Harrell Graham

Profile Updated: March 23, 2018
Residing In: Eastsound, WA USA
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Below is a piece written in 1970 by Bellaire High class of ‘70 student, Storrow (‘Storrie’) Moss, when she was a senior. Her article, “Grades Don’t Meet the Test”, appeared in the 3rd and last issue of the Plain Brown Watermelon, which issue was titled “School Vs Education”.

It had been decades since I read The Plain Brown Watermelon and I had ‘forgotten’ the substance of Storrie’s piece all these years. And what strikes me now, more than anything else in all three issues of the paper, is Storrie’s piece.

Even if you think Storrie’s ideas for abolishing tests & grades won’t work ‘as advertised’, that is, it won’t help the learning process, then doesn’t it nevertheless make sense to at least test her idea? Just as Storrie’s headline—Grades Don’t Meet the Test—implies, let’s test that premise. Let’s test the tests--the 'regular' daily, weekly and finals (but excluding standardized tests such as the SAT, etc). The school system has injected a seemingly infinite amount of tests into the lives of students on the grounds that those tests aid the learning process. But whether these tests help the learning process has never been proven. In fact, it has never even been studied.

Imagine that! A system which extolls the value of learning science and which preaches to us the value of the scientific method…. has never bothered to turn the scientific method back on itself. So let’s test the tests. Let’s use science and control groups to find out if these infinite tests are doing more good than harm. Let’s find out if there are other ways to learn that don’t involve so much stress. Let’s find out if students become happier and better learners--and learn more--all without having tests and grades as we know them. By abolishing regular tests and grades, I believe scores on standardized tests such as the SAT will improve as will the drop-out rate, depression, stress, etc.

It would be the height of hypocricy not to test the tests. In fact, it is negligence not to test it. For if you have a major problem---say, a failing education system, with high dropout rates, suicides, depression, drug abuse, etc —and someone comes along and says ‘here’s a solution’, then it is negligence to not at least try that proposed solution.

Okay, here is Storrie Moss, a 17 or 18 year old at the time she wrote this.

Grades Don’t Meet the Test
by Storrie Moss

“When my mother baked a cake she always peeked into the oven to see how it was coming. When I tried to look more often, I learned that too many examinations caused the cake to fail. And so it is with students” Kermit J. Rhode professor of psychology Oregon State University.

I sat in a classroom the other day, listening. It was a very special class because the teacher was both vitally interested in his students and writing to challenge them. As I watched, they began to discuss a test they had taken the day before—a very special test. Special in the sense that they had received no grade on it, that they had been allowed to work in groups, with a book to get the answers.

Unthinkable? Not to me, as I sat in that classroom. For those kids were excited, attentive and they in turn were challenging the teacher with some difficult questions. Education, at least for the moment, was a reality. The kids here were involved and absorbed in the learning process. The old concept of feeding the student knowledge with a spoon (or more often shoving it down his throat) was forgotten: not only were the kids learning from the teacher, but the teacher was being taught by his own pupils. To me, sitting there, this whole business was an unbelievably exciting one, in which kids were actually acquiring knowledge, and more important, in which they were learning to think for themselves. In a world where a Hitler, a Joseph McCarthy , or a Vietnam existed because people were unable to think for themselves, the idea of the education progressing in that classroom was phenomenal.

Why, then, if such an experience was possible in that class, do we still retain the idea of testing and grading? John Holt, author of “The Underachieving School”, write: “Testing in schools is done for very different reasons, and, by and large, we are not very honest about those reasons. To the public—and to ourselves—we teachers say we test students to find out what they have learned, so that we can better know how to help them to learn more. This is about 95% untrue. There are two main reasons we test children: the first is to threaten them in to doing what we want done, and the second is to give us a basis for handing out the rewards and penalties on which the education system—like all coercive systems—must operate. The threat of a test makes students do their assignment, the outcome of a test enables us to reward those who seem to do it best. The economy of the school, like that of most societies, operates on greed and fear. Tests arouse the fear and feed the greed.”

