Charlotte Mason on Standardized Tests and Curricula

Dear Reader,

That we are going to have some sort of standardization in our public education seems to be taken for granted these days. It strikes us as very unfair to have schools in one state or county teach different things than the schools in the next state or county over. Some children will be at a disadvantage, we think. So we like to create common standards that ensure no one is left behind. And how do we make sure the standards are being met and that students are learing? Standardized tests, of course.

I was struck my the fact that these issues are not new ones. In Charlotte Mason’s fifth volume, Formation of Character, she discusses the standardization of education and its pros and cons. It seems that in her day, universities were beginning to give local examinations, presumably to find students they wish to recruit (or to weed out others). This, she says, had affected secondary education as those schools now had an eye to preparing their students for the exams. But the effect was also trickling down to affect the lower schools as well. I think this is an effect we can all understand. I remember being told in middle school that we must do diligent work because they were preparing us for high school, which of course prepares one for college. Even then I wondered where it all stopped. Our local elementary schools are divided by grade, one for K-3 and one for 4th and 5th grades, and I have been told that the latter is to prepare students for middle school. And I think we have all heard stories of parents who fear if their children don’t get into the right preschool, they will never get into the (Ivy League usually) college of their choice.

But (not surprisingly) there is a downside to all this standardization. Charlotte says:

“This levelling tendency of our school routine has its disadvantages; it is not easy to produce individuality in either school or pupil under the present conditions. Individuality, character, culture, public examinations — and a system of school-work based on such examinations — must necessarily strike at the head of these. For what is it possible to examine upon, when the same examination is held simultaneously all over the empire — what the pupil thinks, or what he knows, what he has seen set down in black and white? The latter, plainly . . . Therefore, facts, examinable matter, is the mental pabulum of the school life.” (pp.121-122)

Such examinations, and teaching to the exam, produce, Charlotte says, students who can receive, retain, classify and produce facts, but nit students with cultivate minds capable of reflection.

She also speaks of the rush such examinations produce, the pressure to get through all the material quickly which leaves no time for moral training.

So what is a parent to do? We can of course reject the system and turn to homeschooling, but Charlotte also offers this for those who may not choose that route:

” . . .take the good the schools provide, and be thankful; take count of what they do not provide, and see that any culture or moral training which the schools fail to offer is to be had at home.” (p. 122)


One response to this post.

  1. […] a reckless fashion” (p. 152). Charlotte also was down on standardized testing as you can see in this post and this […]


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