Baden-Powell all the Boys and Betty Crocker all the Girls

Thanks to Mark Shelley’s post about grading.

“Examinations are of use only so far as they test the child’s fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of most service and where he can receive the most help.”
John Dewey

I would like to talk about examinations and working with groups of people that are larger than, oh, say, five. And I would like to ponder making observable changes in another person’s behavior and the hope that the change will continue even while we cannot see it for ourselves. And talk about the challenges that creates. I would like to ponder big groups, like countries, and how the leadership/management of them can determine classroom expectations and policies and even grading criteria. But I can’t. I just can’t breathe.

I want to talk about the “air conditioned” air that leaves us sitting in dull rooms staring out the window at the beautiful and challenging world around us. I want to talk about the air conditioning we blast into our safe classrooms with so there is little chance of failure and how such clear cut standardized rules, exacting syllabus expectations, and Scantron tests might help us dumb-down expectations. I want to talk about our tidy expectations that come down from a Pearson textbook or PARCC or the next massive corporate/political entity, that will make it easy to execute the multiple choice questions and make it clear who is fit and who is not. I want to talk about the disconnection we are developing with the world around us and our obsession with machinery and numbers that is throwing us into a metallic and data driven dystopia.

I want to talk about our industrialized history of trying to create cookie cutter and “bakeable” students who have so much in common and so many unifying characteristics even when we know real strength is only found in rich and deep diversity. I want to talk about how that very diversity challenges us in large groups, particularly in classrooms. I want to talk about strategies for overcoming the misuse of high stakes testing and the simple rote learning methodology so prevalent in all classrooms. I want to talk about our “one size fits all” mentality and the notion of individualized instruction. Real individualized instruction. I want to talk about field trips, trombone lessons, sitting under trees, and the potential learning that accompanies truly challenging situations. I want to talk about crafting danger.

I want to talk about “canned courses” and how the further we push teachers from the brilliantly diverse choreography of learning the closer we get to a grey clad and uniform classroom experience and how we may yet reach the nightmarish nirvana of a computer grading all our students work. I want to talk about easy and how making things easy just might hurt us. Or talk about how it already has. I want to talk about who is really “in charge” of the classroom instruction, the learning objectives, and the grading. And how and why it is the way it is. I want to talk about why I hear, “It is easier to grade that way,” from teachers. I want to talk why we think “easy to manage” is a good thing. I want to talk about the dangers of easy. So I did.

Things That Are Not Easy-- Todd Conaway

image by Alan Levine on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/12167440694

I want to talk about people and learning. I want to talk about things other than numbers and data. I want to talk about relevancy and meaning. And purpose. I want to talk about formative assessments that are better than the institutional and national placement tests that we now use to herd the sheep. I want to take a step backwards and slow down. I want to talk about ideas of the past that we have somehow forgotten. I want to talk about the people from the past who reformed education and how their messages are still incredibly relevant and much needed in our classrooms. I want to talk about the value of experience. And how rich the world is with experiences and how often we forget to take our students out to meet it and play in it.

I want to talk about smelling the roses and not being too busy to spend time improving my craft. I want to talk about the value of reflection and the time it takes to reflect deeply. I want to talk about how we might have to work harder to learn how to be better. Even when we think we already work real hard. I want to talk about how difficult learning is and how often we take the easy way out. Even as teachers.

I want to talk about the difference between leadership and management. I want to talk about our focus on money and testing. Our focus on competition with other people and other countries. I want to talk about the media and how it uses us. Even when we think we are immune to it.

I want to write about wanting. And how that is different from offering solutions. I want to write about these things. So I will.

Today I wanted to talk about grading, but I can hardly breathe.

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