At one of the much better schools I worked at (better by the measure the teachers were very caring and better by the measure the students rather enjoyed their days as much as possible within a coercive system could) a well intentioned "service" reliably crushed the dreams of large numbers of teenagers on a single day each year. It was not the regular set of tests or assessments. Indeed the teachers had nothing whatever to do with this. In fact, it worked in opposition to those teachers' best efforts at instilling in students confidence, joy of learning and a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves each year. The school administrators (because, presumably of parental demand) would go through one cruel ritual that undid for an entire cohort what was, I thought, otherwise less damaging work done over the previous 4 years of their schooling. Less damaging, as compared to almost all other schools. Schooling is compulsory in Australia - so it's important to choose a good one. But this is a tale of how even the best can utterly ruin what "good work" (or, as I say "less damaging work") was accomplished.
By “year 10” of high school this particular school had well qualified, kind and knowledgeable teachers helping the students learn, making it as fun as possible (and of course reliably failing - but they tried) - and helping ensure the “mental health” (psychological well being) of the students was, as far as possible within the coercive system, preserved or even improved. Teachers would do things like mark and remark and remark again assignments and essays and exams to maximise the performance of students. In short: the teachers were, broadly speaking *on the side of the students*. But the administration did one remarkable thing every single year to students in the 4th year (year 10) of their high school experience. This was the 15 and 16 year olds. And what was that?
Contract an outside company of psychologists to come in and administer a battery of intellectual IQ type tests on these students.
The students would undergo a number of tests from numeracy and more advanced mathematics, “mechanical reasoning” (physics type questions), other kinds of science type questions, grammar and vocabulary questions and solving of puzzles and more besides. What united all these questions and tests were that they were on content “you could not study for” - they were utterly unknown. The claim was: these were testing inherent mental skills.
I had the philosophy of mind I do now. As often as I could I reminded my own students: you can do whatever you like and learn whatever you like. The only difference is interest. If somehow you can find it interesting you will want to go home and just consume it and become a little obsessed with it and it will not be difficult but fun because it will be interesting. The trick is to somehow find it interesting. I don’t know what the trick is beyond just trying for a while or finding a teacher who can make it interesting - or a book, or something. These days there must be Youtube videos about whatever you want to improve in, if you really do, to help you find it fun.
So this is what happened: each year confident, joyful and bright students who I’d taught this lesson to year on year for many years and whom other teachers had likewise helped foster a sense of self confidence in and a “you can do whatever you want” attitude - were taken into the grand examination hall to undergo this battery of tests administered by “trained educational psychologists” - it was all very official and a little intimidating. It was said “the results of these tests have no bearing on your final marks” (relief - a little bit of fun indeed compared to those tests which did) and are more a test of your personality and might help with career choices later on (more fun! Just personality quizzes - and at that age, teenagers are passionately curious about things like their own personality and the possibility of careers are a major part of their dreams and goals - this would be fun!).
They sit the test and come out of it as they did any other test - though perhaps more dismissive, more smiles, less concern. After all “it didn’t count”.
But then, some months later, the results would come back.
And this is when everything changed. And for some students things changed dramatically. These students were impressionable. These students were told over and again: psychology is a careful and precise science and psychologists are the people you go to for help should you need it. While the latter is a fine heuristic, the former is utter baloney. What happened was, the results of these tests were broken down into types of reasoning. I cannot remember the exact details and do not want to provide them anyway in order to maintain the privacy of everyone involved. This school was not unusual. This is now a routine practise, especially in so-called “elite private colleges” in Sydney (but I think this is far more broad than this).
Students (and hence their parents - and the school administrators) were given a breakdown of their performance on these tests across things like “Basic Numeracy” and “Logical Thinking” and “Mathematical thinking” and “Mechanical Thinking” and “Interpersonal Skills” and “Communication” and “Vocabulary” and many more things besides. And many did not score as high as they might have thought in mathematical or logical or mechanical thinking. And this upset them. But that was not the worst thing. No, they left the absolute soul crushing for the end of the report. At the end of the report was a list of careers and professions you are most suited for and then careers and professions less suited for.
And you can guess exactly what happened. Not always. Once would be too often. But it happened every year to some large number of students.
Those who aspired to be scientists or engineers and had hitherto always performed well in every science and mathematics assessment task given to them at school were, for the first time, assessed low on mathematics, mechanics and logic and told: you’d be well suited as a journalist, or politician or lawyer (they did better on the vocabulary and grammar portion of the test) while aspiring artists, lawyers or doctors told they were not creative, good communicators or sufficiently empathetic respectively and would be better suited to perhaps a trade like hair dressing or working outdoors or perhaps going into child care work.
But the report had great authority - it was administered with gravitas and the results delivered with great seriousness. The report was always excruciatingly comprehensive too: printed on high quality paper with graphs and high-sounding terms: it resembled some kind of medical or pathology read-out in places returning the results of a blood test where experts had to worryingly pour over the numbers to see what it all meant for the well being of the patient. The numbers were then broken down into fine detail for the layperson, of course, but the data always seemed terribly complex. The "easy to digest" simple summary though meant you knew what it all meant at a glance. You didn't need to really look at the numbers much less question their validity or meaning.
Some teachers complained. Of course I complained. But there was a market for this. Parents demanded this kind of thing because other schools did it and after all psychology is a science so perhaps we should take seriously the results of this test.
And yes, even most teachers took the test seriously too. “Well although X has done rather well on their mathematics until now, the psychological assessment indicates their actual native numeracy skill is rather low. Are we sure X can take on the higher levels of mathematics in their final year of high school, pre-university?”.
I got to look at the test once. It was nothing but a set of puzzles - questions phrased in a way deliberately utterly different to the way students were familiar with how questions were put to them in other tests on a day to day basis in school. The psychological test, not studied for, was assessing perfectly learnable material. A bag of tricks and bits of knowledge any of those students could have learned in a week to ace the test across all indicators. But they were told this was assessing their natural talents in certain areas. So there was no point studying. And of course the test was strictly copyright. No one was allowed to keep or make copies of the test and they were carefully guarded online. We wouldn't want anyone "gaming the system", right?
It was a soul crushing, confidence destroying exercise. I saw many students lose heart - aspiring engineers simply give up from that day on - no matter my sitting with them in their exasperation and explaining “those psychologists don’t know what they’re talking about - this test means nothing”. The students appreciated it - but one could see it behind their eyes “There’s Mr. Hall again, just trying to explain why some subjects aren’t as good as physics - or real science. Now is not the time, Mr. Hall. This is a little more serious. Actual psychologists have assessed my brain. Mrs so-and-so who has a PhD in psychology taught us in psychology class how reliably predictive these kinds of tests are. The school carefully chooses to do this year on year. Anyways, I’ve always thought maybe I actually could just work with my dad. He’s got an accountancy firm and they take on trainees each year…”
The most valuable thing you can offer to an idea