With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature and tell you what it comes to…This is setting the stage for Chapter 2, entitled “Murdering the Innocents.” School Master Gradgrind, obsessed with data and facts, humiliates “Girl number 20” who cannot “define a horse.” The humiliated young girl is quickly measured and done, deemed to be “possessed of no facts.” In Gradgrind’s class, each child is a numbered vessel into which knowledge must be poured — faster and more efficiently from the pitcher of fear.
The chapter is a chilling and uncanny allegory for the data-driven, test-obsessed reforms that are now overwhelming our schools. This week, New York’s “hard times” measures were made public. There was no surprise when the new definition of “proficiency” was about 30 points below the old one. That’s what the system was designed to do. Yet the new, imperious Gradgrinds will predictably use the results as the rationale to propel their reforms. They have built their careers, reputations and, in some cases, their fortunes, coming up with inventive ways to show public school teachers as inept and to present the vast majority of public school students as below par.
While the fingers point and the blame is assigned, “The Innocents” are forgotten. New York’s students labored through days of testing so that the ignorance of the “number 20s” could be exposed for all to see. The question is: To what end?