A UN representative says the UK government is breaching the United Nations convention on children’s rights by imposing a targets and testing regime in English schools that ignores their needs. This is an interesting notion, and one is tempted to mock it noisily. There is a right not to be tested? Who knew! If only that right had been discovered when I was twelve! How much more fun I would have had. But perhaps one ought to resist the temptation. But perhaps one still ought to point out some problems with that idea, without actually mocking.

Of course, the whole question of tests and testing is a controversial, endlessly-debated one. There is much to be said for both sides, which is why the debate is endless. There are some inherent tensions in the issue, and all one can do in the end is bite the bullet and choose one or the other. But at least it helps to know what the tensions are.

Article 29 says education should be “directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential”…”We should drive away from this competitive-oriented uniformity, that all children should be cookie-cutter test-takers.”

Cookie-cutter. Well, possibly, but then again, possibly there simply are things that everyone ought to know, cookie-cutter-fashion? That’s the tension I’m looking at here. There is the educationist, progressive, Deweyish (or perhaps pseudo-Deweyish, because Dewey is notoriously over-simplified and misunderstood and paraphrased, and I in fact have read very little of him) school of thought that says each child is unique and has a unique set of talents and capacities that must be cherished and nourished etc. etc. We’ve all heard the rhetoric, I should think. And surely there is much truth in it. Different people do have different talents, and of course it does make sense to develop the talents people actually have. But then again there is also the school of thought that maintains there are some things that everyone should know, and that’s all there is to it. For reasons having to do with democracy, civic responsibility and participation, a full and adult human life, the value of understanding the world one lives in, the education of future generations, and so on, as well as the more drearily instrumental matter of job skills. So there is a point at which it is not helpful to say little Leslie would prefer to study drawing and football and simply skip math and science and history, thank you. I should know, I leaned on that way of thinking heavily when I was in school. Ooh, I’m a creative type, I read a lot, I’m deep, I don’t need to pay attention or work hard in math class. Huge mistake, and not one to urge on other people, in my opinion.

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