#82 • May 2009


As the new administration comes in, there is one thing that I hope will definitely get left behind, and that’s the “No Child Left Behind,” act, which should have been called the “No Child Left Behind Except Those That Are Already Behind,” act, because the one thing that was left behind was the money. But what should have been left behind, unfortunately, was the idea that states must have state-wide standardized tests given to all students that would eventually assure us that every kid in the United States was “Proficient.” If it had worked, it would have been very, very expensive, however, because then every state that succeeded would have to rename itself, “Lake Wobegon,” after the town where every kid is above average. Imagine the expense of changing all those states’ names on stationery, licence plates, history books, etc. etc. Absolutely frightening.

What is not funny about standardized tests is the idea that a child with a sufficiently large supply of facts in his head is intelligent. Or, as Alfred North Whitehead, put it. “Culture is activity of thought ..... Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. A merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God’s earth.” You can’t judge the threat of global warming by knowing the periodic table, or all the genera and species of biology. But you can learn to recognize whether a theory has merit if you know how the scientific method works. You can distinguish between junk science for profit or religious dogma instead of science if you have had practice in making a hypothesis, thinking up ways of testing it and concluding whether it was correct or not. It is the activity that matters. A pile of bricks is worthless until they are assembled into a beautiful building.

So what does all this have to do with dyslexia? Memorizing isolated facts is one of the things dyslectics do worst. But they can be excellent at understanding concepts, seeing patterns and following trends. Quite often they are artistic. Perhaps the most useful thing that art teaches is that there is no one right way to do things. The standardized tests reward the highest pile of bricks, not the beauty of the building. And low scores do a job on the self-esteem of kids whose bad scores make their teachers mad, bring the wrath of the Department of Education down on the school and make their friends think they are dumb.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a new Secretary of Education could leave the whole idea of standardized testing behind-- way, way behind? And what could we do with all the money it would save? Enlarge libraries, pay superior teachers better salaries and reduce the exorbitant cost of college.

And you can bet your grandmother’s false teeth it will never happen. President Obama would like to, but the inertia of the educational system is so massive that I doubt that even he will be able to move it.




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