Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A little bit of a rant

Kim here. Usually we use the RRVWP blog for info-sharing, thought-provoking type material, but I was inspired by a Thomas Friedman column reprinted in yesterday's Herald to let off a little steam. I hope you don't mind.

In the essay, Friedman points out two issues that concern him. The first is that the U.S. ranks 11th (not even in the top ten!) in a recent Newsweek ranking of "the best countries." The second is that "student motivation" is the problem most impeding our attempts to reform schools and raise student performance. He goes on to attribute low student morale to a loss in values, invoking the whole "greatest generation good/baby boomer generation (and their kids) bad" cr-- um, stuff, but that would be a whole other rant.

What made me most want to fly to New York and yell at Mr. Friedman is this: the reason for his second issue is embodied by his first--our obsession with ranking and reducing humans into numbers to be constantly assessed.

If student motivation is indeed on the decline, what has paralleled that development (among other things)? Our obsession with numbers-based assessment systems. Imagine how de-motivating it would be for any of us if all we ever heard about our job performance was "yes, I gather you've had some real personal growth this year, but your cumulative score is a 3.4 and that's below our mean so you need to get that number up there so that I can make my boss happier." It reminds me of an oldie-but-goodie essay from Peter Elbow: "Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment." Or, if you really want to dig into this, Lennard Davis's fascinating look at the rise of statistics and how it negatively impacted those who fell outside the bell curve.

I'm curious: how do you think the form assessment takes (quantitative, qualitative, written, spoken, etc.) affects student motivation? And what about that practice of ranking--whether for class rank or in some other way. Does it have any real pedagogical value at all?