Every Course Should Be Holistic

Without ever having taken an education class, I suspect the over-arching theme of all education course is the training of a person to help him/her learn techniques they can use to help a child become “self-actualized” – to become all they can be.

I had an interesting conversation with my neighbor yesterday. As many of my recently read novels involve a character named “Jack,” I will refer to my neighbor as Jack.

Jack teaches high school algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. He was upset because he can’t teach the way he wants. In other words, he has to teach to the Kentucky Standardized Tests. Or, national standardized tests. The homework is set in stone, at least a legal stone, or policy stone. “I would like to give them assignments where I give them real-world problems: design a floor plan, and the pitch of a roof. Calculate the areas, the floor space, the pitch of a roof. They need to learn how to apply math, not simply learn what they need to learn in order to pass a standardized test.”

“Students have gotten conditioned towards objective, multiple choice exams. When given an applied problem, they can’t solve it. When I was in Illinois, teachers I worked with didn’t like the standardized tests. We protested yet we still had to do them. I moved to Kentucky, and discovered pep rallies, picnics, contests, and parties surrounding the standardized tests.” Jack seemed visibly irritated.

I related my days in school, back in the 1970s and 1980s. I think I turned out fine. By fine I mean I had four years of English, and literature, as much math as I could take, German, biology, etc. I don’t remember more than one test that seemed to upset faculty, and that exam occurred in 8th grade. I believe most of my peers have done pretty well for themselves.

What Jack brought to the conversation was the notion of introducing real problems into the classroom. Using problems from design and construction that a student could very soon be challenged with in real life. Working on a family farm and helping determine yields, fertilizer amounts, building fences, repairing roofs all could find their way into a student’s life. And the problems are part of another discipline: agriculture.

“I would like to give them assignments where I give them real-world problems: design a floor plan, and the pitch of a roof. Calculate the areas, the floor space, the pitch of a roof. They need to learn how to apply math, not simply learn what they need to learn in order to pass a standardized test.”

The constant lament of students is “why is this important?’” Perhaps, a related whine is “why  is the class necessary?”

Education is and should be taught in holistic ways. Educators are coaches, and as a coach you have to challenge, encourage, and badger students to work to their best ability, and to expand, develop, and mature current abilities. Educators need to be able to draw from all possible sources to bring knowledge into a classroom to help a student reach their potential.

While measurements are no doubt necessary, teaching to a test or an exam in no way prepares a student to do anything but prepare for a test. Teaching to a test only really measures how well a student has prepared for an exam, not the ability to apply that knowledge to other disciplines.

Teach, instruct, show, illustrate. Then, assess. Integrate assessments into regular everyday assessments or quizzes. Don’t make a big deal about testing and assessment. Use assignments as assessments. Allow teachers to use their own examples and allow them to use “out-of-the-box” thinking to instructor, teach, and coach.

A regimented assessment-based teaching pedagogy seems more like a race to mediocrity. Teaching and learning should be flexible, pragmatic, and holistic if we are truly interested in helping young people achieve all they can.

4 thoughts on “Every Course Should Be Holistic

  1. As a home educator/homeschooler, I absolutely believe in your point of view and this is how I’ll endeavour to teach my kids – not just to pass a test but with real learning that they’ll remember because it seems relevant to real life and because they enjoyed learning it. This is a fundamental home schooling philosophy.


  2. How did it ever get to the point of “standardized tests” anyway and why does it still go on? Every educator that I have ever spoken with has stated basically yours and your neighbors opinions of them. I think my question more than anything is the why do they still adhere to those so strongly when most educators disagree with that being the focus of a person’s education?
    Enjoyed reading.


    • You ask a very good question. I like it because it seeks to examine the history of the question – what led us to this point? I have no answer for you. However, a good friend of mine suggests that standardized testing first began after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and America freaked-out. We realized we may have fallen behind in math and science. To address that fear, American Domestic Policy fixated on STEM. In the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s American gradually began to feel less threatened by STEM, more superior, and fewer resources were directed to STEM. The Kentucky Education Reform Act (1984) would begin a new episode of testing, followed by Kentucky Accountability Testing System (1999), and many states began their own standardized testing. My sentiments are that the federal government began to worm their way into the process in order to be able to measure local, regional, state, and national educational achievement. What followed was simple not set of measurement tools, but a series of national educational policies designed to punish some schools and reward others. “No Child Left Behind” while perhaps good in intent, was a poor way of encouraging improved primary and secondary education. The new “Race to the Top” will probably be a little better. I suspect any program or policy that fails to allow teachers to actually teach, that treats all students equally, that stresses scores rather than knowledge will ultimately fail. Rather working to standardized tests, I would rather see assessments built into the normal, routine exams and those assessments pulled-out and analyzed. I do think we need assessments that can be compared within a state, state-to-state, and region-to-region. This idea of “teaching to the test” is absurd and truly contrary to education and learning. How’s that for an answer 🙂


      • Very informed answer to ‘Burd’. I won’t personally research further to check its veracity but I think it’s a very interesting hypothesis about a phenomenon, testing, that has spread so far and wide – both internationally and to lower and lower grade levels, younger and younger children, it’s crazy. My son, at the tender age of 7, was facing some UK tests in a few months, meant to test the school. But of course to test a school, you have to test the kids and that’s not only very stressful for them but means so much of their learning time is taken up learning to pass this specific test. And I consider that a waste of time and not contributing to teaching them to love learning.


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