Monday, September 15, 2014

Standards! We Don't Need No Stinking Standards! - Or Do We?

“It is a fools errand to search for a teacher-proof curriculum” (Ayers, pg. 75)  Is anyone really looking for this?

My father’s method of discipline was to have me and my brothers kneel against the wall.  I know that have long lost track of the many hours that I have spent kneeling flat (knees, hips and shoulders) against the wall - arms held out to the side.  My brothers were smart enough to give in to his demands so that they could get up.  I was much too stubborn to give in so easily.  Even when I knew that I was wrong I refused to give in and so I knelt.  One night in particular I stayed there from 8pm until nearly 2am due to a refusal to do my homework.  I know few people more stubborn than myself (two of them - my wife and daughter - live in my house) - the others are all teachers.  We are a people that do not like being micromanaged.

As I read Ayers, I felt that he was trying too hard to vilify the standards that are meant to guide instruction by depicting those standards and those who write them as somehow “killing learning (pg. 74).  I think that the only people who can really kill learning are the teachers in the classrooms.  Perhaps they too do not like to be told what to do or perhaps they do not like the changes that come along every few years with the advent of newly released standards.  Either way, it has been my experience that the standards are merely a means of keeping a large number of educators across a wide range of schools accountable to teaching the same or similar material.  Thus, making it easier to to identify effective schools and ineffective schools via the use of standardized tests - delving into the issues behind and within those standardized tests is beyond the scope of the this piece.   

Later, Ayers presents the “3 common beliefs about actors that stood in the way of greatness … Great actors find a seed of authenticity to move from caricature to complex, living human beings” (pg. 96).  Isn’t this at the core of every good teacher?  Any standard that I have ever seen, read, used, or otherwise was simply a list of principles that ought to have been taught during the year in a high school science class.  At no point did I come across any dictate about how those principles were to be taught (although that would make my life simpler at times).  The complex task of bringing those principles to life for the students is left to the teacher.

While “curriculum is more than pieces of information …” there are still pieces of information that students must learn in order to make deeper meaning - both shaded and with different meaning - of more complex systems.  


  1. Gabe,
    Your thoughts on standards are some that echo the way that I feel about them as well. I think, (and I could be wrong) that because standards are not constantly shoved down our throats, and our students are not 'formally' tested on meeting the standards that our private schools tend to be a lot more lax on them. I think that the standards are meant to unify us as educators, but unfortunately in some cases the standards end up being dividers of educators. Also, the idea that all around the country, students in for example a 10th grade classroom should be learning the same thing is really nice...that way if students have to move they are not behind or learning something completely different. I can totally relate to the idea that teachers hate to be micromanaged...I want to be in control of my classroom, and I can understand how standards would make teachers feel like they were not in control of their own classroom.

  2. I agree with you 99.9%, Gabe! The .1% I would add is that not only are standards in place to keep ALL teachers in line, but when universally implemented like we do here in MA, they make a lot of sense. Granted, the list is too long and often overwhelming, but in all honesty, I like our World Languages Curriculum. And like you point out, even in spite of having our standards dictate what we do, it is really WE the teachers who enact our curricula in our own unique and wonderful ways. So like you, I think they're there for good reason. When they're well-written, they're even helpful, especially for first-time teachers trying to figure out what to plan. Seems like you, Allie, and I are all pretty much in the same camp on this!

  3. I do not have any problem with the standards. I also think that they are necessary and helpful. I have been going to PDs on the new science standards for a few years now...since the beginning of what changes should be made in the science curriculum. I have never felt hindered by them I can teach and be as creative as I want. I can also differentiate the curriculum so that all my students can learn the way they learn.The problem I have is how students are assessed the same way with standardized testing.