Of Teachers and Tests
Rafi Eis begins his argument against progressive theories of education (“The Conservative and Progressive Theories of Education,” November 25) by saying that, “just as they do in economics, law, and politics, conservatives need to have theories about the education process.” While I am a conservative in economics, law, and politics, I guess I am a progressive regarding educational theory, at least as defined by Eis. I do agree with Eis that “conservatives need to develop independence-focused theories about the process and goals of education.” I think the problem here is that Eis evaluates success by using standardized-test scores as evidence. I ask Eis (and others) to reflect back on their own schooling and think about a teacher who made a lasting difference in their lives. Eis notes that “the teacher’s instinct makes a large difference in the long run where the gap between dependent and independent students becomes quite large.” Was it not a teacher, one who took a caring interest in us as individuals and believed in our potential, who helped us to discover our “independence”? Learning is more about growth and the unfolding of our potential over our lifetimes than about being defined by the “metric” of achievement as evidenced by standardized tests.
James A. Bernauer
Rafi Eis responds: Thank you to Mr. Bernauer for his thoughtful comments. A teacher’s belief in a student’s potential has been life-changing for an untold number of students throughout history, me included. That confidence in a student is a means of raising his performance and motivating him, but for conservatives it is not the goal. Progressive educators, in contrast, have turned teacher care for students into education’s goal. Academic skills are necessary but not sufficient for a student’s ultimate success. Students also need to develop their habits of mind and their social and emotional skills. K–12 education cannot be an undefined growth process. It needs to align with the realities that a student will face afterwards. While standardized tests do not define the student, they continue to be the best measure of learning and eventual preparedness that we have.
In the November 25 issue, Ramesh Ponnuru (“Character Effects”) states that the Paris climate agreement “did not bind the U.S. to any particular policies.” On the contrary, the agreement binds the developed world (U.S., Europe, Japan) to pay to the underdeveloped world (China, India, Africa, etc.) the sum of $100 billion a year to start, with the understanding that the amount will go up from there. In theory the money will be used for climate-friendly projects. However, money is fungible, so it would be no surprise to see some of it end up in armaments etc. Virtually all reporting on the agreement neglects to mention this detail. My guess is that this is to keep the public ignorant of what the agreement says, in hopes that, when the pollsters come around, the public will “support” the agreement, which it knows nothing about but which sounds virtuous.
Ramesh Ponnuru responds: The $100 billion “commitment” was not binding, which is why the U.S. wasn’t making good on it even when President Obama was in office and we were still participants in the accord.