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Philosophical Meanderings

The Hard Path, Part 2

Adam says, “no matter where you are you are a part of a system.”

Forget hierarchy. Forget leading and following. Forget the prevalent notion of executive control over school systems, kids, and “learning.”

In some ways, these ideas seem reductionist and dehumanizing to me; in some ways they capture exactly what I think it means to be human and why we educate children.

What do you think? Are these statements true? Are they self-evident? Challenging? Do they fit both teachers and students?

What implications do they hold for classroom practice? For teacher activism? For acting on our kids’ behalf?

If we let go of being in charge – and accept being a part of – our classrooms, I think we can shift our behaviors towards meeting kids’ needs – especially those related to learning – better than we do now. Kids’ needs compete with what we’re asked to do in delivering content and assessing students’ readiness to pass a standardized test each year. It’s a challenge to juggle both classroom roles – caregiver and testing director. Is it the right challenge?

What if Joe’s North American House Hippo in the classroom is what we’re asked to believe about education? Is what we’re asked to do in raising “student achievement” the same thing as what kids need us to do in caring for them and their learning?

One way to be an activist in a school system with binary, polarized perspectives on the value of student achievement on standardized tests may be to refuse to take sides. I think Adam suggests as much here. Isn’t it insane, in some part or in toto, to put energy into a system that’s tearing kids’ learning apart? Wouldn’t it be saner to venture a, “I would prefer not to test,” and to articulate, instead what it is you will do for kids and their learning?

We are not alone in our classrooms or school systems. Smearing ourselves across the sky of authentic education like so many Leonid meteors doesn’t do much to lift up the folks stuck on the surface of public education. Many of us have cited the importance of initiating dialogue and building trust with our colleagues. I think we also need to start conversations with our leaders about new accountability structures that approach individualized contracts or learning plans for ourselves.

Let me make reasonable objections to giving my students standardized tests. Better yet, let me convince you we can do more important work in our school and community. Excuse me from proctoring and let me and like-minded colleagues and any or all students organize and run an open house of students’ authentic learning in a room apart from the tests on test day. Let us showcase the school, celebrate its students, and feed its stake-holders. Let me ask for your help in setting up the constraints and learning outcomes of the classroom system I share with students, the school, and the community.

Let me be a part of learning, and not above it.


About Chad Sansing

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


5 thoughts on “The Hard Path, Part 2

  1. Well said. I like your approach. I think that is what I was talking about when I said we need to find a place to have a conversation not a argument. I tend to argue, but hope to have conversations.

    Thank you for challenging yourself and sharing that with us. I learn a lot from your reflections.

    Posted by David Loitz | April 29, 2010, 12:46 pm
  2. David, I appreciate your kindness and comment very much. I hear you and worry myself about my propensity to argue when I should converse. Shedding that habit of arguing continues to be part of my life’s work.

    Guess where I picked it up? At school, as a defense against getting picked on by peers. I got all kinds of fulfillment from waging war in class discussions under the watchful eyes of teachers who could keep me from getting bullied in their rooms, but who couldn’t give me a detention for attacking someone’s idea with all the malice I felt I had to face on the bus, in the hallways, and after school.

    Power struggles need to be politely excused from school.

    I have gotten a lot better at listening throughout my career thanks to canny mentorship and generously offered opportunities to facilitate discussions. Thank goodness.

    I look forward to continuing the conversation –

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 29, 2010, 6:55 pm
  3. I just want to say I like this sentiment very much, “You are a part of what your classroom is.”

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 1, 2010, 10:19 am
  4. I think that when we educators (myself definitely included) talk about systems thinking, we talk about designing a system or doing something to it to increase efficiency. I owe you thanks, Adam, for helping me take on another perspective: I am not running the system; I am part of the system.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 1, 2010, 1:57 pm


  1. Pingback: » The Hard Path, Part 2 « Cooperative Catalyst - May 1, 2010

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