Until the 20th century, most students didn’t have a formal education, and yet the United States boasted high literacy rates. Children were educated by their community and libraries with books, newspapers and pamphlets.
Now, one author argues that if the education system were to ditch standardized testing and allow for more freedom and creativity, students would enjoy school more and be more successful.
"The fact that children are forced into schooling can arguably be a violation of the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution," Goyal said.
If schools were a place for enjoyment, freedom and engagement, students would want to go to them, even if it wasn’t a requirement, the author said. As the education system stands now, it has ushered in uniformity and restricted diversity and freedom, he said.
"Standardized testing has become a uniform, detested part of many students’ and teachers’ lives," Goyal said. "It has killed creativity, narrowed the curriculum, dissolved the backbone of genuine teaching and learning, and transformed teaching into a mechanical, routinized operation."
Educators should no longer use standardized testing because it only shows how well a student can memorize and regurgitate information, Goyal said. Instead, students should be given assessments and portfolios, which could give students the opportunity to reflect, evaluate and document the information they have acquired through the years.
The philosophy that students should be in control of their own learning and not be held to standards created by testing companies has been adopted by progressive schools.
One of those schools, Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts has no grades, tests, homework or traditional classes, and students, along with staff members, vote on policies running the school.
"The school gave me the gift of time to let my own interests rise to the surface," one student is quoted saying in Goyal's book. "Any creative effort, perhaps any effort at all, requires a great deal of thought, even reading a book. Otherwise you’re doing it for nothing. The school gave us the time for reflection, for the introspection that you need to really develop your own creativity."
The majority of the free and democratic schools, which can be public or private, provides young people the freedom to organize their daily activities. The schools have a student population usually no more than 300. The process of implementing democratic policies, like age mixing or allowing students to vote on decisions within the school, into larger institutions would require transforming already existing spaces where no more than 200 students could interact, Goyal said.
Goyal believes the likelihood of public schools implementing a plan to reform existing schools is zero, largely because administrators detest the idea of relinquishing any power to students in the learning process, he said.
Other barriers preventing public schools from transforming into free and democratic schools include repealing the No Child Left Behind Act, and ditching standardized testing, state graduation requirements and grades.