High Stakes Tests – Anesthetic to the Human Mind

Mr. Gates,

Since you have heavily invested your foundation’s money in policy initiatives promoting high stakes testing and standardized education, I have a question for you.

What is your conception of the human mind?

This question is important because education is not just about what we are putting into the mind; it is also about how it is done. What is happening to the brain while we are involved in the learning process is just as important as the content we are putting into it.

Most teachers will tell you, each and every one of their student’s minds is unique, vibrant and multi-faceted.

You see Mr. Gates, when I see forms of educational experience dictated upon educators that emphasize a learner’s role as a passive recipient of knowledge, while disregarding their psycho-emotional differences or providing them with a voice in the design of their learning experiences, I become concerned.

Unlike a computer’s operational system, teachers have discovered that children’s minds while under their charge are always dynamic and never in hibernation mode. It is difficult to plug standardized information into the minds of children because their biological considerations are complex, varied and unique.

The production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters necessary for long term memory formation are dependent upon multi-sensory and aesthetic experience.

The opposite of aesthetic is anesthetic.

You do realize that significant numbers of American educators have reduced learning opportunities related to multi-disciplinary learning experience and are now pressured to fragment learning outside learner’s interests and strengths and employ inordinate amounts of test prep? Art, music, p.e. and creative forms of science education are disappearing in American classrooms. I have read the High School Survey of Student Engagement, and this survey does not paint a pretty picture of children’s educational experience since high stakes standardized testing was imposed upon American Schools in 2003.

Who speaks for American children?

From my perspective, standardized testing is a prescription for radical behaviorism and I deem that as developmentally inappropriate for significant numbers of children whose participation in school at the primary and secondary level is compulsory. The toxic stress induced upon unsuspecting learners by high stakes standardized test based learning experience exacerbates adverse childhood experiences in the formative minds of many children. Mandated high stakes testing and the narrowing of the curricula necessary to prepare students for high stakes tests is totally insufficient to prepare American children for participation in a democratic society and will negate significant numbers of learners with opportunity to determine their own lives. Preparing the next generation of Americans to solve the wicked problems they will inherit will require more than standardized test taking skills.

Teachers have a very important job to do. They prepare the next generation to move civilization forward. I see your advocacy for standardized testing as an impediment to authentic learning experience and to teachers’ critical job of developing the unique talents, gifts and capacities of future generations of American Citizens.

We cannot afford future failures of imagination.

Clyde Gaw


About Highlighting Members' Needs

We are running for the following Renton Education Association positions because we believe in the following planks: Becca Ritchie, Candidate for REA President, Nelsen Middle School, Computer Tech Susan DuFresne, Candidate for Primary Executive Board, Maplewood Heights Elementary, Integrated Kindergarten ✅  Demanding a healthy work-load/life balance. ✅  Bargaining competitive professional compensation. ✅  Challenging the status quo test culture with: Less is more! ✅  Emphasizing our professional expertise. ✅  Prioritizing equity and access for all. ✅  Utilizing 2-way 21st century communication tools. ✅  Acting in solidarity with all unions. ✅  Supporting ALL members. ✅   Implementing developmentally appropriate K-3 curriculum/assessment.
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5 Responses to High Stakes Tests – Anesthetic to the Human Mind

  1. Melinda says:

    In order for Bill Gates to “get” this concept, one needs to come up with a creative and different way to approach it. I don’t know what that way is, but clearly his mind works differently than the minds of others (a point well-made in your letter- minds work differently!). I suspect he just does not see the world the way we see it, or see what makes such clear and undeniable sense to almost all educators, because his brain is only capable of processing things in a certain way. Maybe he just does not value the importance of the things you mentioned because he has never understood them. But what does seem clear is that he sees children (and probably all people, including himself) as some kind of little machines that can be programmed a certain way, and then run through a sort of test to make sure the programmer got it right. And if not, reprogrammed by a new programmer. He is lucky because he has found a perfect and quite lucrative niche for the way his mind works. So the task for educators is to put these concepts into terms or forms that a mind such as Bill Gates’ can understand, so he can then take the leap and understand what we are all talking about, and realize the error of his ways. We have so many creative educators out there who surely can design some sort of “special” approach for this man (and others like him) to help him understand this concept before it is too late.

    • Teachers'LettersToBillGates says:

      We are working on the creative ideas at the same time as we are taking some basic “disruptive” and educational actions. We are open to your creative ideas! Thank you for posting a comment here!

