Salon.com’s August 30th article “Teachers: Be subversive” features a wonderful interview with Jonathan Kozol. Kozol has recently published “Letters to a Young Teacher,” which reminds me thematically and stylistically to Paulo Freire’s books “Letters to Cristina” and “Teachers As Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach.” Kozol’s book “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America” is one of several books sitting on my bookshelf that I’ve needed to pick up and read for many months. Along with John Dewey and Paulo Freire, I’ve recognized over the past few years that Kozol’s ideas about education, learning and politics are both thought provoking as well as foundational for those (like myself) wanting to better understand formal School cultures to effectively serve as a catalyst for constructive change.
I adamantly agree with Kozol that our nation’s focus on high-stakes, punitive testing for K-12 students has been extremely harmful and should be abandoned for more humane, genuinely helpful diagnostic assessments administered by teachers for the express purpose of helping identify skill areas of strength and weakness. Currently, high stakes test results are returned so late to both teachers and students that they are useless as diagnostic tools. There are many other reasons to abandon high-stakes, punitive testing of course– many school districts now administer batteries of “benchmark tests” throughout the school year to address the issue of timely feedback– and those educational cultures have certainly not been made humane or desirable as a result of benchmark exams. Abandoning high-stakes, punitive testing in schools is needed most because it is the moral path to take, in an educational culture which has (in many cases) reduced students into mere statistics. Kozol explains some of the benefits of this political course in the interview:
First of all, it would immediately relieve that sense that there’s always a sword above their heads, and that sword is empirically measurable testing. It would relieve the sense that every minute of the day has to be allocated to a predesignated skill. It would free them from the absurdity of posting numbers and the language of standards on their blackboards, which are of absolutely no benefit to a child. As Francesca once pointed out to me, no child’s going to come back 10 years later and say, “I’m so grateful to you for teaching me proficiency 56b.” It would free the teachers from all of that, and it would allow these young teachers, most of whom have majored in liberal arts, and who love literature and poetry, to flood the classroom with all those treasures that they themselves enjoyed when they were children, most of them in very good suburban school districts.
Thanks to Doug Noon (via his del.icio.us social bookmarks) for alerting me to this excellent article. I hope to read “Shame of the Nation” this fall, and hopefully “Letters to a Young Teacher” soon afterward. Let us hope our political leaders considering reauthorization of NCLB will take time to read and consider Kozol’s perspectives.
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