My current thoughts about standards
I am concerned that the standards-and-accountability ‘movement’ by its very nature and in practice, despite some perhaps laudable intentions, ends up acting like an elaborate sorting device, crudely separating wheat from chaff.
‘We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.’ -Ken Robinson
I do not assume anything- I would want to question conventional wisdom as well as radical alternatives; I especially want to question elements of the education system that are clearly driven by politics; I certainly do not believe that politics always delivers on what is good for our pupils.
‘Our times are driven by the inestimable energies of the mechanical mind; its achievements derive from its singular focus, linear direction and force. When it dominates the habit of gentleness dies out. We become blind: nature is rifled, politics eschews vision and becomes the obsessive ser4vant of economics, and religion opts for the mathematics of system and forgets its mystical flame. Instead of true leadership which would be the servant of vision and imagination, we have systems of puppetry which are carefully constructed and manipulated from elsewhere. We never know who we are dealing with; hidden agendas operate to deepen our insecurity and persuade us to be hopeless.’ John Donahue
To remain true to our vision, I think it is necessary for us to define our own democratic (as opposed to meritocratic) definition of excellence.
Brene Brown asks some important questions about standards and comparisons in her book ‘Daring Greatly’, ‘Healthy competition can be beneficial but is there constant covert or overt comparing and ranking? Has creativity been suffocated? Are people held to one narrow standard rather than acknowledged for their unique gifts and contributions?’
I think we should believe in excellence for all with no child/ adult left behind. On principle I think we have to believe, have to hope, that all of us could be excellent in our own way. I think we should be determined to enjoy people’s endlessly varied skills, interests, abilities, knowledge and personality traits; to help true individuality to be freely and clearly expressed. For me excellence cannot and should not be an ever shifting gold standard which only some will ever achieve.
‘Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do the work prescribed for it, but a tree that requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces that make it a living thing.’ –John Stuart Mill
As an institution, I think we would define a school’s excellence as much by its fierce determination to keep trying as by its humble acceptance that it is not there yet and may never get there; as much by its individuality as by its commitment to all the individuals within it.
I am mindful that attempts made to measure excellence can lead to limiting definitions of excellence and betray the appreciation and promotion of individuality. Einstein said, ‘Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.’ I think we should look to develop methods of assessment and evaluation which are both significant and promote a sense of self-value. We should value the development of life-long learners over the development of test-takers.
I like Ron Berger’s assertion that it is possible both to meet standards and create authentic work—through the idea that children’s work should be honoured. ‘Once a pupil creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom- work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful – that student is never the same again.’