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I read a blog post the day before yesterday on Diane Ravitch’s site about how Einstein said:

“I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture. . . . Such men [as Henry Ford} do not always realize that the adoration which they receive is not a tribute to their personality but to their power or their pocketbook.”

This is a spliced quote used to bolster the position that standardized tests are bad.  Einstein’s quote, however, was in response to a question about Zionism vs. Jewish assimilation.  The entire quote is reproduced below.


You can read the whole article here.

What troubles me about referring to Einstein’s quote in the context of being anti-education reform and anti-Common Core is that it is neither a good analogy nor honest, since the quote had nothing to do with education.  The author should have pointed this out and then said something to the effect that this same philosophy could apply to our current education system.  Instead, the author leads the reader to believe that the quote, itself, was aimed at education as it exists today.  It is the same as Christians who pick a verse from the bible to support a spurious religious belief or Atheists who do the same to try and tear down the idea that God or any god exists.  Einstein, himself, I am convinced, would never have succumbed to or even been tempted to use this tactic.  He starts off the article by explaining how his Theory of Relativity had been misused by many through attempts to apply it to all sorts of philosophies that had nothing to do with the theory itself.

Einstein was a complicated man.  If you read his early musings compared to his late musings, they can sometimes seem contradictory; the same can probably be said for many of us.  Humans are constantly evolving in their knowledge, experiences, wisdom and even their prejudices.  However, everyone loves a good story and Einstein is a good story.  He was not enamored with mainstream education and rebelled against it both in mind and application.  According to some reports, he was not a particularly “good” student in his early years, though his later grades would appear to contradict this myth.  Even so, he trained to be a high school physics and math teacher and was a college professor later in life.  So, we have to consider that part of Einstein’s problem with education was possibly (likely) driven by his own “failings” or “disillusionment” with his education.  Einstein appears to have had a personality that would have preferred studying only those subjects that interested him.

We like to think of Einstein as this meek, unassuming individual who was entirely bereft of conceit or arrogance despite his genius.  But Einstein was human.  In the article linked to earlier, he explains to the interviewer that he feels comfortable talking to him because of their shared Jewish heritage.  The interviewer politely responds that he is not Jewish either on his mother’s or his father’s side.  Instead of Einstein doing the equivalent of “oops, my bad”, he attempts to take a convoluted path of thought that suggested we are all a melting pot and since he, Einstein, was comfortable talking to the interviewer, then the interviewer, logically, must have something in his psychic that was “Jewish”.  I love Einstein, but this was trying to save face.  He clearly did not like being wrong, including his preconceived notion that the interviewer was Jewish.

When Einstein argues that “students” could benefit from being sent off to work in a lighthouse or on a ship where they are free to think all day, he is basing this educational philosophy from the viewpoint of a uniquely brilliant and focused mind that worked best from that framework.  Yes, some students could benefit from that educational platform.  But Einstein was the Michael Jordan of physics and math.  We cannot all be Michael Jordans or Albert Einsteins.  What works best for the masses is to provide a solid foundation in the basic academic skills so that we can gravitate toward those things that we are good at and/or those areas in which we have a specific interest.  An educational system that allows for the development of more specialized skills and interests, especially at the higher grade levels, would be even better.  That is why I love the concept of magnet schools, schools within schools, charter schools and homeschooling.  I think Einstein would have liked those ideas, too.  These alternatives celebrate and honor the individual.

And it should not be underplayed that some people like to be proficient in all branches of academia.  They never truly develop an affinity for just one specialized subject.  They just like learning.  The more the better.  These information sponges are the proverbial Jack-of-All-Trades.  That is good, too.  We need people who can move laterally in society and do it well.  This helps to alleviate boredom and it also allows people with vast knowledge to impact more individuals than just within their “specialty”.

We are not all going to have the time and resources to ponder the wonders of the universe from our beach cottages like Einstein.  So, it is important that we be equipped, as well as possible, for whatever life throws at us.  I will always appreciate Mozart, Beethoven, DaVinci, Tesla, Newton, Hawking, Aristotle, Socrates, and Einstein (to name a few), but they are not the norm and we should not attempt to educate children in a manner that suggests we can produce such outcomes by trying to emulate some Utopian educational system that we assume these great minds learned by or “wished” they had.

Standardization, in educational terms, does not mean creating cookie cutter individuals.  These tests are designed to assess how well the basic knowledge we are trying to impart to children is being absorbed and retained.  How does an individual absorb and retain new ideas and skills in public education?  It is through the teachers and the curriculum.  Therefore, the standardized tests, when taken in the aggregate, help to paint a picture of how well teachers and the curriculum are doing their jobs.  When the data is disaggregated, you can perhaps get a better idea of how individuals are performing; students, teachers and schools.  There is nothing inherently evil in that process and I can think of no better way to assess the efficacy of any educational system.  Just because you like your teachers and your school does not mean you are ready to take on the real world.  Therefore, happy schools are not necessarily effective schools.

If anti-reformers want to quote Einstein, perhaps they would consider this one:

“Nothing happens until something moves.”