Monday, May 24, 2010

Externally Imposed

I wrote the following for The Cooperative Catalyst.

What are you doing, specifically, in your educational community, to create new support structures for students within and beyond your workplace?

In every crisis lays great opportunity…

In Alberta, Canada, we have not escaped the economic crisis – but we are taking advantage of the opportunity in a far better manner than the United States. I don’t say this to tick you off – after all, there is a very good chance most of my readers here do not share my nationality – but I say this to offer hope.

In Alberta, we have an education minister, Dave Hancock, who gets what it means to believe in real learning.

In March 2010, Alberta axed Education’s Accountability and Reporting division. This move signifies a move away from standardized testing and high-stakes test and punish accountability.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of work to be done in Alberta. We are excited to hear that this is likely to be the final year for the grade 3 provincial achievement test, but we must continue to fight the good fight if we wish to ensure that the grade 6 and 9 provincial achievement tests are next to go and that real learning is resurected.

That Alberta is choosing to follow nations other than the United States, such as Finland, can provide a model for educators in America.

Teachers can no longer afford to shrug at politics. Like it or not, teaching and learning has become very political – No Child Left Behind 1.0, Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind 2.0 are perfect examples of how political education has become. And Florida’s SB#6 shows how teachers, parents and students can engage politically to subvert a potential crisis.

Current day test and punish accountability has shown the utter distrust and distaste policy makers have for teachers. Deborah Meier explains that, “every time we respond to our distrust by wiping out institutions close to ordinary citizens in favor of more distant authorities, we strengthen cynicism and weaken democracy itself.”

If teachers continue to see themselves as mere employees of a distant school board, state or province who are hired to teach curriculums, apathy will persevere in contributing to passivity – ultimately contributing to making our lives worse.

Distrust breeds distance. We become undemocratic.

Deborah Meier writes about how “standardization instead turns teachers and parents into the local instruments of externally imposed expert judgment.”

Everytime we shrug at this, democracy withers away.

The time has come.
Public education is under fire.
It’s time you rethink your role. You are not merely an employee hired to teach curriculum. You are a human being teaching children. Not an agent of the state.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “A time comes when silence is betrayal”. He was then speaking of Vietnam, but today we are speaking of education.

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