Postcolonial Technologies of Power: Standardized Testing and Representing Diverse Young Children

Article excerpt

The words "after 9/11, the world changed" have been reiterated, with different meanings and in different contexts, by diverse groups of people. Recognizing the fact that the people for whom the world seems to have changed the most have probably not had either the access or the time to engage in this dialogue about change, some scholars, postcolonial and otherwise, have been calling for a renewed commitment from academics to enter into work that goes beyond the "Ivory Tower" and to take on the role of public intellectuals (Barsky & Ali, 2006; Chomsky, 1967) in this changed world. In the area of postcolonial studies, there has been a renewed focus on the technologies through which imperial projects are carried out whether "abroad" or "at home," although the two are not necessarily so neatly divisible.

The particular form of unquestioned technology that is explored in detail in this paper is standardized testing. One of the reasons why it invokes such interest is that it is upheld by both the right and the left as an "objective" assessment of how both schools and children are performing (Kohn, 2000). However, there is a growing body of research and resistance that views testing as the ultimate imposition of not only rampant scientifism, if there is such a word, but also of corporate capitalism upon children and schools. The impetus for testing reflects corporate strategies that have been used all over the world by big business (Park & Schwarz, 2005): create a need and then try to fulfill it. Within educational contexts, Kohn (1999) has shown how many recent reports on American public education have been authored not by educational professionals but by representatives of big business such as the Business Coalition for Education Reform, the Business Roundtable, the National Alliance of Business and the Committee for Education Reform. As Miyoshi (1993) has commented, whereas the "old" colonialism used nations, ethnicities and races as its building blocks, the "new colonialism" operates more through transnational corporations. This new colonialism, Miyoshi cautions, is harder to isolate and counter, as it operates through multiple locations and through global networks. Scholars such as Martin (2004) have commented that, in its never ending search for new ground, modern capitalist colonialism has increasingly concentrated on the sphere of domestic life as an avenue for profit making: citizens are being redefined as consumers, and the home is being transformed from a sanctuary into a "command post for market manipulation" (p. 352). Similarly schools too are now increasingly being targeted for such attention, most strikingly through the nation wide imposition of standardized testing (Cannella & Viruru, 2004).

Much of the critique of standardized testing has centered on such effects as the limited and narrow curricula it has created in schools and on how it has been tied to high stakes: where jobs, salaries and in some cases the very existence of schools are tied to high test scores. The effects that these policies are having on schools has also been documented: widespread teaching to the test, the elimination of recess and playtime for young children and so forth (Ohanian, 2002; Kohn, 2000). This paper attempts to strengthen these paths of resistance by exploring another part of testing that has not received much attention until now: what kind of material is actually on these tests? With so much focus on the tests being directed towards the skills that are covered by it, and making sure that the children know those skills, little attention has been directed toward the medium through which those skills are assessed. As the analyses to follow will show, the selection of content seems to reflect some very determined agendas.

In this paper I first look briefly at how standardized testing has been created as an imperialist project. Second, the main body of the paper is dedicated to an in-depth look at the technologies of power that are evident in the content of the reading portion of various state standardized tests and how they contain rampantly colonialist images of people of color. …