American politicians are obsessed with the idea of standards and standards based education. Proponents of the standards movement argue that unless students know what is expected of them they will be confused and unable to learn effectively. My question is simply this: Is it true to assume that only by telling someone what they must learn in advance of actual study that the learner will automatically be motivated to learn?
Standardization is fine for building cars, rifles and lawn mowers. Parts that are interchangeable make sense for an assembly line production scheme. Standardizing weights and measurements, building codes, and tax codes also makes sense in that the public is protected from treachery by unscrupulous individuals seeking to profit from the innocence of others. In short, standards are just fine for industrial productivity and for the regulation of professional activity. In both cases, however, standards regulate an already existing knowledge base and are not designed to motivate but rather to regulate.
Educational standards, on the other hand, are not designed as regulators, rather they are understood as motivators. Just tell students what they will be responsible for knowing and they will be motivated to know those things. This concept is, simply, hogwash. Thinking that in a classroom of 25 to 30 students with a potential 18 month range in ages and differing learning styles, background knowledge, cultural traditions, gender, interests and other mitigating factors, that standardization is appropriate misses the whole point of education.
Schools are not, nor should they be, places where we graduate carbon copies of the ideal student. Schools are not places where we train students to answer decontextualized questions so that they get really good at playing Trivial Pursuit or games like that. No, schools must be more than that or the United States is in real trouble. We are currently producing a generation of students that have been stripped of intellectual capital with a concentration in school on the technical aspects of reading and arithmetic (mistakenly called mathematics). We have no time to teach history, social studies, science, music, art, and physical education. All because we must have a standards based classroom with a concentration on reading and math. STOP. I am ranting. But you get the point I think.