How Standardization Screws You Over

You’ve probably all taken some kind of standardized test. The SAT, for example. Or the ACT. If you do well on them, you get to go to college, which is supposed to somehow be beneficial for your future existence in the job market. Unfortunately, getting a good job after college is not as guaranteed any more as it once was. But let’s talk about information and standardization.

Nowadays, we are surrounded by too much information. We’re literally drowning in it. I’m struggling to breathe as I’m typing this. We place a lot of value on how much people know. If they know a bunch of stuff, they’re considered smart individuals. The more you know, you know? But what defines intelligence? The amount of knowledge about things? Or the amount of wisdom about things? Or the amount of things you can do? All three, right? But we kinda only specialize on knowledge acquisition.

Standardization sets the bar for students’ aspirations (say that with a heavy lisp). It says, “Hey, I’m the average.” If you do really well on the SAT or the ACT, then you’re above average. If you don’t do so well, your amount of knowledge and your computing capability is not as average as you think it is. But because of standardization, our youth generally has about the same amount of knowledge. The curriculum in many schools stays the same, so it’s like we’re pushing kids through an education factory where the same information is taught to the same age group for many years. If everybody is taught at the same speed, how can anybody excel?

It’s alright to have standardized tests, because they only last for a few hours, but if a whole education model is built on standardization, that’s where things start to go bad. The smart students won’t be challenged, so they slack off. The dumb students won’t be challenged either, because they don’t really understand what’s going on, so why even bother? Standardized education only caters to that very small percentage of students who find themselves in that average zone.

It shouldn’t really be about how much you know, anyway. Many teachers and professors will argue that, “the more we know, the more we’re capable of learning.” Yes, true, but does that mean that we have to bombard everybody with mostly useless information? I don’t necessarily need to know about the intestines of a worm. We should rather be teaching students how to load the dishwasher properly. Or how to iron clothes. How to have a conversation. How to efficiently navigate around on the Internet. How to invest. How to start a business. How to cure malaria. How to create new economic, governmental, and educational systems. We also shouldn’t just be talking about those how-to subjects. We should be actively doing them. And most of the time, that can’t happen within a classroom setting ruled by standardization with an emphasis on knowledge acquisition.

26 thoughts on “How Standardization Screws You Over

  1. Education, in formal institutes have standards because they want to make sure, each student knows the basic/minimum about a certain subject. Those who are intelligent or those who are below average,belong to the remaining lot of unique and odd. The second group, either thinks they are too smart or really dumb, so it has to be addressed not by a course outline , rather it is the responsibility of the faculty to rightly guide or encourage the brains, special cases:) There are three aspects, information, behavior and intelligence.Information is pouring everywhere, behavior is related to family and culture, intelligence that is the focus. if everyone is a leader than who will follow? If everyone is a pseudo, who will invent..questions are many because life is complex, but a simple answer is , see if the world is balanced, not equal, we can not be equal but must have equal right to opportunity.

  2. Reblogged this on i am and commented:
    I’m so glad this post was created. It’s a great article that lit my brain and extracted some things that I don’t speak of on a regular basis.

    The illustration in this reblogged post reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote that says, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

    With that being said, I looked up the meaning of standardization on Wikipedia.

    Standardization: the process of developing and implementing technical standards.

    What does that even mean? Do kids really know why they take all these standardized tests? All they’ve been brainwashed to believe is that passing those tests is the only way to secure a future. Now, what does that mean? If you asked me, our children are being set up for failure. Sure there are exceptions, but aren’t there exceptions to everything else in life? Kids are programmed to think a certain way, and after they’ve reached adulthood and begin to experience what life outside of school can be, they realize that it was all BS. And others feel like failures because they couldn’t comply with what was expected of them.

    All these new technologies and gadgets and things are great, I guess. But what do they really prove? Changing the education paradigm right now would be the real innovative idea in the recent history of man. There are so many things that aren’t flowing in our eduction system, and as a consequence, kids grow into adulthood with a conditioned state of mind, lacking the proper skills and inner knowledge necessary that allows a person to just be.