Any student can tell you that tests and grades are often used to induce fear. “What we do”, says one psychologist, “is beat students psychologically during 13 of their formative years.” To any sane person, constant psychological pressure of fear and doubt that exists in children during the most difficult and crucial years of their lives would be considered criminal. But this is exactly what we do in our schools! And grades-tests are often used to punish students both individually (“I don’t like your attitude—that’s why you got the C”) or en masse (“if you can’t be quiet, we’ll have a pop quiz tomorrow.”) Grades and tests develop in this way from tools for measuring to end goals in themselves, like the carrot at the end of the stick, educators often try to lead their students around, in the hope that somewhere, somehow, they will become educated. In a system like this, learning becomes incidental, and the “almighty A” rules supreme.

In his book, “Teaching Without Grades”, Max Marshall destroys the most time honored defense of grades and testing—measuring what a student knows. In the University of Utah study he cites, medical school grades show absolutely no relationship to later performance as a doctor. And A.S. Neill, author of Summerhill says, illustrates this major flaw in testing when he speaks to the young girl from Denmark who spoke and wrote perfect English. “I suppose you are at the top of your class (back in Denmark),” he said. She grimaced ruefully. “No, I’m at the bottom because I don’t know English grammar.” How well had grades measured that girl or any other students? Think now—how often have you made a good grade without knowing the material, or failed because you were upset or tired during the test? How, in fact, can a teacher who is who is worried about free speech and expression honestly use 5 symbols to make the most complex judgments of a student? Testing, then, does not measure what a student knows so it cannot help a teacher to judge his work by grades. At any rate, have you ever seen a teacher change his teaching methods because students’ grades show they aren’t learning? I doubt it. That argument that grades prepare children for later life has two basic flaws: 1) Are our schools supposed to be places of education or training centers for job markets? 2) if we dislike a world that constantly grades people, that flagellates them with fear, then must we not change that society, and its training grounds, the schools? Try to answer these questions to yourself. “Are grades to give information about a person’s present ability, regardless of whether it was acquired in the course or from his grandmother at the age of three? Or are they to reveal how much one has improved during the course, or how hard he tried; or whether he played the game according to the teacher’s rules? Or are grades a reward? Who knows!

Grades and testing are part of a system long overdue for a change. The case against these means of education is long and well documented. But, say some, we must have something to take its place. Alternatives are not lacking. At Summerhill in England, there are no grades and now here in the U.S. at Adams High School in Oregon, the same set-up has begun. At many colleges there is only a pass-fail system to show grasp of the course. The choices are many—all we need is the courage to begin the reforms, reforms long overdue. It is time to stop training kids, time to prepare them for the complex task of governing a world threatened on all sides by extinction. Grades and tests simply do not belong in a world where the atom bomb is a reality and Biafran children starve. It is time to change, and that means leaving grades, tests, and all the paraphernalia that goes with them, behind.
(end)

(Harrell Graham note: In 2017 I included Storrie’s article within a collection of related salvos directed at tests & grades on my Facebook, Tumblr, and Blogger pages. You can go directly to it at my Google Drive using the link below. I encourage you to at least take a look at this, as I put Storrie’s piece in an ‘interesting’ format and context. After you go to the following Google Drive link look for the piece titled “Tests & Grades: Born 19th Century, Died 21st Century, R.I.P.”

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B1ek5-MW4qJcWURNRXlJT1RhaWc

School Story:

Please see my In Memory comments under Michael Mayfield, Howell Brannon and Isaac Mitrani. They helped form my school story.

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Please look under my ‘Profile’ (‘comments’ section) to see a piece written in 1970 by class of ‘70 student, Storrow (‘Storrie’) Moss, when she was a senior. Her article, “Grades Don’t Meet the Test”, appeared in the 3rd and last issue of the Plain Brown Watermelon, which issue was titled “School Vs Education”. It had been decades since I read it and I had ‘forgotten’ the substance of Storrie’s piece all these years. And what strikes me now, more than anything else in all three issues of the paper, is Storrie’s piece. She makes the case as well as anyone for radically changing the testing and grading system.

