The future is standardized for non linear outcomes

Few things kick off the day better than dropping my son at school and hearing him genuinely excited to learn and NOT face the tedium and tragedy of standardized testing.

Last week was the ISTEP and he faced hours upon hours of tests meant to not judge his ability or knowledge acquisition but to judge instead school which he attends. In so many ways, surviving this testing and understanding its role in measuring the effectiveness of his teacher and their administrators is solid practice for the world that awaits him – one in which we’ve all been trained to worship at the altar of data and to provide thorough ratings and reviews for all our human interactions.

To wit, Web sites like niche now offer the equivalent of Yelp where students and parents can share publicly and air their grievances in a manner unimaginable just a decade ago.


But he’s excited to learn.

Because at his age learning is unpredictable.

His mind still so unshaped by a lack of life experience and unconditioned by society’s norms that new concepts can fan him intellectual fire and prompt new understandings and, dare I say, revelations nearly every day, if he’s blessed with excellent teachers.

Adults get that jolt of new knowledge when we venture into new books, daring international travel or a fresh relationship.

But even more so, I submit, is because learning is nonlinear.

While history and civics may follow the natural curve of chronological events to help shape our understanding and math is a cumulative skill that presupposes deep understanding of algebra before commencing calculus, the truth is the mind connects all of these concepts with its own disjointed logic and, too often, mangled schedule. And his fellow student’s reaction to the learnings as well as his teacher’s ability to shape and manage those reactions is unpredictable every single day.

And, this, in so many more important ways, holds such greater value than whatever it is we seek to extract from the labor of standardized tests. That life, for all its wonder and beauty and cruelty and randomness, is, at its roots, non-linear. This has, for many years now, served as one of my fundamental understandings of history, society, business, policy and individual human interaction.

“Day to day not much changes, but over time nothing stays the same,” is what I believe I read in book of Oscar Wilde quotes picked up at the Guinness Brewery gift shop.

We want so very badly for it all to be linear to better plan, manage and negotiate. And we somehow find ourselves stunned when the nonlinear interrupts our designs, see Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, financial crisis and President Trump, the Fyre Festival.