Robert D. Shepherd, one of our many brilliant readers, offered the following explanation of the impulse to standardize the education of children across the nation:

“It’s no secret that income inequality has skyrocketed in the United States in recent decades, that economic and social mobility have plummeted, that wealth has been increasingly concentrated at the top, and that increasingly, the affluent in this country are isolated in their own circles–living in their own separate neighborhoods; sending their kids to their own separate schools from preschool through college; keeping their money offshore; spending much of their time in homes outside the country; and so on.

“Isolation from ordinary people breeds contempt and prejudice. Lack of intimate, long-term interaction with ordinary people makes it easier for the wealthy to generalize about “those people,” whoever they might be–workers, teachers, the poor, etc., and to buy into across-the-board, one-size-fits-all prescriptions regarding those Others. It becomes easy to think that it makes sense that we have a top-down, mandated, invariant curriculum for the masses based upon the vise of invariant standards on the one side and invariant tests on the other if one thinks of teachers, students, workers, the poor–of any group of people outside the privileged class–as homogenous. “If only we held those people accountable via a standardized test!” begins to sound sensible, even though giving the same test to every third grader is equivalent to giving the same certification exam to plumbers, doctors, airplane mechanics, and NBA players. And when the privileged, with all their accomplishments and clout, make such generalizations, others buy in out of fear and self interest and, of course, respect. How could a man as clearly brilliant and skilled as, say, Bill Gates, be so terribly wrong? Our politicians left and right have almost entirely bought into the absurd generalizations underpinning the accountability movement. And our educational “leaders” have lacked all leadership; they haven’t had the courage to say that the emperor has no clothes.

“There are two main issues here: First, we can have liberty, or we can have standardized objectives (and, inevitably, the standardized curricula that follow from them) mandated by a small, centralized, unaccountable, totalitarian authority. Second, we can recognize students’ uniqueness and diversity and foster their individual propensities and talents, or we can give them a homogenous, one-size-fits-all education.

“It’s astonishing to me that there is even any debate about which we should do. And it’s horrifying that our “leaders”–professional education people–have come down so often on the side of taking away educators’ autonomy, their ability to make their own decisions about what to teach, when, and to whom.”