My daughter, Larissa, my wife, Karen, and I were hanging out at Brian and Shannon Phillips tonight where we talked about Plato’s Republic with Josh and Rebekkah (sp?) Leland. It was an informal, casual conversation about important things like music, the formation of the soul, how to become a gentleman, stuff like that.
Driving home I asked Larissa for her thoughts and she made an interesting point. She said it was unlike a school discussion because at school all of your reading is driven by anxiety about the test. You read asking yourself, “Do I need to remember this? Is it going to be on the test?”
And of course that is what a student is going to do, because the book is long and detailed, and if you start following something because it interests you, you won’t do well on the means of assessment established by the teacher and the school. Teachers often ask me in teacher training workshops how to cure kids of this obsession. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is only one way.
Don’t test them.
I heard that reaction and I understand it. I would only challenge you to think about it this way: how did the ancient Greeks and Romans and the medieval and Renaissance Europeans examine their students?
I heard that reaction too and I know perfectly well that we live in America today and that we can’t go back to that long lost era. But that doesn’t remove from us the responsibility to ask which way works better and whether we aren’t doing positive harm to many of our students.
Because we are.
So we at least need to come up with ways to undermine these defective ways of so-called teaching that we have had forced upon us. We at least need to resist them. We can’t just give ourselves up to them. Children do have souls and those souls matter.
There is a time, mode, and place for assessment, but when a child is distracted from contemplating a passage in a great work of philosophy, literature, theology, or history because she is worried about how she will do on a test, a classical education (or whatever) has been used to enslave her mind.
Let’s not call that education, please.