Alfie Kohn [Outlook, Oct. 10] criticizes the "tougher standards" movement and wants us to "make school a learning experience that arouses and sustains children's curiosity, enriching their capacities and responding to their questions in ways that are deeply engaging."
Here's reality. The school experience has three mandates:
(1) Give young people an opportunity to learn some of what they'll use as grown-ups.
(2) Classify and grade them for selection by employers and other institutions.
(3) Take control of them for most of the business day.
Traditional teacher-centered methodology has endured in the face of other, more effective learning techniques because it contributes to all three objectives.
Kohn objects to the continued reliance on rote memorization. But the truth is some things can hardly be learned except through repetition. Try letters of the alphabet, months of the year, notes on the musical scale or colors of the rainbow.
Or try six times seven. Schools could use a whole lot more rote memorization when it comes to math.
Testing is a vital part of the system. If we can identify discrete, knowable constants such as math facts, spelling patterns, grammatical constructs, geographical information, etc., and can establish standards of learning around them, let's do it. For our effort, we'll find those things easier to teach efficiently and effectively. By keeping score with proper testing, we'll improve our methods and, maybe along the way, make school as enriching as Kohn thinks it can be.