    While I can agree with almost everything stated in Inspiration Avenue’s post, I have a slightly different opinion on the things our children should be learning. For example, connecting with nature, in my opinion, is such a crucial part of life, period. We ARE nature. We, like everything else on this Earth, are made up of energy, and if we saw the correlation between us and all other living things, we’d have a more conscious outlook on life. Why not have more nature fieldtrips, have class outdoors more often, experience nature at its core?

    Nutrition is also important. Unfortunately, we have forgotten what it’s like to eat real foods. I speak from the western world because that’s where I reside. If we taught proper nutrition in school, as opposed to the watered-down , ever-changing food pyramids and lobbied versions of what we should be eating, the health problems that are now exponentially worsening in our society wouldn’t be a major issue.

    Also, the arts shouldn’t be a privilege. Charter school and magnet school offer great arts programs. Regular public schools offer an hour, maybe, and I’m not sure if it’s only by election. When cutting back on school programs, the arts or physical education are the ones that should least be considered for removal. Being creative has more benefits for a child than math, science and history combined. Kids love to express themselves, and sitting in a classroom for 8 hours a day with their little eyes stuck on a chalk/marker board, book, or computer screen represses all other healthy functions. It is said that creativity is enhanced by an increased use of the whole brain. Music, writing, drawing, sculpting, acting, singing, dancing… all these creative activities enhance every part of the brain. It allows children to tap into their inner selves and experiment, learn, create and be.

    While learning other subjects like the ones mentioned in the reblogged article could be of great use, I firmly believe that those having to do more with our nature will make more sense and be more beneficial to every individual. These natural skills, when enhanced, can make such a difference in a person’s overall self; and in turn, would be of greater collective value.

    **I know this post is already long, but I highly recommend reading the reblogged article and watching the video at the end of this post. you won’t be disappointed. Blessings – Moon**

    “This animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award.”

  3. There’s one business that’s booming…coaching classes for these standardized tests. Companies rake in a lot of moolah selling the study material etc. Ridiculous!

  4. The more we know, the bigger the morons we become.

    As long as “knowing” doesn´t take into account Being, as long as the process of learning
    doesn´t help us find out Who we are, we are naught but pathetic parrots.

    School should teach basic human common-sense. As you say, it would be better if we were taught how to cook a soup, iron a shirt or chat up a nice girl…

    All the rest comes naturally when we are in touch with basic reality…

  5. Commenting a similar topic a friend of mine said:
    “So many young people over here get jammed into a standard educational program and flounder- while their exceptional talents, which don’t fit that model, languish. A great and rolling tragedy.”

  6. Jan,
    Bravo! Another great post and a very important and informative one at that. I totally agree with your logic. You are so correct when you state the obvious, yet not so obvious. Children should be taught things they will really be needing to know in life, the common sense things that I find so many are lacking today. Yes, they should be book smart, but most importantly they should be wise enough to be able to take care of themselves when those book smarts don’t really apply in certain everyday situations. If they were, then maybe they wouldn’t get those crazy looks when someone finds out they dont know how to write a check, iron, cook, sew a button, etc.

    I also agree with amoonfull’s comment and I love that Einstein quote as well (one of my favorites of his).

    You never stop amazing me with your deep and wise thoughts and the way you so nicely articulate them.

    • Thanks Cheryl. One of the reasons why we don’t learn to do those simple things in life is because we don’t really need to. Technology is pretty advanced nowadays, and it keeps on advancing. We don’t have to ask for directions because we have GPS on our phones. We also don’t really have to go outside anymore because almost everything can be done online, like shopping or communicating or even learning. We love to be entertained and to consume. It’s almost pathetic how bad things have gotten in the sense of productivity as well as creativity.

  7. What I find interesting here is that you address the students side of standardized testing, rather than the relationship between these assessments and teacher effectiveness. Not what I’m used to reading about these days.

    You make a good point in finding that those students on either extreme are likely to be less-well-served by mainstreaming curriculum and assessments and that is a conversation that is very lively in the academic circles in the U.S. The question is, “How do we provide a high-standard education (“standard” is a good word, by the way – it’s good to have standards) to the most students (which would be the average) without holding high-achievers back or leaving low achievers behind?” I submit that this question is yet to be adequately addressed, though many attempts have been put forth.

