Friday, December 23, 2011

cognitive vs. noncognitive part 4...

This morning I delivered a table to a customer. It is made of maple and cherry and was featured in my book Making Elegant Custom Tables. I had kept the table for years, and while I could have sold it on any number of occasions, I was waiting for a special home for it... The one to which it was delivered this morning.

It seems that in the minds of ETS and the American psychological community, human intelligence deserving the term "cognitive" is that which can be most easily displayed by filling in bubbles on paper with number 2 pencil. But even dogs have a way of knowing things. There are certainly other ways that human cognitive capacity can be observed. For instance, when my mother was a young first year kindergarten teacher in Ft. Dodge, Iowa, her classroom was in the basement of the school building with windows that led right out onto the playground. The bathrooms were upstairs, and so it was a challenge directing her children of which she had 30 at a time, through the daily routines. The windows offered the children a chance of escape (which they sometimes did) and at the top of the stairs on the way to the bathrooms was a long rope hanging down with a sign attached that said "pull." You can imagine the challenge facing a first year kindergarten teacher... Sixty kindergarten students total in morning and afternoon classes, windows luring children to even more interesting activities, while children learned their first words including the word "pull." The long rope on the way upstairs to the bathroom was attached to the fire bell, its sign inviting the demonstration of newly developed cognition and all the senior teachers throughout the building were watching to see how Miss Bye would handle the strain.

There was a time in America when teachers were trusted to observe and measure evidence of their student's learning, of cognitive development and growth. They were trained for such things, not just in the narrow confines of reading and in math, but in the development of the whole child. These days, 30 years after Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind and his presentation of the many ways in which we are smart, for us to have undermined the traditional role of teachers, and to have narrowed our assessments so as to marginalize the many forms of not-so-easy to measure cognition is ridiculous, destructive and absurd.

If you've been reading the last few days, you'll know that I took umbrage at the deliberate use of the acknowledged misnomer, noncognitive by the testing industry to describe those skills that are are difficult to measure. There are a wide range of them that roughly correlate with Howard Gardner's list of human intelligences. All involve cognition. They include music, dance, and the visual and tactile arts. They ARE expressions of human intelligence, though not so easy to measure with standardized tests. And I was asked, how would I describe the difference between those testable forms of cognition and those not so easily tested. To be completely honest and to avoid the repetitive use of the misnomer noncognitive, and to avoid opening other cans of worms, like "academic vs. nonacademic" the testing services should state, "We test those components of cognitive skill that are easy for us to test." It would be honest. It might humble the industry to be so honest and save American education at the same time.

Make, fix and create...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good for you! That table deserved the right home. The thought and care that went into making it adds something that its new owner will never find at the big box stores.

Mario