happiness is finding the place where being yourself is exactly what's needed

Friday, June 10, 2011

standardized living (from school to the workforce)

My friend Jenaphur's most recent post at Cake In A Blender (go visit and congratulate her on her B in math and A++ Criminology test) provided me the opportunity to approach a subject I'd been thinking about earlier this week from a slightly different angle of crazy-lady rant.

In the post, she shares the powerpoint she made for her presentation on the Stanford Prison Experiment. She says "The class seemed interested, most couldn't believe that it was just an experiment, and the teacher said that he had never heard of it. I thought that was a little odd."

I can't remember if this experiment is something I learned in high school or college Psychology class, but I do remember learning of it very early on in my Psychology education. So, I found it a little odd that no one there had heard of it before.

Then, I posted a comment that said this: thanks for sharing your powerpoint. i remember discussing this in psychology class. if the other students hadn't heard of it, it's probably because things that could help people understand each other and their society (psychology, sociology, etc.) are not deemed as important in schools as the things that are on standardized tests.

This is true. We can't deny it. When I was doing my student teaching (at a time when I was still considering being a teacher and rode dinosaurs to school), I was asked by the coordinating teacher to create a unit plan for the 9th grade advanced class on "Lord of the Flies". Now, all teachers have slightly different educational backgrounds and will therefore relate reading material to the real world in slightly different ways. My taking 20 minutes of class to give the students a quick barebones explanation of Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego was met with an attitude of "do you really want to waste class time on something like this?"

In my opinion, a teacher skipping a brief discussion of Id while having the class read "Lord of the Flies" is like asking them to do algebra without teaching them how to add. (And maybe soon I'll blog a rant about why teaching literature is important and why I think most people are doing it wrong.)

Of course, there doesn't seem to be anyone in particular to blame for the way our current education system is run. Everyone involved is just doing their job. And, what's the point of trying to teach students holistically, in ways that will make learning more valuable to them, when adult society also seems run by standardized tests?

As you know if you've visited my blog before, I've been unemployed for over half a year now. This means in this past months, I've filled out a lot of job applications. Allow me to get nostalgic for a moment . . .

Remember when applying for some minimum wage retail/grocery store position only required you to give your name, address, work history, and references? Those were the good old days of "If you want to know what kind of person I am, meet me." When people weren't screened out through lengthy questionnaires on the internet.

Now almost all of these positions require not only a thorough background check - a couple places even asked me to remember every job and address I've had for the last ten years - but also a personality inventory of anywhere from 40 to 100 questions.

These questions are multiple choice and aimed to screen out liars, sociopaths, and others of questionable attitudes. I've never taken the MMPI, but I've often wondered if these questions came from there. The testing method certainly did.

So, as you can see, standardized tests are now used not only to determine our knowledge and intelligence, but also what kind of person we are. Employers can rest assured that the answers to multiple choice questions will provide them with the best workers.

I find this method horribly offensive. Back when I was less desperate, I wouldn't even bother applying to places that required me to do one of these tests. I figured it was their loss, because everyone I've ever worked for has found me to be an above average or even excellent worker.

Some of the questions are have pretty obvious answers, like "If a customer seems to want help, do you help them, ignore them, or kick them in the shins?" Other questions are really vague, and I never have any idea how to answer them (a lot like some of the vague questions that would show up on multiple choice tests in school).

An example of one of those questions is "Do you fake being polite?" I answer this question with "No," because that's the correct answer. I do not fake being polite. I am most often genuinely polite. However, I've always suspected that this question could mean "Are you sometimes polite to people even when you don't want to be?" (Because that would be a more logical question to have on a test for potential employment.) In which case, the answer I should select would be "Yes," as I feel that being polite to people is an essential part of acting professional.

So, it's possible I always answer that question wrong. It's possible that many potentially great employees are being weeded out from the wording of certain questions. Hell, I've even found spelling and grammatical errors in these tests. I'm usually not picky about that sort of thing, but the tests used to evaluate human beings should at least be evaluated themselves for traits like comprehensibility.

What I'm wondering, I guess, is why we've chosen to evaluate the worth of other people on scales few of us even understand. Do the companies who choose to use these tests even know what prospective employees are being quizzed on? Do the leaders in our school system have any idea why we've chosen the subjects we have as the most important for students to know, or what those test scores really say - if they say anything - about a student's potential success later in life?

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