aiming high, accepting failure

A friend recently sent me a fantastic article from 3quarksdaily entitled “You’ve Failed Again – Well Done!”  The piece articulates, among other interesting insights, why multiple choice tests are not the proper means for evaluating students on a wide-scale basis.  And why this wave of emphasis on standardized testing – such as the recent decision to make passing the MCAS in English and Math mandatory for graduation in Massachusetts – is not the way to improve education attainment.

The multiple choice test, the test of choice for state mandated testing in elementary and middle school and often beyond, is not, by its very nature, a vehicle that can encourage creativity or experimentation. If we increasingly evaluate our children using these tests, and spend a large part of every school day teaching them to take these tests, then what we are teaching them is that to choose the wrong answer is to fail, this failure is something to avoid at all costs and that there are repercussions that can sometimes ripple through an entire life. If this is the focal point of learning, as increasingly it is, then what we are raising is a risk-adverse generation who see no value in failure, try to avoid it at all costs and are in fact terrified of it. And this is not a good thing for the future of US innovation.

While multiple-choice tests may be the quick and dirty way to see if a student is ‘achieving properly,’ it is precisely this definition of achievement that is so troublesome.  I highly recommend Firisen’s entire piece for more!

photography, video

the last village, audio slideshow


As part of the The Institute for Global Leadership’s [EXPOSURE]/Aftermath Project workshop in Ajmer, India, led by Sara Terry and Asim Rafiqui last August 2009, I put together a presentation with some video, audio, and photographs from the trip.  Click through for the full story and photoessay, and see below for the slideshow.

Elizabeth Herman | The Last Village from Institute For Global Leadership on Vimeo.

My two weeks in Ajmer were spent in Kankarda, a small village on the outskirts of the city,  which had been forced to sell a significant portion of land to the government for the construction of a new railway track to Pushkar, a popular tourist destination 17km to the northwest of Ajmer. The tracks had not only divided the agricultural lands of Kankarda, but had also created fissures in the social and cultural fabric of the community.  The railroad meant that India’s modernity, with its conveniences and deprivations, had arrived right at its doorstep, imposing new values and new dreams amongst a younger generation of villagers that were rapidly becoming more interested in careers, conveniences, and city life. As the elderly looked on, their traditional agricultural way of life evermore irrelevant, they could see that their village had become a smaller version of the broader changes taking place in today’s India.


why we worry

The most recent issue of Scientific American: Mind includes a a feature on chronic worrying – its causes and effects, both mental and physical  (November/December 2009, 20, 40-47).  For someone who comes from a family of worry-warts, and very much is one herself, I find “Why We Worry” provides a fascinating peek into the worried mind, explaining the rhyme and reason behind repeated anxieties.

Psychologists believe that worry, defined as a person’s negative thoughts about a future event, evolved as a constructive problem-solving behavior. But excessive fretting—as happened with the girl—does more harm than good. Chronic worriers operate under the misperception that their overthinking and attempts at controlling every situation allow them to problem-solve and plan for the future. Instead their thought pattern hinders cognitive processing and also causes overstimulation of emotion- and fear-processing areas in the brain. The hypervigilance that is the result can lead to cardiovascular problems, ultimately rendering the body unable to cope properly with stress.

The article offers “six simple tips and tricks you can use to cope with the stresses of every day life,” and while those little ‘fix-it’ boxes are often unhelpful and even patronizing, the recommendations included in this article were actually interesting – a few I had heard before, a few entirely novel, such as reserving a period of time in your day exclusively for worrying!  See box below.


Want more?  Access the full article here.