Education: Don't Test; Teach!
Learning in the Classroom
The Good Sisters of Charity
Sister Elizabeth Seton
I don't remember taking any tests in kindergarten, but in eight years of grammar school, four years of high school and six years (some of it part time) of college it seems I did little else.
Sometimes I think all those tests I was subjected to -- so called quizzes, mid-terms, finals, SATs, aptitude, psychological, intelligence tests -- took up too much valuable time. Maybe taking those tests were not a complete waste of time, but I think I'd be a better educated citizen if those hours were spent accumulating knowledge rather than showing others how much I had learned.
Nevertheless, I'm not categorically opposed to tests. I just think much of the testing we do is unnecessary. It can be too tempting to learn something, take a test proving you've become conversant with the material, and convince yourself that's all there is to it.
Connecticut Mastery Tests
So, when I read these days about the Connecticut Mastery Tests, and whether pupils should take them in the fall or the spring, the great debate, in my case, falls on deaf ears.
Told that 105,000 pupils in fourth, fifth and sixth grades take the reading, writing and math tests, my reaction is: That's 105,000 hours that are being wasted (assuming a one-hour test.) Did anyone learn anything in those 105,000 hours?
I would much rather see teachers spend their time teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, history, languages and all the classic studies, including reading of the world's great books.
But, as important as those basics are, there are myriad other things we need to know to be well rounded and "educated."
Create Learning Centers?
A good idea would be to create learning centers where teachers could hold forth on the basics for a portion of the day while proctors, hired for the purpose, show students how to pursue their interests in other subjects -- whatever suits their fancy. People learn better when they have a direct interest in what they study. This world doesn't need automatons who are cloned and educated in the same way.
In grammar school, I learned a great deal by rote. Sisters of Charity taught me the multiplication tables, who discovered America, who invented the cotton gin, and who was the first explorer to navigate the Cape of Good Hope.
The Flow of History
It wasn't until I read about various periods of history in what we used to call "dime novels" that I developed a true appreciation for the historical periods I knew by rote. I needed the information I learned by rote, but I also needed a basic knowledge of the flow of history. Ultimately, for me, it was through biographies, nonfiction and historical fiction that these subjects came to life.
Some tests may be useful, and even necessary, but educators should make our children's education their first priority.
It's OK to establish curriculum to achieve some worthy goal, but teaching children only what is necessary to score well on a test -- any test -- shortchanges them.
We should be certain our children have a good grasp of the basics, but at the same time allow them to explore subjects of particular, personal interest -- no matter what those subjects may be. Show them where -- and how -- to find the knowledge they're looking for, whether it be in a textbook, in the reference section of the library or filed on a computer.
If we do this, we won't need so many tests to measure our children's worth.
I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on May 18, 1996. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.