Fahrenheit 451 on Standardized Testing

Fahrenheit 451 on Standardized Testing April 26, 2015

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it…Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

– Beatty in Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451

The quote above is a well-known one, but because of different reading and conversations I was engaged in recently, I suddenly saw its applicability to things like the “common core” approach to education, and the eagerness some have to move education – from elementary all the way through higher education – in the direction of standardized testing.

The best-case view is that this is simply a misguided attempt to move education in a direction which history, data, and expertise from educational and business fields alike suggests will not accomplish anything good.

But one could take a more sinister view of it, that those advocating this know full well that they are trying to rob the populace of the love for learning, the higher-order reasoning skills, the critical thinking, that makes citizens likely to look closely at, understand, and question what businesses and governments are doing.


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