In his article “Confusing Harder With Better” Alfie Kohn criticizes modern schools’ desire to raise the standards by improving students’ results in standardized tests. The author claims that modern schools focus extensively on standardized tests which are rather difficult and require a lot of time in order to prepare for them. According to Kohn, harder does not necessarily mean better. The author supports this idea claiming that the schools should pay more attention to subject understanding rather than grade level. Moreover, there should always be balance between theory and practice, and the whole learning process of learning should be more engaging. All in all, it is possible to say that the author managed to explain the audience the importance of making some changes in the system of education as well as the need for a measurable way to view student’s movements toward the national objectives.
First of all, the author emphasizes the fact that schools are too concerned about the way their students perform on tests. In fact, they care not about the knowledge that their students receive during their courses but about the grades they receive during the tests. It leads to a situation when schools are turned into test preparation centers, and students spend all their time memorizing unnecessary facts. Therefore, in their desire to “raise the bar” schools fail to give real knowledge to their students. Thus, according to Kohn, “the more schools commit themselves to improving performance on these tests, the more meaningful opportunities to learn are sacrificed” (Kohn). Furthermore, the author states that constantly trying to make tests and exams more difficult, schools will never achieve good results. The assignments that are given to students shouldn’t be too easy or too difficult. Thus, if the question is too difficult it can make students loose interest in the subject and make them feel disillusioned. That is why it is important to ask students questions that they would not only be able to answer, but that also will teach them something. As Kohn states, “maximum difficulty isn’t the same as optimal difficulty” (Kohn). The author agrees that the process of learning requires some effort and may be rather tough. However, one shouldn’t confuse such notions as rigorous and onerous.
Second, it is important to mention that in order to raise the standards schools should be concerned not with the grade level but with the understanding of the subject. Schools should care about how much useful information their students learn. If students are going to learn a great number of unnecessary facts it will hardly bring them any benefits. It is evident that learning without understanding is worth nothing. Therefore, according to Kohn, in order to be able to accomplish difficult tasks, students should learn the basics first. Indeed, it is much more difficult to learn complex concepts without understanding their essence, to memorize new scientific words without using them in practice. Thus, “if kids are going to be forced to learn facts without context, and skills without meaning, it’s certainly handy to have an ideology that values difficulty for its own sake” (Kohn). At this rate, Kohn believes that students need more hands on learning. It does not mean that students should forget about textual instruction. The best way is to combine both theory and practice. It is important for students to learn skills that they would be able to apply in real life. It is possible to say that in his article Kohn tries to explain the audience that there is no use in memorizing a lot of unnecessary information in order to pass standardized tests. On the contrary, students should learn things that will be useful in their future life.
Third, it should be noted that tough standardized tests may turn students into “passive receptacles into which knowledge or skills are poured” (Kohn). It is evident that the author criticizes the system of education where students have to memorize a lot of incomprehensible things that they would hardly use in their life. That is exactly why Kohn claims that school curriculum should be more engaging. It is essential to create a curriculum in which “students play an active role in integrating ideas and pursuing controversial questions” (Kohn). It is evident that students should take an interest in what they are learning. In such a way the whole process of learning will become easier and will bring students a lot of benefits. Moreover, as Kohn states students don’t have to learn things that other people of their community do not know. Thus, quite often college professors, and people within different professions cannot answer the questions from standardized tests. That is why there is no use to blame students if they don’t perform strongly on such tests. On the contrary, is necessary to create a curriculum where children would be taught real knowledge and will be engaged in the process of learning.
Kohn, Alfie “Confusing Harder with Better”. AlfieKohn. 15 Sept. 1999. Web. 8 Jul. 2015