In college, I had a classmate who cried openly about the limitation of highways and how they restricted her freedom. At the time, we found it odd that someone could experience so much pain over something that we viewed as arbitrarily mundane.
As I have gotten older and further removed from her tears, her concern with traffic control has stayed with me. While many see traffic control as a form of safety, to her it was a restriction of freedom.
It is this restriction of freedom that undergirds, I believe, many opposed to academic standards. As a former teacher, and one who has worked side by side with teachers, I understand that the one thing many of us love about teaching is the use of our creativity. As a result, many find standards offensive in that for some, it strips them of their creativity.
I, on the other hand, have found that academic standards, mainly those in Wisconsin, have fueled my creativity. It was not that I needed standards to give me ideas on what to teach. Instead, I found that they gave me freedom to teach in a way that was relevant for my learners.
Textbooks did not do that. Textbooks—in how they are written, in how they are organized and in how they use symbolic images—often times disenfranchised my learners from the learning process.
I had students who were English language learners, special needs learners, low-income learners and learners of color. And through all of these classifications, many of them would look at the textbooks as though something had just landed in front of them from outer space.
When I was textbook bound, I went to great lengths to get students to care about learning because in the construction of those textbooks, it looked as though no one had cared about them!
Standards on the other hand were amazing! They told me what knowledge and skills were important for the well being of the collective while giving me room to connect them to the developmental needs of each individual child. Win-win!
Another win of academic standards is that it allows us to be developmentally appropriate while still holding ourselves accountable to the achievement of all children. Standards are typically not grade-level bound. In Wisconsin, standards are pushed by benchmarks for 3rd, 8th and 12th grades.
Standards don’t hold students back if they need more than a year to develop a specific concept. They also don’t hold students back if students need to work ahead. All they say is that by 3rd grade, 8th grade and 12th grade students must have mastered a cocktail of knowledge, skills and dispositions.
I will admit that to a degree, standards may limit teacher creativity. But just as we all give up some of our individual rights as humans to live in a civilized state as citizens, we too must be willing to see the greater value of academic standards.
We must understand that standards give us a way to bypass the ultimate restrictions of textbooks to create personally and culturally relevant activities and projects for our learners. We must understand that standards give us some hard-press mandates for achievement in which we can hold ourselves accountable while at the same time giving room for us to respond to the unique developmental needs of each individual learner.
A Standard for Creativity and Achievement
Finally, we must understand that standards (publicly shared and integrated) equip students with the power to take ownership of their own learning and join teachers in the pursuit of true creativity.
I think for those of us truly willing to put student safety and wellness first, before our own personal desires for absolute freedom, we will realize that we can truly have both. We can have creativity and achievement. This is a win-win worth considering!
But, for those of us rightfully wrestling with some deeper issues of personhood, any limitation of freedom can come across as an imposition. Sometimes our resistance of organizational structures is not always about our social rights as beings, it is about our personal pain with powerlessness.
I hope more teachers, those intended to pursue goodness, can get behind academic standards for their inherent value more than their utilized limitations.