Oct 31 2007
02:53 pm

Well, the Founding Fathers all had strong backgrounds in the classics. They KNEW what had made governments rise and fall throughout history. They knew WHY republics are as fragile as they are glorious. They knew that the art of politics involved getting one's hands dirty - in the sense of digging in, not in the sense of corruption.

But what about the last several generations of Amurkans? Tain't so, sadly!

"Schools of education are aided in promoting culture-free schooling by another efficient device for that purpose: standardized tests. Culture-free high-stakes standardized tests produce — over many years — culture-free young adults. That's because what is tested is what is taught. America's standardized reading tests — from comprehension tests given to third graders to reading passages on the Graduate Record Examination for candidates for graduate school — contain NO TRACE of Western culture, history, literature, politics, art.

Standardized tests' cultural sterility does not trouble leaders of school systems. It does not disturb presidents of universities — or CEOs of testing companies. They were all "educated" in schools and universities much like those they now lead or serve. We can expect nothing from them in the way of a remedy. They cannot tell us why the young — after thousands of hours and years upon years of seat time in their institutions and hundreds of hours taking their tests — know so very little. (Standardized testing's large role in fostering ignorance is the theme of "Standardized Tests That Fire the Imagination.")"

Above may be read in full (and should be read in full) at:

Another excerpt: "THE YOUNG ARE DISENGAGED; THEY DO NOT GET NEWS FROM ANY SOURCE: "A new study of the problem by David T. Z. Mindich, a journalism professor at Saint Michael's College in Vermont, provides a devastating survey of the extent of the problem. Ignorance of current events and indifference to the traditional news media are epidemic . . . In his new book, Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don't Follow the News, Mindich cites a survey showing that 'only 11% of young people cite the Internet as a major source of news.' Younger Americans know plenty about the things that interest them — they just don't follow the news very closely . . . Given the close correlation researchers have found between newspaper reading and active citizenship, the figures are worrisome . . ." "

A part - potentially a significant part - of the solution to this may be found on the web. It is a potent collection of information that should be a part of the cultural consciousness of a citizen of the western world. Check out the plethora of cultural background available at:

Anybody else got any good sources? I have an edition of The Harvard Classics in my house. I have other books reflective of a wide range of thinking. Some are fiction, some nonfiction. All are sources of "food for thought" - which is one of the foods MOST NOTABLY missing from the diet of the last several generations of Americans.


Thanks for an excellent post, RB! :)


Way to go! :) I'll keep an eye out for sources.

One thing: I'm not at all sure standardized tests are not steeped neck-deep in culture; every one I ever took seemed that way to me, and I have taken quite a few. My trick for consistently scoring in the top percentile on standardized tests was completely culturally-based, even though quite simple: I always asked myself, "What would a middle-aged midwestern Ph.D. in educational testing think was the best answer?"

Did you ever see one of those alternative, urban-street-culture-oriented tests? The ones filled with street and gang slang and situations? I would not have been able to score well at all on those since they did not reflect my culture.

But even though I was not from the Midwest, etc., my culture was still close enough to that of the folks who make up the official standardized tests to make those tests manageable.

Of course it could be argued the above is a minor point and does not detract from message of your excellent post.

Keep up the good work, RB! :)

-- OneTahiti

That's good, OneT! I had to chuckle!

I got to where I did the same kinds of things on such tests as the MMPI. I have a friend who has a PhD in org psych and metrics. I have a fair background in psych myself. We had a week-long discussion years ago when he was working on his MS. We talked about the standardized tests shrinks use, and how they work. We talked about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Self-Actualization concepts. Once we got through that week and I understood what those tests looked for, it was VERY hard for me to honestly take one of the damn things thereafter. I would always look at from the standpoint of "What is the user of the test looking for?" since I knew what kind of answer would lead to what conclusion. Once the structure is understood, they cease to be "tests," don't they?

But I imagine your technique would work just fine, based on my own experience!

The whole idea really does speak to the notion of cultural literacy, doesn't it?

I might add that for perspective, the ability to reason through different concepts, and to communicate transgenerationally, the aspect of historicity has to be included in cultural literacy, IMHO.

Film at eleve, as they say...


Some Interesting thoughts from the authors/editors...

of the internet-available book on cultural literacy. In the "Preface"
(link...) they note:
"The public also understands that these shared meanings are essential for communication inside our nation—or, to put the matter simply, they are essential for reading. We all know that reading is the most important academic skill, and that there is a big reading gap between haves and have-nots in our schools. We know that reading skill is a key not just to a child’s success in school but also, in the information age, to his or her chances in life. That is why the federal government and now most of the states have started to place an enormous emphasis on reading.
This is good news and bad news. It’s good news because becoming a good reader is so enormously important. It’s bad news because the people who make and carry out school policies have not been very sophisticated so far about what is needed, beyond sounding out words, to become a good reader. On the important matter of reading comprehension, their vision is vague and clouded. Talking about reading comprehension reminds me of Mark Twain’s comment on the weather: everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Reading comprehension scores have not gone up significantly." [emphasis mine - RB]

These paragraphs are immensely important in understanding not just the need to read well, but the need for cultural literacy in both understanding what is read AND in being able to communicate with others who may be different. They continue:

" In the United States, reading with understanding is based on the kind of background knowledge identified in this book, and it is to be hoped that our schools will begin to do a better job of imparting this kind of knowledge to all children in a coherent and cumulative way. When they do, reading comprehension scores will go up. (Data to support this can be found at the Web site of the Core Knowledge Foundation, (link...) ). From the start, the premise of this dictionary was that true literacy — reading with comprehension — requires a lot more than sounding out the words on the page. Those who possess the needed, taken-for-granted knowledge can understand what they read, and those who lack that knowledge cannot. The haves learn ever more from what they read and hear; the have-nots fall further behind and lose the chance to become participating members of the wider community." [emphasis mine - RB]

MY GOD! This paragraph just about says it all, doesn't it? I'm impressed more with these people and this concept the more I read!

There's a lot of work to be done, educators!

Reckon, really, when we get down to it, we all need to take the responsibility to take up the mantle of "educator," don't we?


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