The Standardized Brain

What are the most important things for our children to learn? Most parents will say things like “Life skills,” “Math and science,” “How to succeed in the world,” and other such mighty philosophical goals.

Then, I have a question for these parents: “If you want your children to think, then why are you programming them to become complete drones???

This heated rant was triggered by a segment on the standardized-test-producing No Child Left Behind Act, that I heard on NPR. But, it’s been bubbling in my mind since some time in third grade.

You see, in third grade, for the first time in my life, I took a standardized test. I had no idea what the whole thing was about. Before me, I saw a whole grid of little bubbles. I had been taught extensively the proper technique for filling in these bubbles, and I complied to it. After I answered the questions for a while according to the correct answers. Then, I got bored. I stopped caring whether or not my answers were correct. So what did I do? I filled in the bubbles so that they formed an aesthetically-pleasing zigzag pattern. That may well have been the last twitch of my high-level creative muscles before the horror that followed caused them to atrophy almost out of existence.

What followed was a Ministry-of Love-style inquisition, never-ending, never-relenting, and intellectually paralyzing. No longer did my classes challenge or entertain me. No longer was I expected to think up my own solutions to problems. From that moment forward, I was instructed, directly or indirectly, to do my best to come up with the answers the test-maker was looking for. How, exactly, is this good for developing minds? Well, it’s not. But it’s very good for the newly-minted American Totalitarian State, which has finally cracked the age-old secret of how to create the perfect race of conformist drones who do not question government and don’t dare think outside the box: test them into submission.

As the grades went by, I didn’t notice the subtle change in my own psyche. I didn’t feel my sense of wonder at the world slipping away; I didn’t notice it when my drive to succeed academically began to falter; I didn’t take note when I began to become more and more resentful of school and everything it symbolized. But these things happened, and they brought me to where I am today. And that is not necessarily such a good place. I have, no matter how hard I tried to fight, part drone myself. Every now and then, I’ll catch myself watching television, even when the program in question is a wretched, sex-obsessed, moronic wad of drivel, with which I wouldn’t wipe my own rectum. I find myself surfing the internet without reason, even when I don’t have any information in particular to look for.

Why did this happen? Why did a kid who adored science more than anything else in the world, who loved his teachers, who enjoyed going to school (most of the time), become a struggling, flailing student in an undistinguished university, living the American nightmare? School. It’s always been school that got me down, school that broke me, school that got me to stand up on the podium, in front of millions of followers loyal to the system, and, in an Orwellian fashion, denounce myself for my crimes against the Party. Were this 1984, I might have said something like this: “I am a traitor. An enemy of the party. I have failed tests. I have attempted to think differently. I have resisted the beneficient forces of monotonization and conformization. I have attempted to break the mold. I deserve no mercy. I deserve death.” My true crimes, though, go in the opposite direction: I have allowed tests to depress me. I have obsessed about their results. I have allowed myself to partake in the continuous review so that we can get better and better grades on them. I deserve no mercy. I deserve death.

This only got worse with the enactment of No Child Left Behind. This horrendous act, which created a set of benchmarks, to which all schools must comply or face death, is solely responsible for killing the American soul. No Child Left Behind is, by itself, a good reason to despise the current Administration. Even if you ignore American errors, mistakes, horrors, and deceptions, No Child Left Behind stands as a beacon of insanity, a ray of darkness in a sea of light.

I’m sure some of my readers will not be clear on what this Act actually does, especially those fortunate enough to be in Europe, Asia, or one of the other Americas. The meat of the act is simple: it requires a near-constant battery of tests with which it judges the performance of schools. On paper, like Marxism, it may seem like a good idea: it’s (supposedly) a way to see which schools are doing so dismally that they might be hurting the children. (Of course, this assumes that NCLB has no dark ulterior motives, which I doubt) In practice, it does no such thing. Having experienced its effects throughout high school, here’s what it does:

  • Provides accountability. Translation: requires students to take test after test, so many, in fact, that teachers begin teaching mostly material that will be covered on the test, to the exclusion of all other facts. The focus of education shifts from understanding to rote memorization, and curiosity is ultimately stifled.
  • Judges schools based on their performance. Translation: attacks poor and minority students, despite pretending to help them, by closing down their neighborhood schools and filling them with self-doubt about their own academic prowess.
  • Helps academically-troubled students catch up. Translation: Pulls academically gifted students down to the “normal” level. Gone are the special programs for children who think differently. In their places, the gifted ones get the same crap as the non-gifted ones. It’s like taking the people who are fortunate enough to eat full, healthy meals, and then feeding them the same things as the poor, starving indigents lurking on the street.
  • Prepares students to become competitive in the global arena. Translation: seeks out and destroys creativity, turns unorthodoxy into “deviance,” and warps the minds of its victims, making sure that not a single one of their thoughts strays out of the assigned box, making certain that they live according to rules, schedules, and prescribed plans.

Having finally written all of this down, and finally given it some thought, I’m beginning to feel quite robbed. I don’t have the same analytical mind as a mathematician would have had years ago. I don’t have the curiosity I used to have. I feel as though my soul has been hollowed out with some sort of spiritual melon-baller. The most I can do now is hope to save as many of the younger generation as I can.

So here’s a message for all you young people who are reading this: never, never, NEVER, NEVER let the system get to you. Disobey. Argue with your teachers when you know they’re wrong. Bend the rules. Think differently. Act differently. The moment you start thinking it’s a good idea to be more like everybody else, smack yourself in the face and do something outrageously individual. Don’t learn to the test: seek out more information about things that interest you. Think about your future, because life has no multiple-choice questions. Stop thinking about studying and memorizing and facts. Start working with ideas, and start understanding. Don’t try to save me; I’m pretty sure I’m too far gone. But save yourself while there’s still time! Hurry!


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