Well, if that’s the case then starting Monday I’ll be asking all children to submit a list of current competencies, self-evaluated on a scale of ‘Inadequate’ to ‘Outstanding’. I’ll then devise a series of personalised tests (for no snowflake is exactly alike) and then, according to each child’s Individual Assessment Form, comparatively judge each competency (alongside a specialist in each area: FIFA, BLOPS, drinking five cans of Monster in an hour without dying, etc.) before presenting individual children with their own, personalised, certificates.
The main benefit is obvious: nobody fails. Even young Laura Pigeon succeeds at making loom bands. And Kevin Boob (above) is a master at covering himself in paint. Aw, isn’t he just so cute?
There are some drawbacks, of course, aside from the hours needed, but I’ll let you work them out.
The problem with this kind of muddled thinking is not its intention. To think that Mr Ferroni (in this case, at least – there’s an abundance of this kind of stuff online) doesn’t really care about children’s futures would be wrongheaded. He does. Of course he does. He wants a glorious future where people are happy and contented and feel as though they can safely express themselves without being held back by either systems which seek to homogenise, or by other people who want to denigrate a person’s best efforts in their chosen field or hobby. This is all lovely, and I too would like to see this, albeit without all the inevitable lollipops and bunnies and smiling sunbeams.
The intention is not the issue.
The problem is that, either deliberately or accidentally – through a misunderstanding – this kind of view seeks to misrepresent the purpose of schooling. Let me be clear: while the culture of a school may well shape every individual child in a different way, and though children at school learn all sorts about social interaction and cultural norms, the main purpose of a school is to educate children in subjects which they would not necessarily otherwise study: it is, to summarise, to make children cleverer.
And in making them cleverer, by teaching them new things, they may well begin to form more nuanced and articulate opinions about society and its values. This is the great social leveller, not some dreamy Happy Fun World where everyone gets to do what they want (and let’s not get into the meaning of freedom here). Equality of chance does not appear by magic: it has to be given and nurtured, not allowed to run wild.
We test children on this knowledge not to punish those who perform less well (although one might choose to react to poor performance with a task which appears punitive) but to help them to develop what we might call their working memory. Better ‘fingertip knowledge’, as I’ve heard it called, allows for more elegant thinking. If we were to only test what children were already good at then not only would we not know where their strengths and weaknesses lie, but we’d be doing them a disservice. We test what children have been learning about: they aren’t fish, flapping hopelessly at the trunk of a great and unscalable oak, but children who have all been given the same opportunity.
The intention is that they will all have the chance to succeed on the same level, which is surely less discriminatory in the long run than testing children on what they can already do. School is about everyone learning what they do not already know: it’s about giving children new strengths, not allowing them to wallow in their current successes, however pleasing these might be.