Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Beyond ‘1984’: George Orwell’s prophetic take on high-stakes tests - The Washington Post

Beyond ‘1984’: George Orwell’s prophetic take on high-stakes tests - The Washington Post:

Beyond ‘1984’: George Orwell’s prophetic take on high-stakes tests

Many people were introduced to author George Orwell because as students they were required to read “Animal Farm” or “1984,” the 68-year-old dystopian novel that is now experiencing something of a revival. Sales spiked after the inauguration of President Trump, and it remains a fixture on required reading lists in many English classes.
Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post’s media columnist, referenced Orwell’s theme of how the truth is subverted in totalitarian regimes when she wrote the following in January:
Anyone — citizen or journalist — who is surprised by false claims from the new inhabitant of the Oval Office hasn’t been paying attention. That was reinforced when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told “Meet the Press” Sunday that Spicer had been providing “alternative facts” to what the media had reported, making it clear we’ve gone full Orwell.
Although Orwell is best known for his novels about the dangers of totalitarianism and how societies slide into such a system, he wrote much more, including poetry, literary criticism and polemic journalism. Many of his essays rank with the best of his work, according to literary critics, and one of them shows him to have been prophetic in education, specifically high-stakes tests.
In an autobiographical essay titled “Such, Such Were the Joys,” Orwell tells stories about his own experiences when he was 8 to 13 years old, from 1911 to 1916, and a student St. Cyprian’s, a preparatory school in Suxxex, England. The essay was first published in 1952 but was thought to have been written years earlier, although there is no consensus about exactly when.
He writes about his disdain for using a single test to determine a student’s future, and how some subjects get ignored when other subjects are deemed more important for testing purposes. Sound familiar? That has been one of the most destructive results of the standardized test-centric era of school reform that began with President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law and continued with President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.
Here’s the relevant passage, in which Orwell also writes about “the greatest outrage of all … the teaching of history. You can read the entire essay here:
For my first two or three years I went through the ordinary educational mill: then, soon after I had stated Greek (one started Latin at eight, Greek at ten), I moved into the scholarship class, which was taught, so far as classics went, largely by Sambo himself. Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas. And with what learning! This business of making a gifted boy’s career depend on a competitive examination, taken when he is only twelve or thirteen is an evil thing at best, but there do appear to be preparatory schools which send scholars to Eton, Winchester, etc. without teaching them to see everything in 
Beyond ‘1984’: George Orwell’s prophetic take on high-stakes tests - The Washington Post:


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