"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Who else would title it?": Scripting Students to Death

While it may seem to be little more than semantics to argue about whether teachers are the most important factor in student learning or teachers are the most important in-school factor in student learning, there is now little room to debate that how teachers are being mandated to treat students is inexcusable.

The rise of "no excuses" assumptions and practices are creating charter and public schools that provide for "other people's children" a culture of shame, but we often fail to recognize as well that the last thirty years of accountability have created schooling as an endless series of scripts for children to follow.

Consider this scenario shared with me just yesterday by email from a teacher in an urban charter school:
Favorite student story of the day: 
I assigned their first writing project today -- a personal literacy narrative because we just finished reading the narrative of Frederick Douglass (our class mantra is “literacy is liberating”). On my rubric/guidelines I wrote,  "Don't forget to give your narrative a unique title -- this is the first thing a reader will see!"
This is the conversation that followed:

An honors student: You mean we have to title the paper ourselves?

Me (with a snarky tone): Yes. who else would title it?

All students in unison: The teacher!

Me: Are you serious?

All students: Yes

Me (took a deep breath): If I catch anyone titling their paper "My Literacy Narrative," you will lose points, and I will make you wear a name tag that says, "Hi, my name is boring."

Multiple students began frantically erasing the top of their papers.

Apparently, every paper their freshman year was titled for them. [emphasis added]
 This mindlessness is what the accountability era has wrought.

If the teacher is the most important factor (or in-school factor) in a student's learning, then the scripted classroom bent on test-prep is guaranteed to produce only one thing: Mindlessly obedient and incapable young people.

That may benefit our two major political parties filled with Clowns and offering us endless Circuses, that may benefit Corporate America seeking a cheap and inter-changeable workforce, but that doesn't serve our hopes of Democracy and Equity...

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