Categories
Introductions

The professor’s perspective

So I’m Pearson, I’m the professor responsible for this little enterprise, and I already introduced a bit of my educational background when opening up this very blog If you want to know more, I put a lot of time into telling that story two years ago.

If I carry that educational background story all the way back to my own high school days, it places me at Hilliard Middle/Senior High School, in far northeast Florida (so close to the Florida/Georgia line it makes me disdainful of a certain country group’s name), in the 1989 graduating class of 56 and, as near as I ever figured out, the only person in that graduating class to leave the state to go to college. I had ambitions that were different than my peers, even if I didn’t know how those ambitions would carry me straight back to rural America to work in higher education.

Tests have always fascinated me. When I first read The Big Test, I found Henry Chauncey fascinating me because of his fascination with tests. I trace that fascination to some of the earliest memories I have of school, the special times when the normal flow of classes would break and we’d take the CTBS, the achievement test battery of the California Test Bureau, published by McGraw-Hill. (The CTBS has gone through reforms since, and it’s now known as TerraNova. I suppose I’m still a little bit fascinated.)

This wasn’t a point where test results were used against teachers punitively – or, if it was, I was completely naïve and the teachers never let on. We were all encouraged to do our best, but we didn’t live under a law like No Child Left Behind that we heard about all the time. So I showed up for the tests relaxed and just allowed my fascination with the bubble sheets to take over. And I studied the score sheets when they came home, wondering how many of those 99’s I’d achieved and wondering why so many of my peers looked strange at me for talking about my 99’s, long before I knew what a percentile score was or what it represented about my talents.

Perhaps I was never stressed about tests because I was good at them. [1]

Which is why my first pass at the SAT took me so far aback. I never saw myself as lacking talents for language; I’d received praise for the extent of reading that I did and my fearlessness about going above grade level. I took the SAT in 7th grade as part of Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, and I was told hitting 500 on each section was a sign of academic talent at that age. I got my certificate for hitting 530 on the math section, not that bad for somebody who had only self-taught himself algebra. I got shredded on the verbal section – only 380.

That pattern repeated itself every time I took the PSAT, and the SAT, and the GRE after that – I did better and better on the math section every time, but my verbal scores always lagged behind, despite all the reading I did and all the practice I took at creative writing. That frustrated me, especially when I took my one shot at the ACT and got relatively level scores across the board.

The idea was that the SAT and the aptitude tests like it were supposed to test…well, aptitude. I started to seriously wonder how much my ability to recognize a bunch of high-falutin’ words reflected my innate ability to do college-level and then graduate-level work.

I hold a PhD. I’m in charge of a radically diverse set of classes in what I teach at Tusculum. Apparently I recognized sophisticated words well enough.

I’m handing the words back to my students now. Tusculum, like many schools in Tennessee, puts all the college-board testing scores in terms of the ACT, not the SAT. All of my students in this seminar have had occasion to take the ACT. I wonder about their reaction to how they’ve been tested, and how their test scores were used.

Hopefully that’s enough of a segue.


[1] And, seriously: perhaps I was never stressed about tests because they weren’t as damaging a deal to me as they were to this generation of students. One of the things I’ve been reflecting on as I’ve been through this set of posts from my students is the damage that the tests have done, the joy in learning that the tests have stolen from these students. I’m hoping that there is still a bit that can be done to give some of that joy back – for their sake.

Categories
Introductions

Welcome to our (public) seminar

This is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.

I’ve jumped into honors seminars off and on at different places I’ve worked over the past two decades of my career. I’ve even helped run an honors seminar or two, including a specific honors seminar at Virginia Intermont College in the Fall of 2013 – the year before Virginia Intermont College closed – on testing and the future of education.

All of those seminars, though, have been closed affairs. We’ve read books before class, and we’ve had discussions over what’s been in those books and our own experiences in class, and that’s been it.

They’ve all been very fulfilling discussions – the wonderful thing about honors seminars is that you always have fulfilling discussions over very weighty things. But you want for those discussions to be something a little bit more.

This website is an experiment in “more.”

I’m having the best semester I’ve ever had in an honors seminar so far. With so much love and respect to other students I’ve had in these circumstances in the past, I’m getting to know a group of ten this semester as well as I’ve ever known a group in an honors seminar (yes, even in the midst of COVID-19!). And the discussions we’ve had in class have been SPECTACULAR – the very ideal of the type of discussions you’d like to have in an honors class.

So this is the perfect class to take some of those discussions and turn them public.

We’re going to introduce ourselves to you, as a whole class, one at a time. I’ll follow behind because I’m the professor for this class, sure, and I’ve been through a bit of this educational history a couple of times before, but in many ways I’m in the same boat as these students. I teach physics and chemistry, not education or sociology, and I’m hardly an expert in the issues that emerge when standardized testing is considered seriously and when the full implications are drawn out.

The main book we’re reading right now as a class (after reading a Very Short Introduction to education) is Nicholas Lemann’s The Big Test, which explains how the SAT came to the prominent place in American life it achieved in the 20th century. We’re introducing ourselves to you by talking about our experiences with standardized testing, and the influences it has had on our education. We’re going to see where this conversation takes us as we go.

Welcome to our class. We’re glad you’re dropping in.

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