29 May 2007

A Response to Another Casualty of the School System

Joanna sent this response to my previous post by email, reproduced here with her permission:
I keep on encountering this problem (as a teacher) underlying many effects in the institution I work for. I see the bureaucracy, administration and faculty, rearranging the deck chairs with alacrity but unable to look at the deeper problem. I feel deeply uncreative and useless in the face of it. It has something to do with self-organizing principles and finding a new way to see accomplishment, but how to fit that in to what already exists is beyond me.

The terrible thing is, the student didn't play the game. The rules were either not explicit or not followed. This is what I tell my students, that by paying for this course they have signed up for a game in which the institution makes the rules, and I provide them with a checklist of the rules they need them to follow in order to get a good grade – down to one mark for the title, one mark for a topic sentence etc. In one course, I have the ability to get them to make the rules they will follow, but this course is under attack as not being academic enough (!)

The paradigm is parallel to all the other systems the school society is built on. If students do something else that shows great learning and real thought, I have limited flexibility on the grade I can assign because one of the institution's values is Consistency. Is this useful learning? Absolutely not. Rule-following is a skill made largely obsolete by computers. Yet it is the box I am logically forced into by my contract, the need to defend contested grades, and the general incomprehension of what I am talking about when I try to engage colleagues on the topic of working with the change in student’s worlds rather than against it.

What's next? I keep feeling that if I could just come up with some kind of vision of what the future might look like, I could steer a path toward it from here. What will people be paid for in the future? The ability to find answers and execute? Can we teach our students to connect to their own internal drive to discover answers, and can we come up with a better way for them to prove they can do it than grades and useless assignments? Would love to hear your thoughts, and I will continue to ponder it.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue as well. Comments are open!

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1 comment:

Michael said...

I'd suggest that one of the most valuable things that a teacher can do is to teach students how to game the system, when the system is so desperately crying out to be gamed.

>If students do something else that shows great learning and real thought, I have limited flexibility on the grade I can assign because one of the institution's values is Consistency.

What are some of the other values? You could always cite Emerson--"a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."