Before I make the connection between this video and our EDL 680 course, I want to first give some background to my purpose for the video. This morning I was doing a service activity with some students, and one of those students is valedictorian of this year’s graduating class. I asked her if she is excited for college (she’s going to Cal), and she replied, “I’m more nervous than anything.” We got to talking and it turns out, she doesn’t feel prepared. She doesn’t know what she is passionate about, nor does she have the life skills needed for life outside of the classroom setting (creating and following a budget, arranging transportation, etc.). Yet she’s going to Berkeley and everyone around her is applauding her accolades. It’s easy for us to shake our heads and point the finger at her parents, or even our school, but who is at fault here?
I remember taking dozens of high-stakes tests throughout my educational career. I was valedictorian. I was very well-rounded in high school and did everything I was supposed to do in class. I was a rule-follower, a nerd, a do-gooder. I also graduated scared, unprepared for the relentless hoops I needed to jump through to earn a college degree. But why? I was a critical thinker and loved to learn, but I was afraid of failing at anything, not being “perfect” on paper.
In the end, I graduated and am now a part of the educational “profession” that once had me petrified of “failure” and of not doing well on any test that would have prevented me from making it that far. In retrospect, I give credit to some amazing teachers I had, even though they simply taught “to the test” much of the time.
But was it really necessary for me to endure such stress? Could I have learned more effectively in a different environment? Did I have to be afraid of failing on a test or in a class? And with technology more readily accessible in today’s classrooms, are teachers using the same pedagogy (albeit delivered “better” with “better” technology)? What if I hadn’t been such a high-achiever, but still loved to learn? Would I have been left behind and expected to find a niche in the low-paying, low-praised workforce? I think there is an giant, authoritative elephant—that being a test-driven, standards-based paradigm—standing in the middle of every public classroom, which every policymaker wants us to ignore.
The toxic culture of education today:
So I found this powerful TED video by Joshua Katz on YouTube, and I immediately found it to be connected to the theme of EDL 680. We talk about creating Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) and presenting to authentic audiences. We discuss amazing technology and tools for learning. But at the heart of every effectively managed classroom, which is the passionate teacher, we have a broken foundation for implementing such amazing ideas. That foundation, which Joshua deems the “toxic culture of education,” is preventing students in all demographics from being able to apply such powerful tools of technology to their fullest potential.
I’m referring to the current paradigm for teaching; abiding by CCSS-based curriculum and the many policies we learn about in EDL 600. I don’t have a perfect solution for all of the problems for holding all stakeholders accountable for high-level learning and teaching, so I won’t vent too much on the issue. Regardless, the fact remains that when we hold students to our strict policies surrounding standards-based learning, we limit their ability to be as creative as they would like to be in the classroom. We rob students of their passion for learning. That’s sad.
Joshua’s passionate talk on this toxic culture of education gave me the chills. He passionately attacks the very system in which he teaches. As a high school math teacher myself, and self-proclaimed nerd, I can honestly say I agree with all of his points.
By strictly adhering to the results of standardized, high-stakes tests as measurements of student success, we can easily lose sight of many other important measurements. Joshua brings up the point that “academic identity is established” with the results of high-stakes test, beginning in third grade, and students begin to “define themselves” by the results. The demands for teachers to abide by such “rigorous” standards, rather than relevant standards, can easily convince them to accept them as the paradigm of choice. What about the non-cognitive factors of character, integrity, perseverance, and social skills? As Joshua states, “We need to start paying attention to our students and who they are.” We need to focus on relevance and imagination. We need to focus on producing better “people” who take risks for the sake of progress, rather than better “students” who use test results as factors of measurement for self-worth.
So as we all learn about Personal Learning Networks, 1:1 laptop-student ratios, innovative projects and authentic collaboration, we must also fight the toxic culture that exists in education. We must accept each student as an individual and dismiss the notion that a test result dictates their identity and ability. Let’s all keep this in mind when we brainstorm ideas for our classrooms in the fall. While we must follow the current paradigm, we can simultaneously put pressure on policymakers to shift their attention to people-centered learning and to hear our voices. Let’s follow Joshua by reestablishing education as a true profession with the students being heard.
Katz, J. (2014 May 2). Toxic culture of education: Joshua Katz at TEDxUniversityofAkron. Retrieved June 14, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnC6IABJXOI