Now that’s more like it

I’ve called for the balance between expertise and creativity before, and this humble TEDx talk takes the same approach. (Thanks Andrea Hernandez for sending me the link, and the Drs. Eide for the talk.) Some thoughts:

The dominance of turkey thinking in schools is directly tied to standardized testing. Only turkey skills can be tested on a multiple-choice test, which are popular because they are scalable and because they are standardized. There’s a feedback loop here: admissions officers and employers want surefire data, so they choose those with the best turkey skills, who don’t know to look for anything other than “surefire” data. It’s tied to the rise of computers, which work very well plugging data into equations and finding the “optimal” solution. The problem is that computers can’t do sanity checks, like “is Toronto a U.S. city?” or “can home values really keep rising forever?”. They can’t step outside the system as soon as one of hundreds of red flags starts waving, like humans can.

That’s not to say that educational testing is inherently evil. The scale and efficiency of U.S. public education quite remarkable. In high school, I survived the attacks of standardized tests on three different flanks. Those from the state were laughably easy by academic magnet standards, despite several neighborhood schools having difficulty with them. The College Board, behind both SATs and APs, really was the evil testmaker, with its insensitive multiple choice and speed-graded essays, gotcha questions that became predictable with enough drill, and college prospects on the line. The International Baccalaureate, by contrast, was the benevolent underdog from across the pond with a holistic view of education. IB is a programme, not a test or even six tests. Yes, they have AP-like “external assessment” but it consists entirely of essays, but there are also untimed (take home) essays and oral assessments specific for each subject. On top of that, there’s an epistemology course, a Extended Essay (4,000 word investigation on a narrow topic), and even a community service requirement, all with the goal of making well-rounded global citizens and lifelong learners, rather than determining aptitude. For surviving that gauntlet, I can say I attended the fourth best high school in America. Somehow, I held onto my inner crow. (Thanks, FIRST!)

Despite pointing out the needs to cater to the extreme crows (the extreme turkeys are mysteriously unmentioned), the Drs. Eide only briefly mention that most people fall on a bell curve somewhere in the middle. Furthermore the notion of each person occupying one spot on the spectrum is only so accurate, as we may be turkeylike in some subjects and crowlike in others. Point being that while One-Size-Fits-All education doesn’t work, One-Size-Usually-Fits-Most probably will, provided there are alternatives available for when the standard model doesn’t cut it.

Moreover, those on the fringes of the spectrum may have more in common with each other than those in the middle, who are “closer” to them. Is Temple Grandin a turkey or a crow? A crow, because she sees solutions to problems that no one else saw because she thinks in an unconventional way, or a turkey, because she emulates the stimulus-response simplicity of a cow and delivers tangible results? Are surrealist visual artists like  Salavador Dali and M.C. Escher crows, for their ability to think up crazy, impossible situations, or turkeys, for being able to depict them through skillful application of paint and woodcuts? It seems that the spectrum loops back on itself, and the ends are joined together. It’s a strange loop.

Now, to put this all into practice….


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