Editor’s note: This article is from the May, 2007 issue of Love in Action newspaper (Social Justice Education, publishers). We re-release this article in light of the current battles regarding curriculum and standardized testing in public schools today.
In June of 2000, following the World History MCAS exam given that Spring, Derrick Jackson, editorialist for the Boston Globe, wrote a series of articles exposing the Eurocentric and white supremacist character of the test. In one article he gave us the following figures: Out of 55 questions on the World History exam, fully 48 were about Europe and the United States; in other words, they were about White people.
World History Test Withdrawn
Of seven questions remaining, two were about China. Fully one-quarter of the world’s people are Chinese, live in China. Two questions out of 55 devoted to this one/quarter of the world’s people…
Two questions were about Africa. These questions were about the part of the Sahara Desert where no humans live. In other words, these questions were not history questions; they were geography questions. There were zero questions about African human beings and our history…
“Multiculturalism” Doesn’t Help
Since Mr. Jackson’s exposure, the Massachusetts Department of Education has withdrawn the World History exam.
In an apparent effort to be “inclusive,” the 2004 English/Language Arts test provided “multicultural” material. An excerpt from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass appeared, followed by seven multiple–choice questions testing for reading comprehension.
In the excerpt, Douglass describes the stratagems he used in order to become literate — under the slave system, enslaved Africans were forbidden to learn how to read and write. This is the subject matter of the excerpt. In a sub text of this excerpt Douglass briefly traces the degeneration of his mistress from a person who Douglass experienced as kind (she taught him the alphabet), into a person who was as vicious and depraved as any other slave master.
Fully four out the seven multiple-choice questions are about the kind heart of the mistress. This is question #15 of the exam:
(15) According to the excerpt, what is most ironic about the mistress’s change in behavior toward Douglass?
a. She argues with her husband.
b. She is a kind person at heart
c. She is not as smart as she thinks she is.
d. She thinks no one needs a formal education.
The correct answer is “b.” In this exercise, the white supremacist perspective that White slavers are “kind at heart,” but have bad behavior is forced on our youth. When the people of Iraq somehow violate the United States’ sense of right and wrong there is no talk about good hearts versus the bad behaviors of the Iraqi people. No, the United States bombs the hell out of them.
Douglass makes no such separation between “good character” and “bad behavior.” He said that, while she was once kind, “she finally became more violent in her opposition [to Douglass’ learning how to read and write] than her husband…”
In a vocabulary question, the correct answer is:
e. His mistress has given him the foundation for future learning.
Douglass, in this excerpt, in the phrases referred to in this question by the MCAS exam, is not praising the character of his mistress. He is pointing out that her evil obsession with keeping him illiterate is doomed because she made the earlier mistake of teaching him the alphabet. Our testers are trying to train our youth to see White “goodness” on the page even though it’s not on the page.
Question #20 asks:
Based on the excerpt, which of these statements would Douglass most likely accept as true?
The correct answer is:
b. A negative environment can lead good people to commit wrongful acts.
Douglass said nothing of the kind in the excerpt provided. Therefore, in order to gain points for these questions our children would have to twist their brain to fit into the obsessed state from which our White questioner is clearly suffering. For our children to be marked correct on these questions they would have to say that Frederick Douglass thought slave masters were good people who did bad things.
In the seven questions we are treated four times to this fantasy of the test-giver. There are no questions which refer to Douglass’ character, leadership, courage, intellect, fortitude, none.
Test Still Racist
Four times (out of seven questions) our testers introduce the perspective of separating the slaver’s character (that of being good), from their “negative behavior” which, after all, is not their fault because their environment was to blame. Could it be that our testers are over-identifying with our slavers?
Read the excerpt for yourself. Read the entire book, it’s really good! (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Penguin Press, 1978.)
“Multiculturalism” didn’t help us. The test is still racist.