What is wrong with school?

This is a question; I don’t claim to have answers. Just more questions.

When I think about our struggle with students, some of the articulated problems are plagiarism, as well as working strategically to get the best mark, often the mark for what is perceived to be the most important subjects. We lament that our students are not well read, do not have a desire to learn, do not go beyond the confines of the task, do not demonstrate creativity or innovative ideas. Cannot think critically, do not have a global understanding of their world, have enormous gaps in their knowledge, are abandoning the Arts, sleep in class, do not engage in discussion in class.

What are we to do?

And yet we have a system whose focus is on marking, is working to perfect assessment and data collection as if this efficiency were a valuable achievement. A system which frustrates us in the struggle to cover enough curriculum content so that there is time for students to write an essay or take a test, and for us to grade these things and enter them into a spreadsheet. We are unhappy, we can’t keep up, we complain about the students, we complain about the expectations put on teachers. We are part of a system that is designed to fail us all.

My tirade has been released by the reading of Jesse Stommel’s presentation: If bell hooks made an LMS: Grades, radical openness, and Domain of One’s Own. There is much more in Jesse’s text than here but still. My tirade.

“Grades are not good markers of learning. They too often communicate only a student’s ability to follow instructions, not how much she learned. A 4.0 or higher GPA might indicate excellence, but it might also indicate compromising integrity for the sake of a grade. Within this system, you would have to.

Grades don’t reflect the idiosyncratic, subjective, often emotional character of learning.

Grades encourage competitiveness over collaboration. And supposed kindnesses like curves or norming, actually increase competitiveness by pitting students (and sometimes teachers) against one another.

Grades aren’t fair. They will never be fair.” (Jesse Stommel)

And earlier in his post:

“We have built an educational system that puts far too much emphasis on grades, and we shouldn’t blame students for the failures of that system. Grades also motivate, in at least some small way, every tool developed by edtech software and hardware engineers. The grade has been coded into all our institutional and technological systems.”

Can we make positive changes within the system? Do the changes to curriculum and technological advances achieve what we aspire to in terms of learning and teaching?

Enough from me for now.

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