Saturday, March 18, 2006

Colman McCarthy advocates against testing students.
From the academic sidelines, where calls to Leave No Child Untested are routinely sounded by quick-fix school reformers, Jay Mathews joins in with his Feb. 20 op-ed column, "Let's Teach to the Test." In well-crafted prose, he reports that "in 23 years of visiting classrooms I have yet to see any teacher preparing kids for exams in ways that were not careful, sensible and likely to produce more learning."

On Mathews's visit to my classroom four years ago -- at School Without Walls, where I have been volunteering since 1982 -- he must not have noticed that not only was I not preparing my 28 students for tests but that I regard tests as educational insults. At School Without Walls and two other high schools where I am a guest teacher -- Wilson High School in the District and Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in lower Montgomery County -- I have never given a test. I respect my students too much to demean them with exercises in fake knowledge.

Tests represent fear-based learning, the opposite of learning based on desire. Frightened and fretting with pre-test jitters, students stuff their minds with information they disgorge on exam sheets and sweat out the results. I know of no meaningful evidence that acing tests has anything to do with students' character development or whether their natural instincts for idealism or altruism are nurtured.
Yes, because what we send our kids to school to learn is idealism and altruism. Subject matter? That's hooey. As long as a kid thinks good thoughts and wants to help people, give him a diploma. We wouldn't want to have the dear little ones actually work to learn something and prove they know a set amount of material. That is tyranny that, according to McCarthy, leads to dishonesty and stress.

And what does Mr. McCarthy teach? He teaches peace. Too bad he can't teach peace to the terrorists who are trying to kill innocents. Instead, he works his magic on Maryland high school students in classes in which he presents his political viewpoint day after day without any counterweight. His political diatribes are amusing and interesting for the kids. Then the students don't get tests. Any wonder why his classes are popular?