      Teachers’ Letters to Bill Gates

    • campak14 says:

      Very interesting comments Melinda! As you pointed out, many educators are seeking to educate Mr. Gates on the complexities of the human mind. If only children had half the learning opportunities he grew up with, Public Education would be a better place. In fact Gates himself is a poster child for the transformative power of creative learning experience in school. He was able to mediate his learning experiences while in middle and high school, something many children will never have the opportunity to do since he has influenced policy that removes much of creative learning experience in education today. Thanks Melinda!

  2. sixtiessman says:

    Thanks for being the only one I have seen so far who has addressed Gates appropriately. To all you others contemplating writing him a letter, please do address them as Mr and Mrs Gates rather than Bill and Melinda. You should realize that you are not asking a friend for a favor; you are writing to angrily protest their view on how to improve school outcomes. I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I read a letter addressed in the more personal manner. These people — the heads of Computer Software Companies or Network Engineering companies — disrespect you (and what you do); they think you are little people who went into education because you love children and want to be looked up to and be thanked and admired the rest of your lives.
    After being a rather disruptive student, myself, whose report cards always said; “above average intelligence but needs to apply himself more”, I hit my best run when I enrolled in Geometry. Why, you may ask? Because that was the first time my father seemed to take any interest in what I was learning, Having earned an Engineering degree himself, as a first generation American, he thought he knew the subject better than Mr. Martinez (my teacher) but he was wrong. It was at home with my father trying to prove what Martinez had said about legally trisecting an angle, that I learned about the discipline. I learned my way to study and how to think abstractly (I had ADD but would not discover that fact until I reached 55). True, I was motivated by a desire for my father’s approval. Nonetheless, the experience turned my whole life around and set a C- student on his way to getting his PH.D. in Industrial Systems Management. I have thought about Martinez every once in awhile but I never once thought about going back to see him or thank him for having faith in me. I made it on my own, mostly because I did not have the type of home or health problems that a math teacher could recognize and help me solve and also I was to proud to relate any such problems to a stranger.
    I also doubt that Mr. Gates was ever predisposed to visit his teachers and thank them for their help but I could be wrong. I picture him as a young man who got fascinated with computers and who was already on the track for turning a hobby into a world class business. He had to be a self-motivated young man who was (and is) convinced that his success was due to inborn intelligence and desire. Such people look down upon the role teachers play in helping less motivated children get ahead: ‘it is what it is’ and ‘they are who they are’ they are prone to say. He naturally believes that enhancing the average intellectual ability of HS graduates (for example) can best be done by separating those who are ‘inherently’ brighter from others and finding ways to facilitate the transfer of the knowledge needed to get and hold a job. (Note, I use HS in this example, because HS and college are where one was first getting introduced to computers when he was a young man. So, it is natural that he thought that the best teaching approach would have been developing more efficient methods for transferring knowledge and for testing (using standardized tests) to see which children got the transfer best. It sounds like a winning formula to an Engineer or a Computer Systems Analyst or hardware nut.
    I am sure Gates would have maintained that computer Programming Teachers would not benefit from courses that taught them about how children learn and the need to be able to converge to the questions and answers with their students. At this point in the education process, one either had the lights turned on or he/she didn’t. After that, it’s simply transferring knowledge needed about the particular computer language and teaching the techniques of good programming. You memorize the facts and then start learning by doing.
    Getting to know your students better and teaching them how to appreciate each other and how to make this a better world is not part of the deal. So, they tend to think about Education as a knowledge transfer process which can be measured by multiple-choice tests. And they probably look on you as being guilty of sacrificing sentimentality for the hard work of teaching programming techniques and network building. My thinking might have turned out to be be closer to theirs if I hadn’t had to start out as a temporary teacher in Washington D.C. because of my record as being a antiwar protester under 3 indictments for inciting riots on the Ohio State Campus back in 1969-70. Because of that, the only job I could find was a temporary position as a teacher in one of D.C.s rowdiest High Schools.
    I am sure Gates would have maintained teaching is simply transferring knowledge needed about the particular computer language and teaching the techniques of good programming. You memorize the facts and then start learning by doing. Getting to know your students better and teaching them how to appreciate each other and how to make this a better world is not part of the deal. So, they tend to think about Education as a knowledge transfer process which can be measured by multiple-choice tests.

    • campak14 says:

      Thanks so much Sixtiesman for your exquisite and thoughtful post! Yes, I concur, their is the little problem of removing self determination for children in the system that is ours at this point in time. This results in children’s loss of opportunities to have a voice in the decision making process central to the learning experience they must participate in. Creativity development should be open to all children, not just Bill Gates.

      I like this quote from author Sally Gardner: “Wouldn’t it be good if we could let teachers do what they do best – teach. Not judge each child on a series of standardized exams. Let schools embrace, not exclude, those like me with a different way of thinking.”

      I appreciate your comments Sixtiesman!
      Thank you!

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