In my ENGL 309 class, Modern Critical Theories, we were asked to theorize the concept of testing—as a test. I had never truly considered the implications of standardized testing other than being implicated with them as a student. However, theorizing standardized testing and understanding the ways in which it is naturalized was eye-opening for me. As such, I wanted to share my thoughts on testing with the student body, for we are all subjected to the structures of standardized testing but do not always consider what that means, or why we should try to resist/reimagine these structures.
Although we occupy a world of vast differences, we have learned to ignore and suppress those differences through structures like standardized testing which are enabled by strategies that see only some differences and make a great deal out of those differences. The differences that are emphasized continue to be pervasive and influential while at the same time denigrating other differences or ignoring them completely. To imagine a world without testing, it is crucial to disrupt pre-existing structures of standardized testing instead of simply accepting them. How dare one be critical of the unnatural ways they have been taught to live and function?
Universities profit from the structures of standardized testing and they commoditize students by upholding the misconception that in order to be intelligent and valuable, one must literally pay to compete with other students on tests and for high grades. Universities also profit from individuals who critique the status quo. The social prevalence of testing, then, enforces a specific perspective of how individuals ought to exist: as similarly productive and disciplined individuals who are more than willing to naturalize their own exploitation. The naturalization of the unnatural in regard to standardized testing is clear in the ways in which individuals are subjected to its societal structures, for “If the possibilities of thought and action are determined by a series of systems which the subject does not control or even understand, then the subject is ‘decentred’ in the sense that it is not a source or centre to which one refers to explain events. It is something formed by these forces” (Culler 109). University students are unequivocally shaped by these structures of standardized testing without fully realizing how they are actively subjected to a series of systems that work to remove individuality while promoting individuality. In other words, Universities monetize the belief that students ought to rigorously compete with their peers and test “well” in order to be considered a valuable, individual, functioning member of a uniform society.
Standardized testing has fully governed my way of existing in the world and has undoubtedly shaped the ways in which I act and function. I am constantly pressured by the forces of testing in my day-to-day life; subjected to the structures of testing and to the mandates of conformity. For instance, the way I write and speak is a product of the various ways in which I have been tested in my adolescence and in my adulthood.
I have learned what it means to ignore and repress my Romanian language in order to speak and think in a “proper” way that will allow me to earn a high grade on a test or assignment. Unfortunately, I have also learned to judge my immigrant parents for speaking “incorrectly” or “inadequately.” But what would my life and education look like if I had never been subjected to a standardized test? Would I be less judgmental? Is it possible to imagine a regime of testing that places an emphasis on the desire to learn rather than on an inane ritual of memorizing certain information?
To resist the structures and naturalization of testing is to acknowledge that standardized testing must be treated as “a construction in a work of deconstruction that seeks to dismantle it and reinscribe it—that is, not destroy it but give it a different structure and functioning” (Culler 126). With the principles of deconstruction, the structures of testing can be reimagined instead of abolished—paving the way for an existence that is more equitable and just.
Certainly, deconstructing the pervasive structures of standardized testing would radicalize both the educational system and my life. Yet I can only eagerly imagine the freedom felt in no longer considering my time as currency or pleasurable moments as “‘small thefts’ of capital” (Marx 9). The widely accepted naturalization of the unnatural has cultivated a homogenous society that cannot identify—let alone resist—oppressive structures of existence. How can social change be pragmatically enacted, then?
As a society, we have not radically reimagined testing because we have been persuaded of its utility. We have allowed the rigid structures of testing to be continuously powerful and pervasive within our institutions and lives. It is equally problematic that it is difficult to imagine what the world would look like if we resisted the insidious implications of standardized testing and reimagined them.
While we may not be able to fully escape a culture of testing as students, we can be critical of its influence and resist the current structures of standardized testing in small yet tangible ways. Instead of continuously working or studying, we can make the conscious decision to resist the demands of the status quo and begin to test the boundaries of testing by resting. Rest and self-care are both substantive forms of resistance to a society that demands the constant commodification of moments. As such, I encourage you to make a conscious effort to resist the constructs of testing by resting more and working less—even if it feels strange to do so.