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Philosophical Meanderings

A Democracy of Learners

Day 350 - Working Together by LShave

Day 350 - Working Together by LShave

Our schools have adopted a capitalistic view of teachers as parts and students as products.

At the policy level, very little #edreform discourse really suggests that we change that.  Of course, when we talk abut #edreform, by and large, we’re talking about doing things to schools, students, and teachersWe’re not talking about changing the way we run schools to be more democratic and participatory with them; we’re talking about how to sort students (college or career) and how to sort teachers (effective or not at teaching to tests).  As a system, in everything we do, we lack nuance.  We so misunderstand the lessons of business and social media – or we’re so eager to legitimize the further standardization (privatization?) of schools, students, and teachers – that we’re still looking for a system-wide fix rather than fixing the system to serve students-as-niches. There’s no other reason for a race than to declare a winner.  There’s no failure grant from the fed.

So, why am I beginning to be optimistic about the Common Core Standards? To borrow a phrase from Parag Khanna’s brilliant TED Talk, I look forward to “the post-colonial entropy” of life after state standards.

I think that the Common Core Standards could be the squiggly lines that break through state borders and lead to reforms in authentic teaching, learning, and assessment.

I’m imagining the benefits of networked teachers finally being able to work on the same thing: how to teach democratically, authentically, and effectively through project-based learning.  As No Child Left Behind gave us common language around the Achievement Gap, maybe the Common Core Standards will give us common language around improving classroom practice.  If we no longer have to worry about how my standards differ from yours – how your lesson wouldn’t work in my classroom because of state requirements – then maybe we can work proactively to translate the Common Core Standards into direct experience with democracy, social learning, service, entrepreneurship, and invention.

We have the PLN.  We have the Common Core Standards.  Our collective energy can give them authentic, democratic, project-based life in the classroom.

We have a moral obligation to do good with these standards.  They get rid of state standards as barriers to collaboration.  Moreover, if President Obama’s ESEA reauthorization blueprint survives passage into law, we’re going to be given back a lot of flexibility at the state and local levels to “fix” what’s “wrong” with our schools.

The success or failure of the ESEA reauthorization in eliminating the Achievement Gap and graduating students prepared to thrive in our democracy rests on us teachers and our students according to how much we truly let them to own their learning.  We can combine the core standards with the ESEA’s renewed freedoms to teach and learn to rekindle our students’ – and the public’s – faith in education and imagination of what’s possible at school.

We can be an un-union of networked professionals with no other agenda than the reformation of public education through individual and collective action online and in the classroom.  We can talk the standards and act on best practices in authentic learning.  We can deliver on all that said we couldn’t do under NCLB.

United by common standards, our relationships with one another and with students, and this historic opportunity to be again the teachers we want to be, we can carry in our pockets and practice in our classrooms a democracy of learning.

Just don’t mind the book lists.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


3 thoughts on “A Democracy of Learners

  1. Chad,

    I appreciate your use of the Common Core Standards as leverage to move the educational system. It is a place I struggled to get to. As you mention it will depend on the collective force of teachers to use these standards for good rather than more of the same. If we fail then it will be more of the same, teachers and students will just be widgets producing standards for stamps of approval.

    Do you currently employ project-based learning in your classroom and school? Do you think these Common Core Standards are good or the right standards? I don’t think all students need to know calculus to be work-ready, and it certainly doesn’t apply to many college-tracks or careers. Should such standards be optional? Should there be “real-life” math standards as a mandate instead?

    Thanks for your clear articulation. I strongly agree with you that we have a “moral obligation to do good with these standards.


    Posted by Adam Burk | March 15, 2010, 6:33 pm
  2. Thank you for the great comment and questions, Adam. Working in a language arts classroom, I feel like I can design relevant work – including projects – and then align our work to our very general reading standards. There’s little difference between my current state standards and the Common Core Standards for reading. I’m okay with them, but like Aaron, I disagree with a lot of the structures we’ve built around them.

    I have a less accommodating view of more content-specific standards like those in history and science that lack relevance and context.

    I think high schools – with standards aligned to particular classes in subjects like math – do a better job of differentiating standards according to the courses students “chose” to take than middle schools do.

    What I’d really like to see is a parent/18-year-old trigger to let students opt out of testing entirely. Kids who opt out wouldn’t count for or against a school. I would love to see parents and kids engaged in making such a choice. To me, it doesn’t seem particularly democratic to compel testing. Imagine if schools had to schedule sections of kids testing and kids not testing. How long would it be until everyone opted in to standardized test-free courses aligned to standards, but not fettered by end-of-course multiple choice tests? What else could we fund in support of learning with another $75-$100 of liberated test costs per kid? What portfolios and performances could we invest in instead? What learning could we discover?

    What do you think?

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 15, 2010, 8:23 pm
  3. Chad,

    I like your thinking about options of test-free course alternatives. I think that is a fair compromise to begin the transition. I would love to invest the money saved in students’ passions instead.


    Posted by Adam Burk | March 15, 2010, 9:03 pm

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