The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

The Me Curriculum: High-Stakes Testing and the American COVID-19 Response

Richard Hartsell


American culture’s emphasis on individualism has been identified by
those directly engaged with fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and bypopular cultural commentators as problematic in mustering the collective social consciousness and self-sacrifice necessary to mount asuccessful pandemic response. This concern is supported by emergingacademic research which postulates a relationship between a culture’s relative balance between individualism and collectivism and the success of its pandemic response. Big data analysis suggests an inverse relationship between individualistic cultural traits and success in pandemic mitigation. Although the relative advantages and disadvantages of American individualism have been debated since Tocqueville, a recent rise in the dominance of individualism within the American psyche has been noted by both sides of the political spectrum with conservative commentary expressing concern over radical individualism and more left-leaning commentary finding increasing acceptance of libertarian principles perilous to the common good. Paralleling this rise in individualism are neo-liberal efforts at education reform that culminated in No Child Left Behind and its successor Every Student  Succeeds. Such comprehensive neo-liberal reform efforts engender increased cultural individualism in three ways: by narrowing curriculum definitions and content to a core that excludes issues of citizenship; by increasing direct instruction that limits students’ opportunities to engage with others in meaningful educational tasks; and most importantly, by creating an accountability superstructure based solely on decontextualized evaluations of isolated students, educators, and schools. The decades-long dominance of neo-liberal reform efforts create an educational environment which reinforces the cultural individualism hampering a successful American response to COVID-19.


high-stakes testing, NCLB, ESSA, individualism, com- mon good, COVID-19

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