If performance within these narrow confines is conceived to be the supreme measure of success, if, for instance, an A average is accounted the central purpose of adolescent life — the requirements for which take most of the time and attention of the aspirant — and the worth of the individual is reckoned by victory or defeat in this abstract pursuit, then a social machine has been constructed which, by attaching purpose and meaning to essentially meaningless and fantastic behavior, will certainly dehumanize students, alienate them from their own human nature and break the natural connection between them and their parents, to whom they would otherwise look for significant affirmations.
Welcome to the world of mass-schooling, which sets this goal as its supreme achievement. Are you sure we want more of it?
— John Taylor Gatto
A long-held complaint against mass and standardized schooling has been its propensity to prevent students from really embracing their creativity and their passions, as schools are pushed to focus more and more on the subjects tested. As schools are forced to balance time in the day between classes like band, literature, art, and other electives with classes like mathematics, English, and science, they ultimately decide against classes that aren’t measured. This isn’t a surprising consequence of standardized testing. Standardized testing regimes incentivize schools to focus more and more on the systems tested, and in a world of limited resources, it is no surprise that schools then choose more math and English teachers over a new band director or art instructor.
One hidden aspect of standardized testing regimes — and indeed, mass schooling as a whole — is that it presents problems to students in an unrealistic fashion. Students are taught how to solve a variety of problems — both open-ended and multiple choice — in specific ways. Problems follow specific patterns. Most dangerous of all, all the information is available in a test problem to solve the problem. Standardized tests among primary and secondary education institutions never deprive students of all the relevant facts. By design, students are fed all the pieces of the puzzle and required to put them together.
Over time, students internalize this system of problem-solving and use it, rather than a unique system of critical reasoning, to approach problems in the world. As they grow up, they are paralyzed when faced with conundrums to which they don’t have all the information needed to arrive at an answer. When they attempt to put a puzzle together and see that they have to find or make a missing piece, they are confounded. Attempting to arrive at answers under this internalization is not only seen as risky, but it is seen as doomed to result in an incorrect answer.
Students, as they grow into young adults, are thus less capable of looking at problems as things which cannot necessarily be solved through a standard process and following a specific algorithm.
Perhaps even more dangerous, people come to see the world as working in this way. Problems which don’t have all the relevant facts available are unsolvable, people who attempt to make their own info are wrong, if not downright renegades. The problems of society are solvable, just once we have this information, people come to believe. “If only we could figure out the missing facts, then we could solve these issues!”
The fact of the matter is that this is not how problems are really solved — or even set up! — in the real world, and this is most certainly not how the world works. This way of thinking and problem solving is particularly dangerous to entrepreneurial thinking, as the entrepreneur is somebody who approaches problems as questions to be answered in original ways, with original approaches and information. Entrepreneurs are willing to find the relevant facts after delving into the problem, rather than have them set in front of them.
Schools, especially standardized schools, reject this fact. They present to malleable young minds the incorrect way of looking at the world, and set these young people up for failure and cowardice in the face of a world that requires risk-taking.