5 Most Overused Symbols in Education

Education is a very conservative field by any measure. But there are a few things in education that maintain such high regard, when they really should not anymore. Here are the 5 overused symbols in education.


  1. The Report Card


I have written about this in previous blogs. The report card still stands for the ultimate standardized assessment. Unfortunately, the most democratic spin put on report cards cannot account for the fact that this is still a subjective assessment completed by a subjective adult based off of a whole bunch of subjective “measures”. Grades for university entrance have their place. But it is time to move to a pass/fail system supplemented with a paragraph or two that is derived from the teacher’s subjective assessment. This is especially needed at the elementary level. We need to stop lying about objectivity and just be straightforward with this holy grail of assessment.

  1. The Textbook


Again, see my latest post. Textbooks should die. Point blank, period. It is impossible to create a culture of independent and creative thinkers with outdated textbooks that do not relate to students’ lives. Because learning is so situational and contextual, the prevalence of the traditional textbook becomes the ultimate symbol of irony in education.


  1. The Bell


How have we not come to realize that those bells we hear every 40 to 70 minutes are a product of the old industrial model of education? Are we really still streaming our children for careers as factory workers, miners, or spinners and weavers? As soon as a group of students get into the groove of an assignment or activity, the bell rings. Then they must drop all streams of consciousness on a dime, pick up their belongings and whisk off to the next, entirely disconnected, subject. No wonder why some students are so disengaged with school.


  1. The Foreign Language Requirement


A lot of people may hate me for this one. But, really? If one credit in a foreign language is required for a high school diploma, what is the point of it? I am not saying that multi-linguistics is not valuable and does not have a place in school. But if there is such explicit indifference to it, perhaps this requirement should be made voluntary. Let the students who really value foreign language sit in those seats while other students, who are inevitably only going to be there for one credit, take courses that they deem more valuable to their lives.

  1. The Standard Test


The ugly step-cousin of the report card. This symbol of education has found itself on rather trivial ground as of late. We have standardized tests but are told not to “teach to the test”. The implications of this philosophy are confusing to say the least. Tests are an important aspect of measuring a student’s demonstrated knowledge. But we already have the SAT, the ACT, and the Report Card. We can’t politic about the importance of diverse learning styles and creative thinking and then sit students down for three hours and make them answer questions that will be marked in a dichotomous fashion. It’s plain hypocrisy. Maybe there is a place for it. But again, it is an overused symbol in education.


These 5 overused symbols in education illustrate the friction that comes when a field set in such conservative tenants attempts to become progressive. We have come a long way. But, as we can see, there is still a long way to go.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

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