Education Letter to the Editor

When 4th Graders Become ‘Pavlovian Experiments’

November 03, 2008 1 min read

To the Editor:

District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is another educator making a name for herself within the Wall Street culture gripping many school districts nationwide (“D.C. Set to Impose Teacher-Firing Initiative,” Oct. 15, 2008). This culture, which the current economic situation shows to be a failure, focuses on making more every year, no matter how, and believes that failure to do so is not an option, even if the final result is ruination.

The ideology of the Rhee administration seems to be the same: Success is determined by whether children and teachers make gains on tests. If a student shows an interest in an untested subject such as physics or Renaissance art, and the teacher’s job depends on the bottom line, well, Einstein and Michelangelo will have to wait. Fourth graders are becoming Pavlovian experiments.

The situation reminds me of those horrendous photos of children working in factories 14 hours a day doing mindless tasks so that someone else can make money. The emphasis on test scores is the ultimate result of a Wall Street mentality that says, if education were to behave like business, it would get better results.

Now that present circumstances make it perfectly clear that the bottom-line madness does not work, maybe we can begin to create a society in which children can feel that school is not a place they are forced to go, but a place where they will know, even before they step through the door, that education is important to their future, their families’ future, and the country’s future.

This will require a rededication to what education should be about: thinking, creativity, social responsibility, compassion, and all types of knowledge. Creating test-takers so that superintendents can show an improvement to the bottom line is stupid and harmful to children.

Elliot Kotler

Ossining, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the November 05, 2008 edition of Education Week as When 4th Graders Become ‘Pavlovian Experiments’