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37: Myth: everything is measurable

Reason 37: Myth: everything is measurable

The linked myths that measurement is important, that everything is measurable, and that the unmeasurable does not really exist, permeate our schools and contaminate our society. The belief that what can be measured has some real and valid meaning also needs to be challenged. The idea that objective measurement is possible, and indeed occurs in school, and that this somehow gives us the true measure of someone’s value, is yet another lie school tells us.

What we choose to measure, the instruments we use and the context, all contain subjective elements which distort what is measured.

We are led to believe that IQ tests measure ‘intelligence‘ when what they measure is a one-time performance on an IQ test. We are told grades tell us how much or how well someone has learned a body of knowledge when what they tell us is what somebody (a marker) thinks of what the learner has produced.1

The myth that ‘standards’ as measurables equals quality of education, litters political speeches. Quality does not increase the more information is prised into young brains. It is a myth that the value of learning increases with the amount of input, and that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates.2

So what is measured? Pupils’ achievement on tests, assignments, exams. Teachers are measured with respect to their pupils’ test results. Schools are measured and ranked according to their pupils’ marks. The validity and objectivity of the measurement of pupils is rarely questioned, except to suggest more rigorous methods of testing. All other measurements rest precariously on them.

Calls to measure ‘value-added’, to see how children increase in measurement over time in school, implies that children do not and cannot develop new skills, acquire new knowledge or advance in any way with age and time without school. It is like measuring height and crediting the school with an increase in inches or centimetres. To truly measure value- added they would need to be compared to an unschooled

control group. The fact that a seven year old can do more and knows more than a five-year-old is not because they have been to school, but because they have grown and matured and lived another couple of years.

School blinkers us to see only measurables, and as a society, this comes at a great cost. Believing all can be measured, ranked, sorted using some bizarre instruments called tests and exams, allows us to become blind to what is not measurable, what cannot and should not be measured. We cannot measure anything without thereby influencing it in some way. Interference in the process of learning by instruments of measurement usually outweighs the value of any information gained.

The unmeasurable and unmeasured in child raising: love, care, guidance, attention, time, energy, hope, fun, joy, feelings of all kinds, dreams, fears, and triumphs are all discounted in our schools and our society. When a government, as ours has done in 2008, claims lone parents should work full-time, when the only child raising that is valued is that which is paid for (someone being paid to raise someone else’s kids), the rest don’t exist for policy purposes. The unpaid care, that our society depends upon, given freely out of love, is often invisible, discounted.

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1. I will expand on these ideas in Chapter 5: numbering our children

2. Illich Ivan (1971) Deschooling Society (Middlesex: Penguin Books)

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