I just read on Yahoo news that 19 teachers from Seattle‘s Garfield High School said “No” to administering standardized tests. This is a courageous first step and they should be forever memorialized as the “Seattle 19.” As a student and scholar of critical pedagogy, I am aware that standardized tests discourage critical thinking and replace it with emphasis on rote memory and test-taking skills. In Pakistan, we have a particular term for this kind of learning: Ratta. Ratta means memorizing stuff without understanding it simply to reproduce the ruttalized stuff in an exam. While this technique sometimes enables students to do well in tests, it does nothing to enhance their general understanding of concepts and ideas related to their object of study.
In fact, the British educational system in India, which Pakistan inherited, relied on this mode of education to produce the native clerks who were trained enough to take orders without enhancing their critical consciousness. In that system, all students had to take a centralized test in eighth and tenth grade. The tests were administered by a central board of education and were sometimes sent to England for grading. After the independence, Pakistani government emulated the same system. In fact, my early education was based in this system. I remember we spent the entire ninth and tenth grade yars preparing for the “Board Exam.” Thankfully, in my case, I was at a boarding school that also encouraged reading and critical thinking through extracurricular activities so the harm done was not so extensive. I still, however, had to retrain myself to train my imagination and to develop habits of critical thought.
Based on my experience I was surprised to learn, in my earlier years in America, that the American school system was moving away from an inquiry-based system to this old-school, colonial system of education. Now that these testing practices have been in vogue for some time, we who teach at college level are interacting with the human subjects produced by this system. Our young undergraduate students, at least a large percentage of them, are increasingly less prepared to think on their own and expect to be given exact answers to be reproduced. In fact, I felt this expectation even in one of my graduate courses. I understand that the conservative politics does need these unreflective subjects to keep their fairy-tale (or nightmarish if you like) approach to issues of politics and social justice, but I don’t think this huge mass of unreflective citizens will benefit America in any way.
It is with these brief thoughts that I write in solidarity with the “Seattle 19.”
Thank you for risking your jobs and livelihood for the best interest of your students. I sincerely hope that others from around this great nation would join you to take a stand with you!!