Inflexible System

The rigidity of the nation's curricula stems from the fact that if something is difficult to test, we don't include it, but if it easily testable, we dwell on it. In determining the mathematics curriculum, for example, one might think we would first ask whether mathematics should be taught at all, second, what aspects should be taught for which purposes, and third, how we can assess competence in those aspects. Instead, the answer to the last question of how we can assess mathematical competence has come to dominate how we answer the two logically prior questions. The most important aspects of mathematics, in the reality of today's schools, are those necessary to do well on California Tests, Iowa Tests, and SAT tests.

We have come to accept multiple choice tests in places where we know they make no sense at all. At least in mathematics one can formulate reasonable problems that have objective answers. But we also test (and therefore teach) liberal arts in a multiple choice format. We go so far as to use this ubiquitous format when judging skills instead of knowledge. We find ourselves in the odd situation of asking people to objectify knowledge they simply use and never need to explicitly state, because the tests demand it.

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