I'm proctoring our state mathematics exam at this moment, watching a dozen high-school seniors in their next-to-last shot at passing AIMS, the NCLB-mandated test in Arizona.
I understand why we have standardized testing -- we have to prepare students for the new workplace; too many schools have failed to educate kids for too long, as accountability was not aligned with opportunity; and, in retrospect, the education profession failed to stand up for itself a decade ago, and so got handed a can of whup-ass by a new and ideologically driven administration.
The disconnect between what standardized testing measures and what schools are really about -- preparing students to be lifelong learners, developing minds, educating citizens to continue the Republic -- is confusing enough.
What really gets my goat, though, is that this was all figured out nearly a century ago. In 1918, the National Education Association published its Seven Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education, laying out a philosophically integrated and progressive vision of schools that educated both academically and practically.
Now it's only fair to note, and mostly to forgive, some anachronisms. The authors were clearly flummoxed by the idea that girls needed to prepare for college, and most modern readers would be more comfortable with "community" than "race". It's also true that the Cardinal Report was itself a retreat from the 1893 Report of the Committee of Ten, which laid out a strict curriculum envisioning graduates who would be literate, scientifically and mathematically adept, and multilingual (thereby making NCLB's goal of 100% test passage by 2014 a little less incomprehensible).
But here's what we could have, if we based public education on the Cardinal Report:
An emphasis on Health - personal health and hygiene, coupled with regular and strenuous physical activity, with adequate facilities and programs at the school. A healthy mind is supported and strengthened by a healthy body. Blame what you will - fast food, urban living, video games - but too many of our kids are overweight and unhealthy, and many get virtually no exercise.
Command of Fundamental Processes - students should be able to read well, express themselves orally and in writing, and do arithmetic by the end of elementary school. Developing this proficiency and applying it to real-world circumstances is the point of high school. While education may be a valued end in itself, public schools exist for less cerebral purposes. Hmm, nothing here about every student in the country taking the same written exam.
The anachronisms rear up on Worthy Home Membership and Vocation, but a modern gloss would be that students need to prepare for the world of work, to understand how to manage their personal lives, and that life is improved by exposure to music and the arts. The report assigns work outside the home to boys, and home-making to the girls, but that was also the year before women's suffrage.
Of particular interest is this passage in the section on Vocation:
"Vocational education should aim to develop an appreciation of the significance of the vocation to the community, and a clear conception of right relations between the members of the chosen vocation, between different vocational groups, between employer and employee, and between producer and consumer. These aspects of vocational education, heretofore neglected, demand emphatic attention."
The report preaches the importance of Civics education, and for it to be taught in collaborative and cooperative settings, with assessment based on both individual and group effort:
"For such citizenship the following are essential: A many-sided interest in the welfare of the communities to which one belongs; loyalty to ideals of civic righteousness; practical knowledge of social agencies and institutions; good judgment as to means and methods that will promote one social end without defeating others; and as putting all these into effect, habits of cordial cooperation in social undertakings."
The report lauds the Worthy Use of Leisure, not merely as a way to enrich students' lives and expand their horizons, but as a way "through social relationships to establish bonds of friendship and common understanding" between classes and across social divisions. This principle calls for advancing intellectual discipline through exposure to literature and the arts, and through science "to arouse a genuine appreciation of nature".
Finally, "In a democratic society Ethical Character becomes paramount among the objectives of the secondary school." The school, through academics and social contact, provides a venue for developing initiative and personal responsibility, and to learn the democratic values by observing the interaction between teachers, administrators and pupils.
Before you hit the comment button, I know it's not perfect, but we're here to educate the whole child, not just teach them how to fill in bubble sheets.