Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education Introduction

By Duane Swacker

About Duane Swacker

Introduction

‘All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.’ Galileo Galilei

The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our society is a result of the fact that our public [education] policy makers are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter” states systems theorist Russell Ackhoff.

Many longstanding practices in American public education are rightly described as “doing the wrong thing righter”.  The simplistic grading of students, rating and ranking schools as the US News and World Report does, believing that through using educational standards and its flip side standardized testing we can “measure” student learning and achievement, whatever that may mean, are just a few.

As noted by Ackhoff, doing the “wrong thing righter” is damaging enough to the bottom line in business but in the teaching and learning process it results in error, falsehoods and invalid conclusions about what a student has learned.  More than that, students internalize the labels that misleadingly describe a student resulting in multiple harms to many students, violating their personhood.  The tremendous waste of educational resources, time, energies and monies for practices that are harmful, epistemologically and ontologically bankrupt and that contravene the fundamental purpose of public education should give us pause.

“I’m an ‘A’ student” declares the bright fresh-faced student as she confidently walks into class the first day finding a seat next to her friends.  I hate to burst her bubble but little does she know, she isn’t.  The first few days of a new school year class time is spent going over the syllabus, rules and regulations, and how grades will be determined for the semester and year.  In discussing grades I had the students fill out a very brief survey:

I am a (n) _____student.

A

B

C

D

E (none of these)

F

Then I’d have one student read the answers aloud as another tallied up the various answers on the board.  Inevitably the majority of answers were either an A or B as in order to take Spanish the students had to have an A or B grade in their prior year’s Language Arts class.  Every now and then a C might appear, and never a D or F. (Why is it that in the grading scale the only letter with a word associated with it is F-fail?)  And out of every hundred or so students usually only one would get the correct answer E.  Why is it, that only one out of one hundred students would understand what was really being asked/demonstrated by the brief survey?

Why?  Because socially ingrained practices such as student grades, practices that have existed for generations, are usually accepted as right, good, valid and the way things are, even after they have been shown to be detrimental to students and contradict the fundamental purpose(s) of public education.  Breaking away from societal habits of long standing practices such as grades in schooling can be an almost impossible task, especially for students who don’t have enough life experience to question, counteract or refuse to accept them.  The vast majority, not only of students but also parents and teachers accept grades and standardized test scores as an acceptable practice.  “It’s how school works!”  In this book I will show why using educational standards and standardized test scores as assessment practices are invalid, harmful, unethical and unjust educational malpractices.

I explore the fundamental concepts underlying educational standards and standardized testing used as a basis to supposedly measure student learning to show that said practices which most accept as “the way things are” are based on logical errors and falsehoods that render the practices invalid.  And in being invalid those practices can only cause harm to many students as they are subjected to the many quirks and whims of practices based on false and invalid notions.  As any craftsman, artisan or gourmet chef knows; when one starts with inferior materials it is impossible to construct a high quality product.  It’s the old garbage in, garbage out to put it a bit more crudely.  How can we construct a high quality educational experience for students if we start with practices that are of the lowest intellectual quality and that lack validity?

Many current educational practices, start with and are based on inferior “materials”.  In the teaching and learning process, those deficient materials are the rationo-logically challenged conceptual foundations used to justify the malpractices of student grades, educational standards and standardized testing that cause much harm to each and every student, whether the ‘A student’ or the ‘failing student’.  I will show that those practices are, indeed, malpractices based on faulty logic and irrational thinking that render them invalid, harmful and unjust.

In order to do so, though, we must first explore some basic concerns that relate to the purpose of public education, to truth considerations and fidelity to truth in educational discourse, to justice concerns, to aesthetic matters of quality, to (mis)labeling and attachment issues in pinning names onto students in the sorting, separating and ranking involved in grades and standardized test scores, to Foucault’s “subjectivization” or “internalization”, to conceptual (epistemological and ontological) foundations of standards and measurements, to the misuse and bastardization of language that serves to obfuscate meaning for purposes other than to enhance just and ethical teaching and learning environments, to practical ethical concerns and, finally, to obtaining “fidelity to truth” in public education discourse and practices.

Most everyone believes they know the purpose of public education but few actually know where to find the fundamental purpose and what that purpose is.  In Chapter 1 I will explore what those purposes are and how they should serve as our fundamental criterion, the guiding spirit against which all public education practices should be judged.  A brief discussion of the purpose of government follows and what the effects of a government gone awry in its doings are.  Issues of personal liberty in relation to public schooling will also be discussed.

In Chapter 2 I explore what constitutes truth in its various manifestations and that without “fidelity to truth” in educational discourse and practices one can only end up with a logically compromised teaching and learning process that may serve certain political ends but doesn’t, can’t serve the students justly.

Following up on “fidelity to truth” and closely allied with it, in Chapter 3, I explore the nature of justice and how justice concerns, in light of the fundamental purpose of government and public schools, interact to either help or hinder individual student rights and liberties.

In Chapter 4 I will focus on the nature of assessment touching on issues of quality, assessing quality, objective vs subjective assessment and on Wilson’s four frame of references in the assessment process and how confusing and conflating the frames in our evaluation practices add another layer of invalidity.

The 13 logical errors identified by Noel Wilson in his 1997 treatise “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error” will be discussed in Chapter 5.  His never refuted nor rebutted definitive destruction of the concepts of educational standards and standardized testing are delineated and then discussed in relation to Foucault’s concept of subjectivization and its impact on students in relation to the stated purpose of public education.

In Chapter 6 I explore the conceptual foundations of measurements and standards as conceived by the major standard and measurement organizations.  It will be shown how the misuse of these terms and concepts lend a false sense of scientific veracity to the educational standards and standardized testing regime.  Also included is a brief discussion of the conceptual error and falsehoods of standardized testing as it is outlined in the testing bible “Standards of Educational and Psychological Testing.”

Professional ethical considerations are addressed in Chapter 7, first through the dictionary definitions of ethics and then through a brief discussion of various ethical codes of conduct from three organizations that are involved in education.  Commonalities found in the codes are identified and discussed in relation to considering whether the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing in respect to fundamental student rights as outlined in our fundamental purpose of public education should be considered unethical.

In the Conclusion I ask a series of questions concerning how the malpractices of educational standards and standardized testing analyzed as malpractices through logical definition and thought can only result in massive amounts of errors, falsehoods and inaccurate categorizations of students which cause much harm to students, are unethical, fail to honor constitutional mandates and therefore should be rejected immediately and replaced with practices that are “faithful to truth”, help uplift the student to his/her potential in enjoying his/her constitutional rights and privileges in liberty.

Finally, in the Afterword I will present some thoughts on how to obtain “fidelity to truth” in educational practices so that we may break the cycle of educational malpractices in which we currently find ourselves.