    But, I will say, wishing standards and standardized testing away is not really an option anymore. I too, as an educator, hope to focus more on the process of learning (i.e., how to think) rather than on facts and information (i.e., what to think). In fact, research tends to suggest “good thinking” approaches outscore “good knowing” approaches on standardized tests. But, as an educator, I also want to give exams (standardized for my classroom) to gauge student understanding so I know who and what I need to reteach. For those students on either end of the achievement spectrum, teachers are now trying to “differentiate” their instruction so as to challenge each student at their instructional level. That’s the current iteration of addressing all students’ needs, anyway.

    We do live in a “measured” world and students, teachers, salesmen, poets, preachers, and street-sweepers have benchmarks for performance. So, for now, that benchmark is the Test. Hopefully, though, our current emphasis on standardized testing will yield a more productive system of education for the generations that follow.


  8. Good stuff. I totally agree. I am currently a junior attending high school and not only is testing done unfairly, this testing is always throwing me off of my routine. It confuses me and ultimately messes me up. Do ya know what I’m talking bout?

  9. My experiences in school are what I learned from the most not the material… I understand why they do what they do but it would be nice to see a “refreshed” standard but with all the budget cuts going on I doubt that is top priority though.

  10. “We should rather be teaching students how to load the dishwasher properly. Or how to iron clothes. How to have a conversation. How to efficiently navigate around on the Internet. How to invest. How to start a business.”

    Yes yes and YES! I think there is so much lacking in this area of common sense. Who decided the curriculum for high school? Because honestly there is so much left out that students truly need to learn in order to make it on their own.

    Great post!

    • Thanks! Yeah, I think school shouldn’t necessarily prepare students for surviving in the financial market, but rather for living an awesome life and leaving behind a legacy.

  11. Hi Jan,

    You have written a very thoughtful and provocative post. I began to scan it, thinking there would be the usual comments about “teaching to the test” is not good for anyone, how we need to unlock the creative genius inside all of us, and finish with a call for more technology in the hands of students in a 21st century learning paradigm. I was quite pleased that you had a different angle, a new lens and in fact, an uheard voice. Congratulations on a great post, keep up the good work, and I’m absolutely certain your book will be unforgettable.

    By the way, you posed some very intriguing questions: …”how to load the dishwasher properly. Or how to iron clothes. How to have a conversation. How to efficiently navigate around on the Internet. How to invest. How to start a business. How to cure malaria. How to create new economic, governmental, and educational systems.”

    I’m going to ask my students tomorrow to see how many affirmative answers I’m going to get. I predict that no matter what the outcome, I am going to be surprised at how little I have been responsible for teaching them. Maybe too many standardised tests…

    Best regards,

  12. These are my sentiments exactly. We are all taught to learn things, so we all become a “well rounded” human being to fit this perfect model that our society wants us to become, but we aren’t like that. Everyone is so unique, that you just can’t have a single teaching process for every single student. It’s why we have so many kids in America who don’t know the difference between one end of a spoon from the other!

    A comment above posted the VERY video that I was going to show you. I think that there should be a reformation in the education system.
    I’m curious…do you have a plan? Or some idea of a system that would work? Or is that a thing that you are working on? I can see you going pretty far in the education world. You seem passionate about it, and I like some of your thinking.

    • Haha, so many people have sent me that video recently. It’s a fantastic video, nevertheless.
      I’m currently working on a new type of education model. It’s just ideas, thoughts, and theories so far, but I hope that eventually I can find a few people with whom I can put these theories into practice and actually launch this working model. I also describe it a little bit in my book about reinventing education.

  13. I agree with your thoughts, I’d also say that the with the advent of the Marzano teacher’s evaluation that what constitutes being a good teacher is now being standardized as well. This isn’t bad. I’d argue it gives teachers a base for minimal competency. However, just like tests it’s seen as the ceiling…the positive is it’s allowing administration the ability to release poor teachers…the bad is that it’s also not doing anything to really motivate good teachers. The top 20% that go above and beyond have little motivation…other than intrinsic…to do better.

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