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de-testing and de-grading schools

Authentic Alternatives to Accountability and Standardization


Edited By Joe Bower and Paul L. Thomas

A century of education and education reform, along with more than three decades of high-stakes testing and accountability, reveals a disturbing paradox: education has a steadfast commitment to testing and grading. This commitment persists despite ample research, theory, and philosophy revealing the corrosive consequences of both testing and grading in an education system designed to support human agency and democratic principles. This revised edited volume brings together a collection of updated and new essays that confronts the failure of testing and grading. The book explores the historical failure of testing and grading; the theoretical and philosophical arguments against testing and grading; the negative influence of tests and grades on social justice, race, class, and gender; and the role that they play in perpetuating a deficit perspective of children. The chapters fall under two broad sections. Part I, Degrading Learning, Detesting Education: The Failure of High-Stake Accountability in Education, includes essays on the historical, theoretical, and philosophical arguments against testing and grading. Part II, De-Grading and De-Testing in a Time of High-Stakes Education Reform, presents practical experiments in de-testing and de-grading classrooms for authentic learning experiences.
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Chapter Twelve: The Grading Mousetrap: Narcissism, Abjection, and the Politics of Self-Harm


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The Grading Mousetrap

Narcissism, Abjection, and the Politics of Self-Harm



As we all know, there is an old adage about the futility of searching for a better mousetrap, an invention so simple, cheap and efficient that it is quite difficult to improve upon. There is another well-known mousetrap, one that also reveals much about what grading misses and how its inner logic forces us into subject roles that allow very little choice within social institutions. I am referring to the well-known scene in Act II, Scene ii of Hamlet in which the beleaguered prince stages a play, The Murder of Gonzago, to examine the conscience of his uncle, Claudius. Here, the audience is presented with a garden setting where a villain pours poison into the ear of the sleeping king in order to steal the crown and the affections of the dead king’s wife. Hamlet hopes that this re-creation of his father’s murder will cause some guilt to register on his uncle’s face and, he suspects, that of his own mother. Of course, Hamlet’s fictional ruse works as Claudius is so disturbed by what he sees that he immediately calls for an end to the scene. Convinced of Claudius’s guilt Hamlet moves to kill him but relents once he sees him in the act of prayer since killing his uncle at that time, he claims, would serve...

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