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Compulsory Standards for a Participatory Framework?

When developing Common Content or Core Standards the first step is understanding that, more often than not, they get in the way of promoting democratic school structures. There is nothing more “undemocratic” than mandating specific knowledge for every individual to know and eliminating all possible choice when it comes to scope and sequence. There is nothing that insults the democratic process more than putting a timeline to statements like “students will know” or “students will be able to” and then punishing them for not being diligent soldiers and memorizing this useless mass of factoids and minutiae while mandating that specific readings and texts be covered within a certain time period.

Even still, rest assured all of you core standard crazies with your request that every kid be able to accomplish “x” when they are “x” years old because I have a proposition. Rather than saying students must master a majority of these standards to be deemed acceptable, why don’t we give students options as to what avenue they choose to pursue and mandate that the core standards revolve around critical thinking and synthesis of ideas rather than core areas. Students would still educated in the core areas (so you can keep having them read Beowulf), but the standards would emphasize that teachers instruct to thought processes and cognitive development rather than “who kicked a pile of dirt in 1700?” I assure you that the former is exponentially more important to students’ future than the latter.

The key with anything that pertains to democracy, or child development for that matter, revolves around the ability to make choices and to understand that there will be different outcomes for each of those choices. Students that are passionate about specific subjects should be afforded the opportunity to develop and display their passion for that course. Making every student take the same assessment devoids the democratic process. While students should have to take four years of English in high school, the specific type of English course they take should be dependent upon their own personal desires and interests as opposed to assuming that all kids need to take one generic, boring English class. This is part of the reason why people enjoy college more and develop more autonomy in their studies during their post-secondary career than they do in grade school.

Having standards are important, but we need to be mindful of the impact that such standards have on engagement and invoking a feeling of democracy, or choice, in students. If we truly care about having our students grow up as participatory members of society and being invested and interested in their own education then we need to eliminate some of the compulsory feeling and replace it with some participatory ideas. That all has to start with how we view standards and what goes on in everyday classes.

About Aaron Eyler

Aaron is a U.S. history teacher in a Central Jersey school district. In addition, to his Bachelor's degree in History and Education certification, he has a Master's degree in Educational Administration and Leadership.


5 thoughts on “Compulsory Standards for a Participatory Framework?

  1. Aaron,

    You capture my “dark side” on this issue. Some thoughts I have had are very similar to what you say, “why don’t we give students options as to what avenue they choose to pursue and mandate that the core standards revolve around critical thinking and synthesis of ideas rather than core areas.”

    I think this is the more progressive means of applying standards and what happens at some institutions of higher education such as Goddard College, College of the Atlantic, Hampshire College, and Evergreen State College. So the question is how do we build these types of programs in K-12 environments?

    Don’t we at some point have to define what skills (emotional, social, cognitive, etc.) that we expect students to have when they graduate?

    How else would we assess them if we didn’t have clearly defined outcomes that they would be judged against?

    Are the Common Core Standards just the wrong standards?


    Posted by Adam Burk | March 15, 2010, 6:12 pm
  2. The standards as they are currently written might as well be titled, “Elitist Bullshit That Proliferates An Antiquated System”. They emphasize a disconnected set of ideas, skills, and priorities that aren’t relevant in the 21st century unless you want to go on to become a scholar or academic. I think we do need to work diligently towards standards that emphasize thinking ( the development of cognitive skills rather than rote memorization. It’s a rather frustrating predicament actually. The sad part is that the people who are drafting the standards are the same individuals who the standards made successful. They were good at “doing school” and all that stuff. We need the standards to represent life and the future of where we see kids going. Sometimes that means realizing that not every kid wants to be Einstein, Zinn, or Hawking.

    So my question is: how do we get real people, teachers, and people from all walks of life to sit down and join a consortium to identify the skills that define success in critical thinking and synthesis of ideas?

    We should probably start by asking them.

    Posted by Aaron Eyler | March 15, 2010, 6:29 pm
  3. Aaron, I also question the relevance of any set of standards more reflective of the past than the future. I also agree with your criticism of our public education system’s efforts to regimentalize learning – a plastic process unique to each child, to each of us, and to the relationships in a classroom. However, I think that having standards is a neutral act. (This may naive, but bear with me. I totally posit that specific standards are highly political.) They are a tool. If part of the democratic ideal is equity, we should try to articulate what it is we want to teach everyone – such as an appreciation for democracy and ways to enact it.

    The Common Core Standards were developed without meaningful student or teacher input, so it’s fair to say they are generally inadequate and lack relevance in some particulars, but the scheduling, tracking, testing, and punishment that we associate with standards are separate adult habits of control that we need to break.

    These are not the democratic standards we would have written, but I think we can take democratic action around them to make sure that they’re embedded in authenic learning and that we discontinue the use of arbitrary adult judgment to determine who gets access to the standards, how they get access, and when they get access. Let’s do something good, reform teaching practice, and create around these imperfect standards more perfect democratic and project-based classrooms.

    I think about the literacy standards (with which I’m most familiar) the same way I think about technology: as the means to learn something more important.

    So let’s hack them into student-designed projects, ignore the atrocious book lists, and start our own standards consortium for 2012.

    Yours in decrying the micromanagement of students we expect to lead our democracy,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 15, 2010, 7:48 pm
  4. What can I say, this pretty much clearly articutes my thoughts and feelings on curriculum.

    Posted by Royan Lee | March 15, 2010, 9:17 pm
  5. I think students should be exposed to as much knowledge as possible, but not to be judged or labeled as our rubrics system is designed to do. Education should be to expand their vision, to achieve agile, creative minds so that they can accept and create change. Education can’t be a one size fits all process, nor a subduing experience with importance placed on the hierarchy. The teacher is there to share the knowledge not to dominate through it. A true leader does not exalt errors or shortcomings but works with the stregnths and assets and allows for the maximum transformation and evolution of their students in different and unique ways. Education should aim to show students the endless possibilities of growth and invention that their minds can achieve , so that they can mature into understanding what they want to place their efforts on and spend their time on. Education is the gateway in finding something they enjoy and can master in their life. In our system we value some subjects as worthier than others, therefore the underlying message is the value of the students according to how and what they excell in. Creating pseudo high achievers or underachievers is what our countable system is doing. Why are we so determined in trying to create robotic stepford or tunnel vision children who will then become that as adults? We need different people carrying out different talents and we need different experts in a spectrum /slew of areas. Our minds need o be open to much but attached to little. We must all encourage the diversity that will later allow the connection of the different talents and achievements so that the whole can become greater than the sum of its parts. With this mentality we must educate, with this mentality we will act democratically,without the tunnel visions, without the ridiculous “accountability” , and the only accountability will be the eagerness to research, to understand, to learn and thus the will to use the mastery acquired to improve their community while creating a life and a living.

    Posted by norma sarmiento | May 12, 2010, 9:25 pm

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