I am currently reading a book by Steven Pinker called “the blank slate“. In this book, Pinker argues against extreme forms of social constructionism (ie: everything is nurture). He is sure to point out that much harm has been done in the name of “innatism”, but that we cannot deny some innate traits in human beings. To summarize my understanding so far, he claims that some portion of our learning ability must be innate. In his book (as he makes clear the need to hold ourselves to high moral standards), Pinker distills racism to treating individuals within a group of people as though they were the perceived average of that group. Pinker notes the need to treat people as individuals and that tremendous violations of human rights have been carried out because of stereotype/average views.
The use of averages to denote racism got me thinking about standardized testing – where all individual students are held against an average. Where students are lumped into a group instead of dealt with as individuals. This continual expectation that every students ought be like the “average” student negates student individuality and likely keeps teachers from encouraging students to excel in their individual areas of strength. Instead, all of our time is spent trying to make up for student “weakness”.
This thinking also leads me to believe that social promotion is an unjust practice. We look at a group of 8th graders and assume they all belong in the same place. If this practice was applied to a group of a particular skin color or ethnic background, we would immediately realize how problematic the thinking is. Yet, we continue treating kids as averages instead of as individuals.
My school has been toying with the idea of having a fluid schedule in which students are able to be in 6th, 7th or 8th grade classes depending on needs. The students might be in a 6th grade math class and then an 8th grade science class. This is a step in the right direction, but as I said, it is only being toyed with. I have a feeling logistics will get in the way….again.
Anyway, just some food for thought. I’m sure others have a much more nuanced stance on the injustice of standardized testing, but I found this to be an interesting insight. I hope to see some comments, questions, links, and divergent views in the comments!