I've been enjoying my free copy of Seth Godin's recent manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams.
He shares the interesting origin of multiple-choice tests in Section 10, Frederick J. Kelly and your nightmares:
In 1914, a professor in Kansas invented the multiple-choice test. Yes, it’s less than a hundred years old.
There was an emergency on. World War I was ramping up, hundreds of thousands of new immigrants needed to be processed and educated, and factories were hungry for workers. The government had just made two years of high school mandatory, and we needed a temporary, high-efficiency way to sort students and quickly assign them to appropriate slots.
In the words of Professor Kelly, “This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.”
A few years later, as President of the University of Idaho, Kelly disowned the idea, pointing out that it was an appropriate method to test only a tiny portion of what is actually taught and should be abandoned. The industrialists and the mass educators revolted and he was fired.
The SAT, the single most important filtering device used to measure the effect of school on each individual, is based (almost without change) on Kelly’s lower-order thinking test. Still.
The reason is simple. Not because it works. No, we do it because it’s the easy and efficient way to keep the mass production of students moving forward.
Memorizing information is pointless when you have a computer in your pocket with all the world's information just a touch away. Is the only thing we can teach these days is how to get a high test SAT score?
I find it odd that teachers spend more time teaching youth to memorize trivial information (like "When was the war of 1812?") than they do teaching them to competently search and find it on the Internet. Oh, wait...is that because most teachers are technically illiterate? It's not their fault, I mean the administrators over at the school district won't "let" them stray from the curriculum.
I often hear teachers complain about students attitudes and how flaky they are. Here's an idea, what if we taught youth to make commitments (and keep them), to overcome fear, to deal transparently, to initiate, and to plan a course?
Can adults teach youth (or other adults) to desire lifelong learning, to express themselves, and to innovate? I believe it is possible. I believe it is more likely on an outdoor retreat, camp, or field trip than in a classroom via a boring power point presentation.
REAL LEARNING is not done to you. Learning is something you choose to do.
The world has changed and unfortunately the school system is exactly that, a industrialized "system," working on a massive scale, that has significant byproducts, including the destruction of many of the attitudes and emotions we’d like to build our culture around. In the early industrial economy of the 19th and 20th centuries the two biggest challenges were finding enough compliant workers and finding enough eager customers. School was invented to solve these problems, and it worked.
The 21st century economy needs creative thinkers and problem solvers, not mindless cogs that are obedient, on-time, and work to make widgets cheaper and faster than the day before.
Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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