I HATE grading on a curve. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I'm of the opinion that it's a cop-out for a teacher. So we're in agreement there, lol.
I suppose I'd agree with you on the "learning styles aren't really malleable" statement, but in my opinion, the things that kids (particularly in elementary school) are learning ALSO aren't really malleable. There's only one answer to "2+2= ___" or "How do you spell Thursday". THAT's what I meant by little room for creativity. A child needs to be able to answer, immediately, “2+2=4”, or it’s going to be a long road for the rest of his life. Yes, all kids learn differently, and even the average teachers do what they can to help all the students in their class learn in the way they learn best. I'd bet that there's not a 1st grade classroom in the nation that doesn't do "manipulation" math and whatever other forms (sorry, I'm not really up to speed on all the "newfangled"
teaching styles) of alternative (for lack of a better word) learning styles there are. Unfortunately, to my way of thinking, the old "learn by rote" standards have gone away, rather than being used in addition to the new ways. Teachers aren't allowed to use flashcards, which are an invaluable resource for many kids, or what my school referred to as "times tests", which had a page of math problems and a certain amount of time to complete them. The point, of course, was to better your own time. I honestly had little or no idea of what anyone else was doing with regard to their time, except for those students with whom I was in direct competition, lol. No one was belittled in elementary school because of scores or grades or whatever; there were FAR more important things to worry about, like who got to be "it" at recess, and whether you'd get the good teeter-totter, or the squeaky one.
I'm not sure that I buy the whole "some kids test well and some don't" argument; it seems like one of those "it's not my fault" sort of statements. I can't disprove it,though, so I'll mostly let it slide. I still don't see how it's wrong to expect children to stay focused on the task at hand. There are many parents of (for-real) ADD (or whatever it's called now) kids that are trying whatever means possible to ALLOW their children to stay focused on one task. It's a good thing. I still have trouble with it, myself, and I can only imagine what I'd be like if I hadn't had teachers who, basically, forced me to learn to focus - by expecting me to do well, and giving appropriate grades as to whether I did work to my potential or not.
And, I wasn't saying that "our children need to conform," although they do, in part. Children need to learn that there are ways to act in different situations, which are more appropriate than other ways. For instance, it is inappropriate to shout and run around in church, while that is appropriate behavior on a playground. Children also need to learn that there are authority figures in the world, and while they can question authority, they must also respect it, and be willing to pay the consequences of going against authority. I can't tell you the number of times I got in trouble in elementary school for arguing with teachers (most of whom were teachers for whom I had little or no respect). I may have been right (lol, I usually was), but it was *possible* that I didn't go about it in the most appropriate way
I agree with you, also, that a narrative tells more than just a grade. I think that the two should be used jointly, rather than exclusively one or the other. The child who DOES participate, DOES work to his potential, and DOES know the material deserves a better grade than the talking child who doesn’t do the work. This also comes back to the whole “self-esteem” issue, and how teachers are afraid to really tell it like it is. Many teachers would be reluctant to send home the kind of narrative you gave as an example, because there are MANY parents who would either discount it as “if the teacher wasn’t so boring, my kid would pay more attention to her; the teacher needs to learn how to hold the kids’ attention” or, worse, would storm up to the administration and demand that the teacher “stop picking on my kid.” So, instead, what parents get are the good things, and the bad things are glossed over, or ignored. Which means that kids are moving from grade to grade, not knowing the stuff they need to know, and parents being unaware of it because teachers are afraid to accurately grade/assess a student’s level of learning, or of parents being aware of it, but blaming it on the teacher who “was always picking on Johnny, and wasn’t teaching in a way that he could learn.”
It’s a two-way street, and the parents who really care about their kids’ education will make sure that they are active in their kids’ classrooms, in touch with their kids’ teachers (and not just on the scheduled conferences, or after report cards come out), and willing to work with their kids at home, if necessary, to be sure they learn what is required.
Oh, and you're right, it's unfortunate how test-oriented most college students are, mainly as a result of the professors being test-oriented. It does depend on the class, however. Business classes tend to be more test-oriented than humanities classes, in my experience. This can be frustrating for, say, an English literature major who takes an accounting course; or, for an accounting major who takes an art appreciation course. I'd say that says more about your different learning styles than anything else.