Friday, August 29, 2008

Measuring Progress

The world of quantum physics is really bizarre. Some of the things that our world does on this microscopic level just don’t make sense to our brains that have evolved to survive in our world of medium sized objects like trees, dogs and automobiles. On the quantum level there is one particular thing really intrigues me. It appears that the very act of measuring some things changes them. It’s quite the paradox that when you try to measure the quantum state of some particles the quantum state changes as soon as you’ve measured it. So you can technically only know what the state of that particle was at the time you measured it but It’s likely something different now that you’ve measures it. The analogy isn’t perfect by any means but a macroscopic example of this would be something like a speedometer on a car. Even a perfect speedometer has a little bit of friction. That friction would tend to slow down the car just a little. How ironic that the very act of trying to measure a car’s top speed would be impeded by the very process of measuring that speed.

So why did I bring this up today? Well you see last night I went to a curriculum night for my son’s middle school. In our world of strict state and federal over-involvement when it comes to the school system the concept of measuring a student’s progress has taken on a life of its own. And the “No Child Left Behind” program has made that even worse. At our curriculum night every single one of my son’s teachers expressed thinly veiled contempt at the sheer volume of government mandated testing that is required this year. They all hinted at the fact that there were so many tests scheduled that they didn’t even have time to teach the kids that material. Just like measuring the quantum state of a photon or the top speed of a car, it appears that we can’t accurately determine the performance of a public school student without adversely affecting the very education being tested.

Earlier this week I listened to a podcast that stressed the necessity of unstructured play in the lives of children. The doctor doing these studies found that during these unstructured play times is when kids learn compassion, empathy, irony, flexibility and forgiveness. I’m concerned that in our effort to measure and quantify our children’s ability in algebra, history, science and literature that we are crippling their learning of other, ultimately much more important concepts.



  1. Oh, I really like your analogies! Excellent point. I think you should submit this into the opinion section of the AJC!

  2. Excellent points, as always. And like Stephen Krashen says, "Measuring the animal more often won't make it grow any faster." Think of the money we could save just by cutting out half of these expensive tests!