Against Evil Standardized Testing: Michel Foucault & Michelle Bachmann

In his recent post, Scott Bailey informs us of why he does not like Michelle Bachmann.  He objects to her stances on education, wanting to shove her evangelical Christian ideology down everyones’ throats.   Fine, separation of church & state, I am all for it as well.

I think that we should not just dwell on the ideas that we find horrifying, making out politicians to be these monsters we can never talk to (as well as their followers).  Scott’s narrative of Bachmann is only part of the story; as a person engaged in post-structuralist theory (via post-colonialism) and African American history, there is a certain amount of validity to Bachmann’s protest against “a one size fits all approach to learning” with laws like “No Child Left Behind.” With Bachmann, one can agree, if they believe in the multiple intelligences approach to education, that “every child learns in a different way and believe teachers must have the ability to tailor lesson plans to meet the needs of each child.”

Multiple intelligence theory posits that human beings have different ways of gathering knowledge; for some, it is by reading, for others, it is by listening, and still others, it is by visual productions (perhaps video and more technology oriented lessons) and still others, they have a great capacity for controlling their muscles, and others through music, and still others, interpersonal relationships. The problem is that whether it is in our Sunday school curriculums, or public school lesson plans, or even in our every day discourse, M-I theory tends to get largely ignored, and from both a theological and cultural perspective, it has large consequences. Without M-I theory, the diversity of human experiences is denigrated as hegemony becomes the rule for public education. One has to look no further than the great state of Texas and the controversy over whether to include Caesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. in history textbooks.

When political fortunes are reversed, I have a deep suspicion that those rulings will be reversed. But that is just the problem with standards and standardized testing in the first place. Would we rather struggle in a system that determines the contents of a textbook along partisan lines? Or would we rather get rid of textbooks all together and work in a system where children and youth are actually reading primary texts, novels, and biographies?

On a local-level, standardized testing has enormous consequences; if a low-income elementary or middle school receives low scores on their tests (State Standardized Test X), then they are going to receive less funding than schools that have higher schools.

In her work Foucault & Education, Gail McNicol Jardine argues that a close reading of Michel Foucault’s work would lead an educator to resist such standardization. For Foucault (and I agree), each time period changes the way in which it gathers and conceives of knowledge (page 88). Each epoch has its own unique and separate (meaning, not complimentary or progressive) rules of formation that are used to construct a system of knowledge. Truth, therefore, is seen in terms of regimes, rather than propositions or experience. People within truth regimes contain discursive and nondiscursive (verbal and nonverbal) ideas, values, practices, and expectations in which human persons are judges, make judgements, are controlled and classified (disciplined) and normalized (page 20). For example in a recent conversation over at Joel’s blog, one commenter kept suggesting that the Bible was without paradox, therefore we must follow the “law of non-contradiction.” The law of non-contradiction, and its history within modernity is one of what Foucault calls “rules of formation” and the Bible, a nondiscursive inanimate actor.

As they stand right now, nationalized and state-wide standards represent the ghosts of white Protestant imperial hegemony past. Now while a conservative Christian like Bachmann may want to resurrect such a hegemony using a old new method, what would be far more beneficial in a pluralistic society such as the U.S. is to liberate ourselves from both standardized testing and the textbook industry all together. There is far more freedom in learning from the past in the actual words that our forebears wrote. Granted, in the fields of mathematics and science, this would be a great burden, and perhaps limited use of textbooks restricted to these disciplines could be useful, but history, philosophy, social studies, reading, foreign languages, there is no need for a corporation or a politician to determine what a child needs.

That should be left up to the parents and the teachers.

0 thoughts on “Against Evil Standardized Testing: Michel Foucault & Michelle Bachmann

  1. Charles

    “Multiple intelligence theory posits that human beings have different ways of gathering knowledge; for some, it is by reading, for others, it is by listening”

    I don’t know why people keep doing this. Being a “visual” learner or “auditory” learner is not a part of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.

    Reading and listening are both components of “Linguistic” intelligence. Separating visual and auditory learning styles better fits the VARK model:

    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      Yes, that is a mistake on my part. I got my definition of M-I theory from a very old paper I did (before I had a grasp of M-I t).

      You are correct; they are part of linguistic intelligence.

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  3. Aaron Rathbun

    Fantastic post. My wife has a BA and MA in education, and I’ve commented to her in the past about the application of Foucault to education.

    I would just add that even with regard to math and science, reading the history of literature can me even more illuminating than a textbook. Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is brilliant on this point: the history of science (and math) shows that it is not the objective, neutral discourse it is often made out to be. (The number “0” didn’t gain traction in the West until very late, as I’m told.)

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