Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man is one of the best books available on the use and misuse of data. Given the obsessional focus on test data in education reform these days, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Gould’s work. A few pages into the introduction, I found this wonderful quote:
“We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.”
Anyone who has learned or taught in a school where test preparation dominates the curriculum has witnessed the stunting Gould writes about firsthand. Those who deny our students the opportunity to study music, art, foreign languages, and evolution deny them the opportunities to strive and hope. That these reformers claim this stunting is for the benefit of our students makes their crime all the more heinous. It recalls the reasoning of biological determinists (like those described and discredited in Gould’s book) who sought to use data to justify their own positions of social and political power.