1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Honey, I shrunk the kids (and myself)!"

Teachers and parents (not to mention students) often deplore the increased use of standardized tests and assessments. That horse has been pulverized into subatomic particles, so I don't wish to dwell on stadardized tests, per se; rather, I'd like to briefly explore what existential or spiritual factors may lead to inordinate desire for "hard data" or "proof of learning."

In God at the Ritz, Lorenzo Albacete describes two elements of human work.

Human work has an "objective" and a "subjective" meaning. The objective meaning of work measures progress in terms of practical tasks accomplished. The subjective meaning of work measures preogress in terms of the fulfillment of the deepest needs of the human heart (140).
A moment's reflection will reveal that test-taking represents a desire to obtain an objective accounting of what a student knows and can be expected to accomplish in the future.

So far, so good: parents, employers, and indeed the student himself all have legitimate needs for this kind of knowledge. The danger is when the objective eclipses the subjective. In other words, when human desire and its fulfillment are marginalized or ignored, the result is alienation.

The student begins to reduce his conception of himself to what is needed to please others or to do "what's important" according to measure of those who hold power. Good grades are not nothing but they don't answer the question, "What, in the end, makes life worth living?"

The teacher too is put into an awkward position: When promotion and tenure are linked to student performance according to what is measurable (and only to what is measureable), a "reasonable" (if amoral) teacher will focus on teaching those knowledge, skills and abilities that are testable -- to the detriment of the immeasurable.

Each of us knows from real life that the immeasurable, is, well, immeasureable. The most important things in life are non-quantifiable: affection, self-giving, generosity, etc.

Question: Where are those places where human flourishing is encouraged?

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