“The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree… We reap exactly what we sow.” Indian Home Rule, M.K. Gandhi
When I first read Mahatma Gandhi’s collected writings, I felt I had found someone who saw the world with a clarity and simple wisdom that truly could change me and change the world. He profoundly affected my world view. And of course, Gandhi changed the world. He may have been the greatest leader of the 20th Century.
Gandhi believed that the means never justify the ends, no matter how important the ends might be. Looking at his homeland, India, where there was dire need for revolution, Gandhi was crystal clear that violence should never be used to create a better nation:
Violence breeds violence…Pure goals can never justify impure or violent action…They say the means are after all just means. I would say means are after all everything. As the means, so the end… If we take care of the means we are bound to reach the end sooner or later.
Too often at home and at our schools we lose sight of Gandhi’s wisdom and try to justify a quick fix because of an important end. And that can especially be the case with our obsession with standardized testing.
Schools go to great lengths to get a short-term boost for their test scores. In some buildings students get water bottles or granola bars on test day, which I suppose isn’t a bad thing. In other schools countless hours are spent teaching quick-fix testing strategies, and students spend days and weeks learning how to get a slightly better test score.
In the worst-case situations, school becomes all about standardized testing, with much too little regard given to student learning and well-being. Teachers become demoralized, and students see no joy in learning. When students pass the test but fail as learners, something is very wrong.
Gandhi suggests a better approach. Focus on the means. If we focus on doing all we can to ensure that students are learning all they can, the scores will take care of themselves. As Gandhi said, “action expresses priorities.” Our priority should be children, not scores on a test.