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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

Turf Wars and Democracy

This week’s catalyst question is “How are students, teachers, and administrators fostering or getting in the way of democratic education?” My post will show that fostering or inhibiting democratic actions sometimes happens deliberately and sometimes not so purposefully.

I am a Gifted Resource Teacher and in my system, that means that quite a bit of my time is spent working with teachers and less than half in direct services with kids. (We have a 60/40 model–60% of my time should be supporting teachers’ growth in differentiating in their own classrooms and 40% of my time should be direct services to kids.) Those of you who know anything about me know that I do a TON of interacting outside of school with my kids on wikispaces.

So a teacher approached me at the beginning of the school year and asked about several of her students, saying she would be watching and working with them to assess for possible inclusion or nomination for gifted services.  Great!  Just what teachers SHOULD be doing.

A month or so ago, a fourth grader came to me and asked for a wiki. Again, those of you who have read anything from me know I am incredibly thoughtful about monitoring my students online. (See my blog on monitoring wikis.) While this is not a kid I work with on a regular basis, he is one I have supported in a variety of ways throughout his school years, and knowing he had an older brother who had been on wikis with me before, I decided to support this request. Conversing with the older brother and parents through the older brother’s wikimail, I set the kid up on wikispaces, and am monitoring his wiki work, which is ALL being done outside of school. Part of my reason for supporting him was to assess what he would do in this pretty independent situation, as he is one of those kids the teacher spoke to me about and is considering nominating for gifted identification.  I want to see just how creative he’ll be, how motivated he is and how he’ll follow through on his desire to have and build an wiki.

I got this wikimail with the subject line “confused” from him on Friday: “Can I put uneducational games on my website? My teacher says that I can only put educational games on it.”

Now I’m confused.  What does his teacher have to do with his wiki that I set up and that I monitor?  The rules he and I agreed upon was that he could be as creative as he wanted as long as whatever he posted would be something his parents, our principal and I would be okay with and preferably proud of as well. So where does the teacher have any say in what he puts up there, and why is she getting involved?

Now you may think I am having turf issues, but that’s not really my issue.  My issue is that the teacher is interfering with my assessment of this kid, by imposing HER rules on his wiki.  I planned his interaction with his wiki so that he would have free rein, so I could see what he would do–which passions he would choose to pursue, what his interests are and how he would organize his wikiworld to show who he is and what he cares about. The structures SHE is imposing on OUR work is causing it NOT to be a robust assessment.

In a democracy, don’t people have free choice?  Don’t those choices get to be INDIVIDUAL ones as long as they follow the law and don’t harm other people or their belongings?

And, in a democracy, don’t people have avenues to pursue their passions, their interests and try things out they have never done before, if they choose to?

Since when, in a democracy, does everything in a school HAVE to be educational? AND, isn’t a 10 year old learning how to publish online educational?

Wikispaces is NOT connected with our school system–it is a free online website creation tool.  I set this kid up to to do this outside of school–not taking any school time, or any time from the classroom teacher. I don’t even work with him on wiki skills–I trust his brother to do that at home.  It is a child’s PERSONAL wiki, not one associated with any class I teach or with any particular subject.

YET a school structure is being imposed to keep him from being creative, from showing me his thinking, his interests and his work.

So how did this come about?  Well, I never mentioned the wiki to her, so he must have–and that was definitely an oversight on my part! While I was under the impression it is being done outside of school, perhaps he has been working on it in his classroom.  If he has been, I am hoping he had permission, but if he just had free time on the computer, he may have made an assumption that he could. AND if he was working on something while in her classroom, do her rules prevail? In a democratic school, should or shouldn’t the rules be the same?

How many teacher structures do we impose, thinking we are doing the right thing when we may not have all of the information we need to impose (or not) a reasonable restraint?  And, how many times does something like this happen because teachers have varying expectations of kids working on wikis, or varying definitions of what “educational” means?  How many times do kids get caught in the middle of adult behaviors because of lack of information or communication?

So what is this child learning about democracy? What will this child learn tomorrow when the teacher and I actually talk about this situation? Will he have any choice in the matter?  Will he even have any say in the decisions being made about him and his wikiwork?  And, should he?  In which specific parts of democratic ideals should we be providing practice for our students?

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About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning

Discussion

2 thoughts on “Turf Wars and Democracy

  1. Paula,

    You bring up lots of great points, I want to begin with your question of in a democratic school, should all the rules be the same? I think ideally yes. For one, this exemplifies democratic decision making, and it reduces stress on students. When classroom cultures are relatively the same, students don’t need to worry about remembering what they can do in one classroom versus another. They don’t need to worry about navigating teacher’s personalities in way that is usually not helpful. Remembering that in Mr. B’s room it is okay to get up and go to the bathroom, while remembering that Ms. T is going to explode if I do, is an unnecessary burden on the student I believe.

    Posted by Adam Burk | March 23, 2010, 6:17 am
  2. Paula, your post reinforces for me a nascent conviction: the last thing we need to do is try to regulate student learning outside school. We should be making school look more like that unregulated, playful learning. Not only does it let us better assess students’ learning by removing dependence on the hidden tricks we teach about how to please us, but it also lets students exercise joy and freedom in learning.

    Learning probably can’t be all be free play without inquiry, a focusing constraint, or feedback, but playful learning shouldn’t be devalued by adults’ judgments of what learning looks like.

    What professional development resources or advice would you offer first followers in providing for and assessing playful learning?

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 23, 2010, 7:58 am

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