Slow Learning

The not-so-secret secret behind the standardized test is that it is in effect the fast-food of learning and assessment. Everything from the SAT to the “Race to the Top” tests have their roots in the same economic and social desire to deliver a product as cheaply and efficiently as possible to as many people as possible. In the food industry it can only be called successful if you ignore the resulting obesity epidemic. In education, it can only be called successful if you ignore the deepening social inequities.

One solution to fast food, to keep the metaphor alive, is called the slow food movement. The idea seems simple: try not to do much to your food before you eat it. Don’t cook it too much; don’t raise it too far away. It’s an old-fashioned, almost pre-modern idea: don’t eat too much meat and do eat lots of fruit and vegetables grown nearby. If we had a government willing to pass laws and regulations to encourage it, it would engender a slow revolution in just about every part of our lives.

As it turns out, as at least one high school has shown, writing can be thought of as a kind of slow learning analogous to slow food that can replace the empty calories of the standardized test. The key is to integrate writing thoroughly into the curriculum, using it both as way to tie seeming disparate subjects together and to reinforce knowledge. Just like slow food, the idea is old-fashioned, if not pre-modern. It’s a much more individualized, personal process, a richer, and so more effective non-standardized assessment.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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