
People usually don't mess with barbarians, after all."
Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise
The time for Texas Schools to endure the Exit TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) Test is upon us again. The Exit TAKS is administered for the first time during Junior year in high school and must be passed to receive a high school diploma. Basically it means you are literate, numerate, and know enough general science and history, government and geography facts and skills to function at about the sixth to eighth grade level. Considering that national reading levels in the 1970's were at about the 4th to 6th grade level, this is an improvement.
The failure of American schools in teaching the Three R's was clearly exposed in the early 1970's when a California High School graduate successfully sued the California Education System for giving him a high school diploma, which hypothetically should certify your literacy, without actually teaching him now to read and write. He won. Now school systems nation wide are giving Exit Tests to see if people actually learned anything before they hand them a diploma.
The problem is a result of contradictory expectations on the school systems. They were expected to enforce segregation, teach victims of racism the skills they needed to overcome discrimination in a racist (sexist, lookist, etc.) society, enforce desegregation, teach obedience to the party line, teach people to question the party line, encourage assimilation and encourage people to preserve their unique cultural heritages, all at the same time. For some reason things like reading, writing, and arithmetic got neglected along the way.
So we got stuck with TAKS and other exit tests. At least the State and states admitted that teaching a certain minimum literacy in school was desirable. Which leads to my next comment.
For years teachers have complained that "teaching to the test" has interfered with teaching in more depth. To a small degree this reflects an objection to not getting to teach to our own agendas. I am not necessarily speaking political agendas. A teacher who wants to get into Shakespeare's comedies obviously objects to having to use their time on English grammar "drill and kill," a history teacher who is trying to make sure that kids remember Mahons' part in building up America's Navy in the late 1890's (a perennial question in years past) and other standard questions does not have time to get into the intricacies of Sino-American relations.
However my big objection is that so many of my colleagues don't get it. Too many of our students don't learn enough basic syntax, grammar, and vocabulary in to be ready to enjoy Shakespeare. Too many students do not learn that we were trading ginseng and other American products of Chinese porcelain almost as soon the treaty recognizing American independence went into effect. And they are not learning them because without the pressure of Exit Tests too many teachers weren't bothering to teach them because they wanted to teach something else instead, usually stuff tied into the PC goals of the day. Until these deficiencies are corrected, whether it is reading and writing skills, or fact bases to build higher level thinking too many teachers are going to be stuck teaching to the test. Sadly for too many teachers and students, that will be an improvement on what was going on before exit tests became so popular.
And as long as our education system is supposed to officially be preparing our kids to be free when instead it is brainwashing them to be obedient serfs (even when they and their parents think they are rebelling) we will have this problem. How can it be otherwise when any serious literacy, math skills, and factual knowledge would leave kids feeling they had no choice but to all but destroy the existing order?