Re: DSM: Dismal according to their own measure...

Joe Jackson (
Mon, 4 Oct 1999 07:51:46 -0400


You know there's this area of concern to us who are starting and trying to
help these schools run where all of the things that are true and apply in
Sudbury Model Schools and all of the things that the "outside world", if you
will, think of when it comes to schooling meet. You know what I mean if
you've ever sat in a PR meeting and tried to figure out different ways to
"sell" the idea of the school to a world that measures education in terms
that you have to reject if you believe in Sudbury Schooling.

On one hand, if you start treating test scores and statistics as meaningful
ways to evaluate a child's school, Chris is correct that the folks who
invented linear compulsive schools came up with the idea of measuring them
with tests, and that the tests are not a way to measure anything relevent to
life here on the planet earth.

Even if we tried, the conventional schools can always win the statistics
game - they've been playing it for years, and if they don't like what their
numbers are saying, they find a scapegoat (money, bad teachers, bad
buildings, bad families) and/or toss in some possible statistical
contaminants just to muddy the water a little bit (public schools have to
take disadvantaged kids vs private schools cherrypick etc.).

On the other hand, if we want our schools to survive, we as spokespersons
should be able to occasionally answer a (yes, possibly stupid) question
about our schools and not sound like we are from Mars.

I think perhaps that my original question, how can I substantiate that
public schools are not accomplishing what they set out to do?, is not an
end-all be-all case for Sudbury Model Schools, but is just a question I've
been asked before. And I believe my answer was:

>> Joe -
>> What's your basis for concluding that "folks in our
>> traditional schools who are considered 'highly skilled teachers'
>> are doing such an inferior job of 'teaching'"?
>Let me start out by saying that I don't even agree with what they set out
to accomplish, which is >completely aside from the fact that they are not
accomplishing it and will not be able to accomplish >it.
>So what's my basis for concluding that are schools are doing a bad job?
I'm not going to site >statistics about the literacy rate or test scores,
because for one, I don't want to play the statistics >game, and two, the
equation is way too complex to draw conclusions from statistics.
>In a culture and an age where it is commonly acknowledged that the last
true generalist lived over >a hundred years ago (John Stuart Mill), our
schools are actually trying to train our children to be >generalists. They
are taught split infinitives, tribal culture of Borneo, the composition of
the planet >Saturn, the circle of fourths, and the periodic table of the
elements. They are teaching trivia, and >they are teaching it in a random
order that has nothing to do with the individual child. In addition, >they
absolutely won't allow the child to dwell on a subject for more than, say,
50 minutes.
>A big thing that schools won't teach is what kids can do with their anger
at being treated like >second-class citizens, locked up and told what to
learn for their entire childhood. I used to see >that anger every day and I
mistakenly thought it was because of their home life -- it wasn't, it was
>because of their school life.
>Some things they do teach is indifference, short attention span,
intellectual dependency, and how >to stand in line. Some things that
schools don't teach well are social intelligence, inventiveness,
>self-reliance, entrepaneurism, and respect for democracy, because none of
that stuff ever >happens in a traditional school. They might talk about it,
but they don't _have_ it.

Visit Fairhaven School's website at

>At 3:35 PM -0700 1999-09-28, Joseph Moore wrote:
>>Once upon a time, I wrote about American institutional schooling:
>> >the level of education in this
>> >country is appalling even according to their own measures.
>>And Joe Jackson wrote back:
>> Of course I agree with this statement, but what do you do if someone
>> challenges it! In other words, what sources of information would
>>you cite
>> to back it up?
>>Here's an example:
>>(BTW: reading the sample questions with my overly gimlet eye, I wonder if
>>the writers should be judging anybody else's writing...)
>> September 28, 1999
>> Study: Students Can't Write Well
>> Filed at 11:25 a.m. EDT
>> By The Associated Press
>> WASHINGTON (AP) -- About three-fourths of the nation's
>>school children demonstrated only partial mastery of the knowledge and
>>skills needed to write proficiently for their grade level, the Education
>>Department reported today.
>> Testers asked 60,000 fourth-graders, eighth-graders and
>>12th-graders to write stories, personal essays, reports about events or
>>experiences and persuasive pieces.
>[--- rest snipped ---]
>How does citing such test statistics help make a case for democratic,
>free schools?
>If SVS were to submit its students to such a test -- probably a
>violation of its principles if the test were mandatory -- isn't there
>a good chance that they might score below average? The point is -- in
>the short run, to anyone who knows what the school tries to do -- that
>possible result shouldn't matter. It wouldn't be a surprise to find
>that students who may not have started reading yet (because they
>haven't become interested) won't read and write as well as students
>who have been forced to do it for several hours each week. The only
>possible vindication is if everything tends to even out at a later
>age, as some free schooling advocates suggest.
>Moreover, if you take such results seriously, the conclusion most
>people would draw would be in favor of *more* regimentation, not less.
>Many of the countries that do well in the international comparisons
>have very rigorous school systems. (There are some exceptions, but
>they don't get much attention.) If you want the average math test
>score of all US students to rise, the simplest way is to teach more
>math. The test score wouldn't tell you that the improvement might come
>at the expense of more students becoming afraid of or disliking math.
>There might be a reasonable use for tests, if they were just used to
>track changes in a nonevaluative way. As things are now, however, the
>tests are a horse race; free schools don't (and shouldn't) have a
>horse in that race.
>Chris Hawkins

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