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Harrell Graham has left an In Memory comment for MICHAEL MAYFIELD.
Mar 03, 2016 at 3:33 AM

Storrie Moss (Gordon) wrote the following in Sept 1972 after learning of Michael’s death.  Excerpted from personal correspondence from many moons ago which I found a few days ago,  in March 2016.

“What does one say before the face of death?  He was there beneath the hot sun, the sea rushing, and soft silence of Mexico—before the earth could turn upon it axis he was…not there. With Michael’s death passes the second innocence of my childhood.  The reality of death, of my final ending, has passed into my life with a dark beauty of ancient wings.  I cry for Michael and for myself…we are not so far apart, I know”. (Storrie Moss, Sept 1972)

Michael was married to a beautiful human being at the time of his death:  Karel Mayfield wrote the following to me around July 1972:

“It is so hard to believe, but one can’t stop life—for us it goes on.  I, too, am learning about death and about life.  I learned so much from Michael.  His death hurts, but I know that it is as much a part of him as his voice, or his eyes and smile. 

“I would like for you to think about something that Michael said many times and demonstrated with his life---that all one must do to be happy is to not be unhappy.  That is probably not very clear—I can only refer you to a song by Fleetwood Mac called “Lay it all Down”. (Karel Mayfield, July 1972)

"Lay It All Down"

“Let me retell/A story of old/About a man named Moses/Who lived long ago/He prophesied good/He prophesied bad/And now that prophecy's/Coming to pass/Let all your sons, and your daughters/Of the golden calf/Lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth/A whole lot of people, including myself/

"Thought the story of Moses was just a tall tale/But all of the things that we see going on/Are just what Moses set down/Let all your sons, and your daughters/Of the golden yeah/Lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth/Let me retell/A story I know/About a man named Moses

"Who lived long ago/He prophesied good/He prophesied bad/And now that prophecy's/Coming to pass/Let all your sons, and your daughters/Of the golden yeah/Lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/Lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/Lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/I just can't imagine a reason for sorrow/Just can't imagine the hurt/You've got to lay it down/

"You've got to lay it down/You've got to lay it down/You've got to lay it down/I said lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/Lay down your burden of sorrow/There's just no reason to hurt/You've got to lay down your burden of sorrow/Lay down your burden of hurt/I said/Lay it all down, for paradise here on earth”

 

 

 

 

 

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words on back of cards/front of poster:

The universe contains about 100 billion galaxies each with millions—or billions—of stars. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains our star, the Sun. Out of all these stars in all these galaxies our Sun is the only one we know with a planet that supports life.

The Earth and its living systems have evolved for five billion years…and now with our technology we have the power to destroy it all.

We also have the power to save it.
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Posted: Nov 28, 2015 at 6:38 AM
words on back of cards/front of poster:

The universe contains about 100 billion galaxies each with millions—or billions—of stars. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains our star, the Sun. Out of all these stars in all these galaxies our Sun is the only one we know with a planet that supports life.

The Earth and its living systems have evolved for five billion years…and now with our technology we have the power to destroy it all.

We also have the power to save it.
Posted: Dec 17, 2013 at 12:14 AM
I created 'you are here' and 'good planets are hard to find' in the 1980's. They are sold on t's, cards & posters (and on other things counterfeiters can think of).

words on back of 'you are here'/front of poster:

The arrow points to our star, the Sun which is only one of several hundred billion other stars in the Milky Way galaxy, pictured here.

The star closest to our Sun is 4.5 light years away. (A light year is the distance light travels in one year. Light moves at 186,272 miles per second.)

Our sun is 30,000 light years from the center of the Milky Way. So the light you see coming from the galaxy’s center left there 30,000 years ago.

The universe contains at least 100 billion other galaxies. Each galaxy contains at least 100 billion stars.