In Search of a Just Assessment

I was over at Mystie’s amazing blog, where I came across this quotation under a link to our earlier post about education for slavery.

Tests are for slaves; an alternative would be the medieval (and Charlotte Mason) practice of examinations.

Then I tried to find a way in Mystie’s blog to contact her because this is something I need to learn more about. It could be one of the most important keys to taking classical education to the next stage of renewal.

I’m not exagerrating. Apart from the spirit of sloth and faint-heartedness that leads us all into every manner of disorderliness of soul, body, and society, nothing creates more of an obstacle to a genuine cultural, Christian, and classical renascence than modern means of assessment.

Whoever assesses you is your boss. Never forget that. If the means of assessment are rooted in a different worldview, a different epistemology (theory of how we come to know and what we can know), a different metaphysic (beliefs about the fundamental structures of reality) a different psychology, a different pedagogy (convictions about how children learn), a vastly different anthropology (beliefs about what a human being is),and an almost complete negation of theology, then how can we submit to them without fierce and even obstinate resistance?

Modern means of assessment are the tax used by the powers that be to bring us into subjection as schools and parents. And just like the British tea tax, they actually drop the price of the commodity they tax. So we submit for economic reasons. We need a Boston Tea Party. We need a tax revolt. We need a Declaration of Independence.

But here’s the problem – among the radicals who revolted against the oppressions of the British monarchy were enough wise men to create the greatest political document since The Ten Commandments. These men were almost all educated in the Christian classical tradition. Enough of them knew when to fight on principle (please carefully note that it was not fundamentally an economic calculation that led them to revolt) and when to withdraw and take on the more sober task of creating a government.

So far, we have seen brush fire. I see a day when the flames of our rebellion will blaze like the walls of fire even now spreading across Australia – but these will be flames of wisdom and flames of peace. Most of all, these will be flames that burn in people’s souls who refuse to compromise the Divine Image in the children they teach.

To see that flame burn, we must believe in the power and the glory of the Christian classical tradition. Specifically, we must believe in it enough to reconsider how we assess learning.

So, Mystie, if you see this blog, please – let’s discuss how we can draw our means of assessment from the insights of our intellectual fathers, instead of from those Enlightenment and Progressive rebels who have taken over our fathers’ demesnes.

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6 Responses

  1. Mystie,

    You’re moving in the right direction, and that’s all any of us can hope to do!

    On assessment: it’s not that we oppose testing, it’s how and what we test. If it’s just information we assess, that’s pretty easy (relatively speaking) to measure, so it’s easy to assess numerically. But how do we assess growth in virtue? That’s where the challenge arises.

    I think of Plato’s words: What is honored is accomplished, and that which has no honor is neglected.

    So how do we honor what we want to see?

  2. Dave,

    Whoever does the assessment is the boss and that is one thing our government will never surrender.

    We can recover educational freedom only when we figure out what education is – it’s nature. Until then, we won’t have any way of knowing whether what we are doing makes sense or not. In that case, we’ll be bound to those who appear to know what they are doing.

    Only through a subversive apprenticeship approach can we recapture that natural approach. The social sciences are, by nature, opposed to education – even though some social scientists are not.

  3. This is a fascinating topic. You provoked me to comment earlier this week as well! Doesn’t it seem that many times our style of education is influenced by the government mandatory education requirements? As a home-school parent in a state which requires testing or an assertion by a state certified teacher that the student is making “adequate progress” each year, we end up under the gun. If we don’t produce what our government wants they can bring all sorts of negative consequences on our children.
    What about the scenario in which education is not mandatory? Then teachers are free to examine students in the manner which makes the most sense for the particular student in the particular setting. Teachers are also freed up to concentrate on those students who are ready to pursue their subject matter rather than trying to drag the bell curve up the various stages of education.
    So how do we recover educational freedom?

  4. Amazing blog?! Oh dear! 🙂 Thank you. I didn’t realize there wasn’t a way to contact me on my blog. I will rectify that.

    You’ve given me a lot to mull over with the education for slavery thoughts; I have greatly appreciated it. I don’t think you’ve overstated the matter in this post. I get very excited thinking about what effects the classically educated students will have on the future.

    My oldest is only 5, so I am only trying to make connections in my reading, and have no answers myself. When I read your post I linked, I connected it with thoughts on CM examinations I read at Higher Up and Further In: “Why Do I Give Examinations?”

    Left to myself, I would probably just skip testing altogether. But in my teaching (I have taught a couple homeschool middle school literature classes) I have seen that some accountability for the information leads to more productive and motivated review. And one of the laws of teaching is Review, Review, Review! So seeing her perspective of an examination as a method of review was enlightening.

    That’s all I’ve got, though: limited reading and limited experience, coupled with a propensity to think beyond my ken. 🙂

  5. Hmm….what is the difference between a test and an examination? My first inclination is to think, surprise, medically! A ‘test” measures something measurable: iron, cholesterol, blood pressure. An examination, on the other hand, is what a doctor does in order to pinpoint a problem and come up with a solution. Or perhaps the doctor takes all into account and pronounces you fit and healthy! To apply this to the classroom then, a test might be a useful tool for measuring whether a student knows how to define a word, identify a character, or diagram a sentence. An examination might require the student to use all those skills when writing a persuasive essay. I wouldn’t pronounce a student fit based on one grammar test, but rather on his ability to apply what he has learned when he writes.

    On the subject of tests/exams – Andrew you might want to check out the latest issue of World magazine and Marvin Olaasky’s interview with Charles Murray on the value of a college degree. Murray brings up interesting ideas about education and certification.

  6. I just tried to contact Mystie for you on the off chance that she doesn’t read this blog regularly. (She probably does…)

    The blog Higher Up and Further In has a whole section on Mason-style exams. The author actually shares the plans for her individual children and also bits of the philosophy influencing her.

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