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Wisdom, Standards and the Educated

For those of you who regularly look forward to me pontificating about The Great Literacy Debate, please don’t be disappointed. I have broadened my horizons, you might say; and I am taking a deeper look at what has led us to the point where we are today. I’ve been reading a collection of essays by Alfie Kohn titled What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? about standards and testing, among other things. I’ve been discussing the virtues of knowledge v. wisdom with my PLN; and, after reading a post by Clarence Fisher on his blog today, I was excited to see that I wasn’t the only one pondering these questions. I’ve just given quarterly benchmark tests to my fourth grade students in reading, math and writing. I’ve reviewed the results. I have come to the conclusion that I am not particularly interested in how they relate to proficiency. But why don’t I care? Should I?

What does it mean to be well educated?

How would we define that for an adult? Most adults that I know do not measure their level of success or education by their ability to pass a test that covers a basic ability to memorize facts and apply minimal thinking skills. Success in the job market, in my experience, comes from one’s ability to continually learn and adapt, while offering a unique contribution to the betterment of one’s profession as a whole.

How would this definition of success apply in the classroom? It is not about a list of facts to memorize, essays to write or tests to pass. It is about the acquisition of a set of skills that helps children to develop the ability to locate and evaluate information in a changing world. It is about learning to actively engage in conversations where everyone has a contributing voice in solving problems and developing positive solutions. Students would move away from an academic world that pushes like-minded thinking and competition and move toward a world where the opinions of all contribute to a common goal.

It would, of course, require a new set of standards, a total overhaul in how we “set the bar” for our students. In my opinion, Alfie Kohn sums it up beautifully, saying that standards should

“offer broad guidelines for helping students to think like mathematicians [writers, scientists, historians, etc.]. [These] sort of standards supported by practical guidance, can help students reason carefully, communicate clearly, and get a kick out of doing so.”

What if this is the set of criteria that guided classroom instruction? I can only imagine how “educated” I would find my students and my own children. Let’s celebrate this in our classrooms and with our children. In my personal experience, it would be the wise thing o do.


One Response

  1. Nice post. I agree that it’s really important that we don’t narrow down education (or literacy) to just a list of basic skills or achievement on narrow standardised testing, when in reality, achievement and learning are measured on much broader terms, with the ability to know how to learn and think being paramount (and aspects which are difficult to assess by mere standardised testing alone).

    In some ways I think you could sum it up by saying that “reading to learn is as important as learning to read”.

    I have a few assignments from my masters on my blog that people may be interested in, discussing the teaching of thinking, diversity in literacy, engagement in reading and engagement and identity in writing.


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