When it LOOKS like education

Vincent Avatar

This weekend it occurred to me Mark Twain’s Diaries of Adam and Eve is an allegory for educational policy, practice, and reform.

An extract from Adam’s diary on Monday:

This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals…. Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain…. WE? Where did I get that word– the new creature uses it.

Teaching like parenting is one of those tasks that everyone seems to believe they can complete better than those directly trained to do so. Drawn from weak memories and public clichés, there is a lot of “we-ing” in discussions of education – We will, We must, We need, We want, We, We, We… 

In education it really isn’t about “We” – There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the issue of test scores and drop out rates. In education it is about You and You and You and Me. Even though You and You might learn well from the same stimuli, You and Me may not. You and Me might require different stimuli to learn as well as You and You.


Been examining the great waterfall. It is the finest thing on the estate, I think. The new creature calls it Niagara Falls– why, I am sure I do not know. Says it LOOKS like Niagara Falls. That is not a reason, it is mere waywardness and imbecility. I get no chance to name anything myself. The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered–it LOOKS like the thing. There is a dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it "looks like a dodo." It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do.

Clinton called it: Goals 2000.
Bush called it: No Child Left Behind.
Obama calls it: Race to the Top and I3.

I am not anti-testing. I believe in testing. Testing helps form hypothesis regarding “the norm” (the average), the exceptional, and those who need additional assistance.

I am, however, against the use of test scores as the sole consideration in the formation of a diagnosis. Somewhere in the process of reform testing – while easily measured is the most inaccurate – became the favored determinant of effective teaching and learning. 

High test scores LOOK like learning but whether a subject has been effectively taught or not is proven in the learner’s ability to apply the newly acquired skills outside of the contexts in which they were taught – NOT simply the student’s ability to respond adequately to a series of formulaic questions.


The naming goes recklessly on, in spite of anything I can do. I had a very good name for the estate, and it was musical and pretty– GARDEN OF EDEN. Privately, I continue to call it that, but not any longer publicly. The new creature says it is all woods and rocks and scenery, and therefore has no resemblance to a garden. Says it LOOKS like a park, and does not look like anything BUT a park. Consequently, without consulting me, it has been new-named NIAGARA FALLS PARK. This is sufficiently high-handed, it seems to me. And already there is a sign up:



My life is not as happy as it was.

Remember when that shoe box held more than just shoes? Remember when it was a pirate’s secret treasure chest or a space ship for the dolls/action figures that came alive, spoke, and had adventures all in your head?

There is nothing wrong with calling a shoe box “a shoe box” and using it as a box for shoes. It is a perfectly rational thing to do. However, consider the opportunities missed when that shoe box is only a shoe box that can hold nothing else but shoes.

The imagination is a most powerful resource when it comes to problem solving.  The 21st Century needs individuals who are comfortable working collaboratively to solve challenging age old problems as well as the new ones that turn up.

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