A new semester is drawing near, and I’m struggling to locate any enthusiasm for the months ahead of me. There are many reasons for this, but one very important one has to do with testing and grading. For someone whose zeal for learning, particularly for reading, asking questions and interacting with other students and teachers exceeded his ability to pass standardized tests just enough to force him to sweat it just a little, I have to agree with Glenn Loury.
In particular, ~28:00, it’s even more disheartening to me as a teacher in South Korea to hear, that the skill for which my South Korean students sacrifice their youth and intelligence, test-taking, is the reason why they lack the creativity and appeal a teacher – this teacher included – wants in a student. In the next few months I will have to endure students who expect me to prepare them for a series of exit tests, and who do not care to practice a language.
Is testing a good way to ration jobs and scarce resources in post-graduate education? I don’t see a distinction between the “back-door” corruption Loury and McWhorter argue typified Irish-American immigrants. The way South Korean instructors teach to the test and university administrations inflate grades is the same sort of “scratch-my-back” corruption as a job preference. It just looks legal.
Also, there is a test-taking culture in Confucian countries, that does foster an advanced aptitude for testing At one point, testing did undermine the blantantly corrupting influence aristocratic families had over bureaucratic positions, but then many families adjusted to the supposed meritocracy by establishing the rules by which the system worked and devoting their fortunes to educating their children.
Finally, I would offer the insight, “trash in, trash out”. How certain people succeed at standardized tests is impressive. It also creates a type of person who doesn’t value creativity in his/her life, in a career or in personal relationships. Selecting these individuals might be a task made easier because the numbers always work out, but it doesn’t make life any easier for these “winners”. The “winners” are just as dependent on those who created this special corruption of meritocracy as any mobster or desk jockey.
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