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Philosophical Meanderings

A Standardized Composition Test

We know bubble sheets are unrelated to “real life”.

I think we made the “education thing” up by constructing much nonsense about the written word being the supreme method of sharing ideas and information.

I think we have forgotten that sharing experiences and doing things together are matters that (1) allow us to learn and (2) make us human.

I began asking a question of Paramedic and EMT students (HS grads/GED) to kick-start discussions about medical-legal issues. I ask them to write down the first word that comes to mind when asked “What Are You?” I ask that question three more times, and request they again write their answer down.

The answers generally deal with biological sex, sex/gender/family roles and issues, race/ethnicity, nationality and intellectual capabilities. We discuss how the answers frame their current worldviews and how their worldviews will affect their future work as EMTs and Paramedics. We then consider how their worldviews skew interactions such as leads to miscommunications and misunderstandings, and discuss how their worldviews implicate the exercise of power in ways that lead to legal problems (the curriculum, after all,  requires a set number of hours be devoted to medical legal matters).

I propose that the following questions constitute the true ‘common core’ of education, and that students and teachers be asked and required to answer them every day: 

     What are you?

     What are you doing?

     Why are you doing it?

     What if your answers to the foregoing questions are faulty?

 I suspect the answers would be messy.

 I suspect standardized metrics could not be applied to them — given the personal nature of the answers and the myriad interpretations possible, who would “we” be to measure them?


Perhaps I was “miseducated” and am entirely wrong – I did, after all, learn to count Little Indians, one-through-ten…

About Brent Snavely

A construct of upbringing and society, holder of a BS. JD and an MA, I have practiced law more than 25 years. "The Truth shall set you free", but only if it is a Personal Truth that is based upon facts. Parrhesia may be humankind's only hope (see,


5 thoughts on “A Standardized Composition Test

  1. Great insight and perplexing simple too. Thanks for sharing ✌

    Posted by Bill | May 22, 2012, 9:28 am
  2. Just yesterday, I was reflecting and eventually writing about general education and the assessment of its impact. Though I have always been an engineering professor, I happen to believe very strongly in the importance of general education for all majors – the LIBERAL EDUCATION that AACU promotes for all students.

    While the “student general education summary report” as I labelled it does have tremendous potential for assessing the value of general education and where the refinements are needed, the very existence of such an assignment should – IF PROPERLY INTRODUCED – provide focus for the overall general education program. An important component of each student’s general education will come from the organization, understanding, and development of the report.

    Of course, the logistics and time commitment associated with reviewing such documents is phenomenal. My suggested approach, actually, would be an e-portfolio – reviewed periodically throughout the program as each student posted entries. The completed e-portfolio could / should be an important component of job interviews and graduate school applications. I’m reminded of past if not present practices of some employers to seek the best educated graduate regardless of major. The student with the personally meaningful e-portfolio AND the ability to converse intelligently about her / his education would have an advantage – FOR THE RIGHT REASONS!

    All of this is a long way around to get to saying how important such considerations and conversations are to the education of everyone at all levels. Sure the core knowledge in one’s chosen field is crucial as is the effective problem solving based upon that core knowledge. But, to me at least, it’s the ability of a person to relate to her / his portion of the world and its inhabitants that is a measure of the true level of education.

    AND it’s more effective probably in small but frequent situations such as described; besides the logistics and time commitments are much easier …

    Posted by John Bennett | May 22, 2012, 11:35 am
    • I think “the right reasons” would make the ‘hard’ sciences and technical subjects all the more interesting. As an engineering prof, do you think that asking oneself the four questions in relation to learning/applying such subjects would enhance one’s understanding of them?

      Posted by Brent Snavely | May 22, 2012, 6:18 pm
      • By all means, I believe they enhance understanding. They not only make the subjects more interesting; I honestly believe the “right reasons” are actually the key to the optimum understanding of them. While on the full-time faculty, I frequently found myself defending this position that was challanged by liberal arts faculty!

        Posted by John Bennett | May 22, 2012, 8:23 pm
  3. Reblogged this on Tethered Butterfly's Blog and commented:
    I thought I would share this post this morning. I remember having such a love/hate relationship with the bubble sheet on those tests in school… You want to love them because they don’t require a written answer or true knowledge on the question at hand. I could essentially get away with the ‘best educated guess’ if it was something I wasn’t sure of. Or the opposite, which was hate it because the answers were so similiar that I’d end up stewing on that one answer, and over thinking it. And how much of that stewing and stressing was over something relevant in life today…that’s the real question!

    Posted by Tethered Butterfly | May 22, 2012, 11:37 am

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