Harvard made exactly the right move when it declared it would no longer require final exams, writes Jonathan Zimmerman. Critics immediately pounced, calling it yet another example of coddled students and weakened standards. (One example here.) Nope, writes NYU history professor Zimmerman in the Christian Science Monitor. That's an outdated view of education, one that focuses on memorization and the simple regurgitation of facts. Students learn better when they're required to think, and most final exams fall short on that front.
"Maybe you could frame a coherent, logical, and factually accurate critique of the New Deal in an hour," he writes. "I couldn’t. And that’s what most exams ask us to do. Here are five New Deal reforms; here are four causes of the Civil War. Better memorize them, because they’re going to be on the test. In the guise of toughness and 'accountability,' then, final exams actually let all of us—students, faculty, and administrators—off the hook. And if we really cared about learning, we’d devise more creative ways to expand and measure it."