Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dangers of National's Standards; let's get as mad as hell!

Intelligence testing on Ellis Island for immigrants entering the land of the free. Testing has had a long history sorting out people using doubtful measures. Nothing has changed it seems. Testing reflects the 'mindsets', or ideology, of those who set the tests.

I recently read about a book 'Wounded by School' and ordered it on Amazon. By chance I happen to read an online discussion about the very book.

It ties in well with the current standards debate.

The discussion centred on all those who have not found schooling to their liking . It seemed to sum up the sad story behind the phrase 'achievement tail'- a tail created by outdated mono cultural schools and by the political decisions that force citizens to live lives of poverty and then blamed for their situation.

That there is a real need to face up to the human destruction created by political decisions of the past was written passionately about by Kerre Woodham in one of her recent Herald on Sunday columns. She describes the actions of the mindless violence caused by gangs as young as eight or so. This is the result of the underclass created by decisions beyond the influence of individual citizens.

Introducing national standards will only add to the sense of failure we are creating in too many of our students from low socio economic schools.

Findlay McDonald, a Sunday Times columnist, writes that they are 'an updated version of the Victorian schoolroom where students have it drummed into them early as possible that they either successes or failures'. He continues that, 'national standards are a sentimental yearning for some imagined golden age when the three Rs ruled' .He continues, 'they will prove nothing more than what we already know - poor kids from poor backgrounds at poor schools will struggle, while comparatively privileged, middle and upper classes thrive regardless...the Minister is unable to present evidence to support the introduction of the national standards.'

Back to 'Wounded by School' comments.

The author says that kids take on the identities of being "smart" or"dumb" as a result of their experiences and that as teachers we lose track of the effect of schooling on kids. Teachers, she says, see the need to gain an education but, for all that, too many of our students still leave 'wounded'.

One contributor, a retired school superintendent, writes that 'teachers are force fed programmes with the only real concern being the raising of standardized test scores' and 'fears that ill-advised emphasis of the test being the end-and be-all is setting the country's future on a course of economic doom'. He writes about the pressure being put on teachers to perform and as a result many teachers are disheartened and worn down.

Is this the future for New Zealand?

The author writes that 'we as teachers have to seize hold of the profession. We need to move out of passively complaining about these polices, dry our eyes, stand up and get as mad as hell.'

Rather than testing students for achievement we ought to 'set growth targets around engagement for students' and the she would want 'every teacher to engage in an intensive professional training that defines what does powerful teaching and learning look like at our school'?

The author is skeptical about the viability of conventional classrooms and structures of schools as we live in them currently
; she is talking about schools the USA. In particular she is urgently believes that we need to get rid of old fashioned high schools which she is amazed are still with us. She sees such dysfunctional schools as 'minimum security prisons'; to make them less 'wounding' is the immediate challenge; to make school less about control and domination; and less about atomisation and alienation. To do this teachers will have to face up to what is going on within schools and to look at the way power operates and who is being served by current arrangements.

If she had the power she would bring 'increased inquiry into all subjects until the senior year was really a series of (ideally) interdisciplinary open ended projects'...all this 'must increase the intrinsic motivation and optimizes the students effective learning skills'. Teachers, she says, need 'facilitate' and not 'deliver'; not to 'present' information but discuss critical and research topics. Students need to learn that real learning is often hard and involves struggle. Cognitive engagement -achieving 'flow' as as a learner - actually means being challenged but the task has to be relevant and we have to enjoy how we are learning.

To this she believes we need to have a national debate on the purpose of schooling.

Our current emphasis on standardization is wounding children -even those deemed successful. Students are unconsciously shaped by the school experiences they experience - or for many endure.

National standards will simply and efficiently 'wound' even more students creating in the process an growing number of disengaged, alienated and, all too often, angry citizens.

As teachers we should get as mad as hell.

I sure am.

I await the arrival of the book.

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