Many people are familiar with George Orwell’s novel 1984 and, even if you’ve never read it, you probably understand the basic cultural reference. But four years after 1984 was published Orwell wrote an essay called Such, Such Were the Joys in which he recounts memories of the English boarding school he attended from 1911 to 1916.
Jane Ehrenfeld, a first grade teacher in Boston, has written a terrific essay of her own for Education Week (free registration required) in which she compares one aspect of Orwell’s schooling to what many students in public schools experience today: testing. Jane does a great job of making the eerie connections between then and now but I especially like this point she makes.
It can be hard for us to tell what effect the test pressure has on the children, and so we are fortunate to have a writer such as Orwell to describe the effect it had on him. "Over a period of about two years," he writes, "I do not think there was ever a day when ‘the exam,’ as I called it, was quite out of my waking thoughts." He goes on to say of all children: "The weakness of the child is that it starts with a blank sheet. It neither understands nor questions the society in which it lives, and because of its credulity other people can work upon it, infecting it with the sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious, terrible laws."