Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby
I have happily made the wise nation of New Zealand my temporary home. The government has recently changed and, as expected, the new government is making changes to the education system. It seems that the way in which young people learn is determined by the ideology of the current government. In my foolishness I thought the way in which young people learn would remain the same regardless of the ideology of government.
Still, I was happy to read that the new government is removing National Standards testing. For the last few years young people have been subjected to frequent tests to determine how they perform against “standards” in numeracy and literacy. I do not know who set the standards and how they were set. Why was I happy to see this come to an end? Because it seems to me that attempting to fit students to pre-determined standards assumes that they are products to be constructed, which I do not believe to be the case. I have also heard that this focus has reduced time dedicated to learning in other areas of human endeavor such as the arts, humanities, science, and rational thinking.
There are, of course, people who disagree with me. I found the following comment in a social media page. It is public, so I believe it is reasonable to reproduce it — though I will omit the author’s name.
“Actually kids deserve standards instead of wittering on about cultural issues that mean nothing to those who try and pay lip service to. Why not ensure standards of basic literacy and numeracy are taught is an interesting way? Kids are lost in a swamp of method and cannot bloody spell. Phonic is a dirty word and science is boring at the primary levels. It is time to stop wasting 2 years at immediate and teach a curriculum worthy of a new generation.”
I decided to respond to this person by summarizing his argument in premise / conclusion form.
P1. (premise) Kids either deserve standardized testing in literacy and numeracy OR learning about cultural issues (implication that it is one or the other).
P2. (premise) Kids are being taught too much method and cannot spell;
P3. (premise) Phonics are not used, and science is boring in primary school
P4. (premise) Because P2 and P3 are true, we should teach intermediate level students a curriculum worthy of a new generation
P5. (premise) A curriculum worthy of a new generation involves teaching literacy and numeracy in interesting ways
C. (conclusion) Therefore, we should keep national standard testing in literacy and numeracy
I believe this accurately captures the argument. When presented in this form, we can examine the logic. So, my friends, what do we see here? No doubt you have seen that this argument is invalid. The conclusion (C) does not follow from the premises. The mistake is in the move the author makes from teaching to testing. We may agree that creatively teaching a range of subjects is important, but it does not follow that we should keep National Standard testing in literacy and numeracy. I think this small argument represents a common mistake in reasoning about National Standards. The mistake is the conflation of teaching with testing.
Wise readers and will also see that premise #1 does not connect to the rest of the argument; unless, of course, the author was assuming the truth of a suppressed premise such as: learning about cultural issues is not worthy of a new generation. This may be seen as a value judgement or a testable claim about the world. Either way, it is currently unsupported and therefore leaves the argument unconvincing.
In an attempt to progress my examination, I outlined the above in a reply to the person who made the comment. He has not yet responded.