Opinion
Assessment Opinion

Beyond the Herd Mentality

By Howard Gardner — September 13, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Minds That We Truly Need in the Future

BRIC ARCHIVE

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with having a high standing in some kind of international comparison. No doubt there are things to be learned from effective schools in countries like Finland or Singapore. And yet, the more I have thought about it, the more I have become convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand. In the process of pursuing a higher rank, educational leaders are ignoring deeper and more important purposes of education.

Let’s begin with the obvious. Only a few countries can have the lead in these “league-table comparisons.” And so, as in Olympic-level basketball, backgammon, or ballet, most countries are destined to be disappointed, and most ministers of education advised to shift portfolios before the next list is posted.

Consider, next, the tenuous relation between performance on such measures and the success of the society on other metrics. In the early 1980s, many Americans disparaged their schools as the source of economic doldrums and looked admiringly at the Japanese example. If only we could have the test scores of those Japanese students! In the next two decades, Japanese students continued to do perfectly well in examinations, and yet the economic and social performance of the country was unimpressive. Meanwhile, though there has hardly been a sea change in American schools, our society has enjoyed enviable economic prosperity during the same period.

Even when tests are instituted or cited for praiseworthy reasons, undesirable results often obtain. The peril of making tests all-important and of “teaching to the test” has been well documented. Ample examples of genuine cheating by students and teachers, or other, subtler forms of compromised work, can be adduced. And when tests become dominant in our society, citizens with options cash them in. Parents who do not like a testing regimen place their children in independent schools or home-school. Accomplished veterans or promising new teachers, who want to be able to create their own curricula or to teach in ways that are not honored by the tests, migrate to the private sector or leave teaching altogether.

As far as I am concerned, however, all these criticisms are secondary. The decisive reason to avoid the “herd mentality” of education ministers is that improving performance on a particular test is a terrible goal for an education system. A transient numerical result, due to any number of reasons, becomes the raison d’êtrefor the whole educational process. What a depressing prospect.

The more I have thought about it, the more I have become convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand.

Instead of beginning (and, all too often, ending) with test scores, we should begin by considering the kinds of minds that we want to cultivate in our education system. My own reflections suggest that in the future, we need to cultivate five kinds of minds if we want to be successful as a nation and, more important, as a world. Those minds include:

• A disciplined mind, that can think well and appropriately in the major disciplines;

• A synthesizing mind, that can sift through a large amount of information, decide what is important, and put it together in ways that make sense for oneself and for others;

• A creative mind, that can raise new questions, come up with novel solutions, think outside the box;

• A respectful mind, that honors the differences among individuals and groups, and tries to understand them and work productively with them; and

• An ethical mind, that thinks, beyond selfish interests, about the kind of worker one aspires to be, and the kind of citizen that one should be.

No doubt, some measures for each of these could be devised, though I doubt that a paper-and-pencil or computer-administered, short-answer test will prove adequate. But the important point is this: Any country—and certainly one as prosperous and well-positioned as the United States—should begin educational discussions with a serious consideration of the kinds of human beings we would like to have and to be in the future.

And that is why the education ministers of the world remind me today of lemmings—marching confidently, but proudly and disastrously, into a sea of ignorance.

A version of this article appeared in the September 14, 2005 edition of Education Week as Beyond the Herd Mentality

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School Climate & Safety Webinar
Praise for Improvement: Supporting Student Behavior through Positive Feedback and Interventions
Discover how PBIS teams and educators use evidence-based practices for student success.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Management Webinar
Build a Digitally Responsive Educational Organization for Effective Digital-Age Learning
Chart a guided pathway to digital agility and build support for your organization’s mission and vision through dialogue and collaboration.
Content provided by Bluum
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Drive Instruction With Mastery-Based Assessment
Deliver the right data at the right time—in the right format—and empower better decisions.
Content provided by Instructure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment The 'Nation's Report Card' Is Getting an Overhaul: 5 Things to Know
The leaders of NAEP have big plans for making the test more nimble, flexible, and useful.
9 min read
Image of a bank of computers in a library.
baona/E+
Assessment Opinion What the Digital SAT Will Mean for Students and Educators
The college-admissions test will be fully digital by 2024. Priscilla Rodriguez from the College Board discusses the change.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Assessment Opinion Searching for Common Ground: What Makes a Good Test?
Rick Hess and USC Dean Pedro Noguera discuss standardized testing—what it’s for, where it’s gone wrong, and how to improve it.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Assessment Spotlight Spotlight on Assessment in 2022
This Spotlight will help you understand how to use assessment data to guide student learning and examine the debate over standardized tests.