Wisdom Begins in Wonder: Socrates

A Teacher’s Thoughts on COMPULSORY TESTING

The Socratic method has long been recognised as an important way to promote the getting of wisdom. It is interesting to pause a while amidst the current test fever in Australia to consider the validity of the classical model. There was never anything trite in the vast area of Socrates’ Curriculum.  Look at the summary of his questioning style: “The Socratic Questions.”


Image Attribution: Creative Commons

The Socratic Questions

Source: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/socratic_questions.htm 14/12/17

• Why are you saying that?

• What exactly does this mean?

• How does this relate to what we have been talking about?

• What is the nature of …?

• What do we already know about this?

• Can you give me an example?

• Are you saying … or … ?

• Can you rephrase that, please?


In the light of Socratic awareness, so many of our current testing procedures in schools fall short because they are concerned with only a small part of the human story. I am not at all sure it is the right part. A new word has come to mind for these tests: TINTs – Tribal Indoctrination Tests (I expanded the acronym for decorum’s sake)

Such tests control the destinies of the young. Success will define tribal acceptability ranging from satisfactory to heroic. Failure will mean confinement to a lesser life.

This judgement of the tribe is focused excessively on the Cognitive Domain. And because of the cost of other methods, the tools of judgement are dominantly one-off tests.

Some of us who have been on the teaching journey for a considerable time cannot help feeling uneasy about the present day league-table fever. And the cognitive area is only a part of all learning. What about attitudes? What about the Psycho-motor area of mental health? How is the current generation faring in those areas? We have no mass-scale awareness of this. Maybe such concern is irrelevant and all we need from the masses is obedience to ad-talk and polispeak.

How strange it is to divide people the way we do into quartiles of visible success!

The category of failure, or even moderate success, is a harsh one these days to belong to. We teachers have learnt the hard way that the bottom fifty percent are half our future.

My Questions

Is TEST preparation replacing other (untested) teaching?

Are categories becoming more important than individuals?

Is stress controlled mathematically in the ranking, especially for the very young?

Is lack of skill with examination technique really a valid reason to berate children?

Is forecasting questions by study-guides a similar invalid variable?

Is postcode an accounted-for variable?

What precisely is the effect of school morale on learning?

Are all test conditions rigorously uniform for valid comparison of schools or groups?

Is there a clear distinction between diagnostic tests and attainments tests?

Does the vast cost of universal testing remove funds from urgent remedial teaching?

Are we really testing the right things?

Unknown       bizarro-stats

Attribution: Creative Commons: Dan Piraro.


So there you are. Just felt I had to say these things. All those years of sharing learning with my students make you notice things. Things you don’t usually read about in a government’s test reports.

Bye now. 

It’s Not Cricket.

“It’s not cricket.” Did you know that the first recorded use of that expression in England was early in the seventeenth century when folk were accused of playing cricket on a Sunday. That was one way out of a Laurel and Hardy “revolting development.” An excuse was needed to avoid God’s wrath.

Regarding the rules of ethics though, is cricket today the moral pastime it was once claimed to be? No comment from me. You decide.

I do have a comment here however. About something else.

This little speech of mine is a consequence of 50 years of teaching: 29 teaching children or youths K to 12, and 21 teaching teachers. Yes, it is definitely not about cricket. A topic for between seasons perhaps. Anyway here it is. You decide.

I am a graduate of Fort Street, a selective high school in Sydney Australia. I remember Fortians with affection. Yet my memories of my students who struggled to learn with me in underprivileged Western Sydney also give me much comfort in my old age. Learning can be such a victory for some of us! I have noticed that the joy of sudden understanding lasts even  longer sometimes than the school itself.

A Parting Plea

Education is not a black and white simplicity. It is technicolour!

An infinite range of variables can influence the learning success of a child. We can mention postcode, home conditions,  parent ambition, gender, health, height, hearing capacity, eyesight, teacher-child-relationships, relevance of subject-matter, difficulty of subject matter, teacher mastery of subject-matter, intelligence (whatever that is), attendance at school, change of school, constancy of failure and constancy of success as some of the potential controlling variables. I do not claim this list is complete.

 Therefore, how do we measure teaching competence?

Don’t you dare tell me we can measure teachers via pupil performance in objective or one-off single day written tests! Don’t you dare tell me you can measure the competence of a teacher of literacy in the same way!

You have to get into that teacher’s classroom. That is where the essential action takes place. That is what needs to be observed. That is the cauldron where learning has to happen. The judge has to be there; has to taste the climate that children face every day; has to smell the smells; has to see what windows don’t open in hot weather.

In my school teaching days I was inspected by experienced, observant mentors twelve times. Twelve times they passed judgement on me according to what they saw in my classrooms. Once, two Year Eleven boys tried to help me. They said loudly for the inspector’s benefit as they left the classroom,”Gee that was a good lesson!” The inspector smiled and winked at me, but those two young men knew that a glossy CV was not enough for me to get promoted in that system. They knew that I was on display there where you cannot hide incompetence. The inspectorial system was replaced some years ago by a Harvard business model in my part of the world – alas!

More cricket next time, if the weather is fine.