The Achievement Games

Last Sunday, I went to see “The Hunger Games.”  I haven’t read any of the books, but I went with @paulawhite who has read them all.  Since seeing the movie, I have viewed life through the lens of “The Hunger Games.”  I am sure I will be able to shake this at some point, but for now…

I began thinking about our state testing program in terms of tributes and victors.  Let’s talk about the perils of government-driven, norm-referenced testing that separates our tributes and is designed to result in a limited number of victors.  High stakes testing nearly always punishes kids who come in with fewer life experiences and resources. Then, I began to imagine Arne Duncan and Seneca Crane as one and the same.


As I think about the parallels between The Hunger Games and The Achievement Games, I keep looking for a place that it breaks down and I can’t shake these images from my head.

What about the reaping?  The anxiety over what will happen to me, how will I represent my district (school), how long will I live, will I have to kill anyone, etc. represents the test-prep arena.

Escorts are like principals, performing the PR and cheerleading services while making sure the whole team has all of the resources they need.  The mentors are the teachers, warning the tributes about stamina and providing them with test-taking strategies like how to avoid being slaughtered in the bloodbath at the Cornucopia.

The balloons with helpful hints and additional resources that were sent to tributes by sponsors just might represent the available funds and resources of the school district to ensure the first pass at learning is highly successful and to provide additional tutoring if it is not.

Gamemakers are like lawmakers.  Just when it looks like a tribute is going to be successful at something, additional challenges (like a forest fire or vicious animals) are conjured up to issue new challenges.  This is kind of like playing with cut scores or introducing Technology Enhanced Items.

I can keep going with this, but it troubles me more and more the longer I stay in this mode.  I surely hope the American government’s many checks and balances would prevent anything as blatantly horrible as The Hunger Games from happening here, but we have allowed The Achievement Games to continue for years.  Why?




2 Responses to “The Achievement Games”

  1. Paula White Says:

    Becky,In addition to your comparison, there is an anthology of children’s authors ( who have weighed in with essays on The Hunger Games, and of course, I have downloaded this to my Kindle app on my iPad. In addition, there is a website that allows folks to discuss these essays. One of my favorite essays is the one that says The Hunger Games is not about hunger or games–in fact, that it’s about Game Theory. Here is the link to the discussion about that, which I think you, and your readers, will enjoy - The definition of game theory really resonates with your post–"a mathematical approach to the study of decision-making. It’s about strategy, about how people are programmed to respond in various social situations, and about the forces that can predict the ways in which living things, companies, communities, and even nations will act."How do you see that fitting with your post?Paula

  2. Chad Sansing Says:

    Becky – I appreciate this very provocative post. The anxiety, way too often, is all.I’ve been thinking about Paula’s comments regarding game theory and responding some on Twitter to a conversation between her and Andrew Carle (<a href="">@tieandjeans</a&gt;).Ultimately, I think the best course is to escape any kind of zero-sum game in education. The competition for resources – some of them artificially scarce – is what harms schools and students the most.I see a lot of different zero sum, prisoner’s dilemma/Spanish Prisoner kinds of games we could play – and, in some cases, are playing – right now.There’s The Game of Life which is played on a grid and sets up conditions for living squares to propagate or die off through iterative rounds of automated play. Could we apply it to test-resistance and find a working model of the minimum conditions necessary for test-resistance to spread from classroom to classroom within a school grid? Within a division, state, or national grid?Unless the players have nearly equal resources to lose, share, or win, I’m not clear on the best course of action for individual teachers to take inside the economic system of public schooling. Morally, I think it’s clear that we could do better than comply with testing and that we should attempt to do the most good in our classrooms as we can. However, the system doesn’t "lose" in the same way an individual teacher or student "loses" when a teacher or student refuses to test. The more potentially impacting game-theory situation would be one – I think (and folks should feel free to correct me here) – in which a large group of stakeholders square off against schools that test by refusing to support testing schools with tax money or by refusing to enroll kids in schools that test as we do, thereby limiting per-student funding. If the end result of a contest was either public schools that test or no public schools, we might find ourselves exploring some emergent, non-zero-sum outcomes after rediscovering consensus and compromise together.All the best,C

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: