Learning Standards

15 Feb

“This is how I expect your papers to look,” my elementary school teacher said, and she showed the class a paper–a perfectly set up, neat, bound, typed paper that was three pages long and in perfect order.
Only later did I find out that she wasn’t showing us a paper made by one of our peers, she was showing us a paper written by one of her high-school students. An impossible goal.
I think this was incredibly unfair. There we were, being presented with what we thought was good work made by an average student, when the thing wasn’t even written by a peer at all. Of course we were completely taken in. The thing is, I can hear the teacher saying something like “If I place a high standard people will do better work.”
Hm. For one thing there’s an incredible amount of study written about impossibly high standards and how they can be destructive. That line of thinking would go on to assume that if she plonked Romeo and Juliet in front of us we’d all be Shakespeare. Also, having to live in a “this is what I expect my paper to look like” world, I have a problem with that in general.
Yes, I think kids should have to write, because writing is the best way to instill knowledge. However, book reports and things like that–do they work? Do kids really think when they write these things? Why couldn’t they journal, or make things themselves? Maybe they aren’t developed enough, I don’t know, but it seems like a better way of teaching would be to say, I’m going to show you this information, I want you to show me how you know it. I bet there’s be surprising results!
One example is how for years as a kid I knew my times tables, but I hadn’t the foggiest idea as to what multiplying was. Just like someone who knew a few sentences in French cannot express their own ideas, I could only do the problems, I could not apply them.

And as an adult, what does learning mean? What are standards? I hear people say all the time, there must be standards, we need standards, stricter standards! Do we? How does one navigate all these invisible lines the standard makers stretch from thing to thing? Doesn’t it less look like a goal and more like a net as people pile more standards on when the current standards don’t work according to standard? Oh God, I just had an awful vision of the middlest of middle managers the world round getting together to make standards on making standards, and I can just see how their book, filled with toothpaste smiles and neutral ambi-racial people sitting on lawns laughing, would go on and on with numbers and lines and leave everybody scratching their heads even harder.

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