Pushing the Boundaries

    The other day, Fred the Fish stopped by and left this comment:

. . . As a first year, untenured teacher in California, I ask: how far can we
go before the standards yank our collars and pulls us back? As I plan
summer school, which includes a reprisal of the Vagina Monologues read
by me, I think what I and other new teachers want to be sure of is that
we can still can push the boundaries even with the standards and Arnold
looming over us.
Is this true?

    Interesting question.  As I’m a third-year teacher myself, I’ve thought about lots of similar questions over the last few years.  There’s an implication in Fred’s question that makes me uncomfortable.  Let’s start there.
    By assuming that we need to "push the boundaries" in our classrooms, we’re acknowledging to some degree that we need to work outside of our system in order to be the most effective teachers that we can be.  I wonder about this, and I’ve written about it before.  Do we really need to push the lines because they are in the wrong places, or is there a sense or image of the effective teacher as a renegade, one who challenges the mainstream for the sake of the challenge? 
    Or both?
    While I would certainly argue that there is much in mainstream education that requires adjustment and, in some cases, outright destruction, I don’t know that we need to be able to push the boundaries all the time.  Some stuff is, well, pretty darn good.
    Now, I’m in no way saying that this was Fred’s point — Fred’s question was a fair one.  But I find myself sometimes chomping at the bit to challenge a rule or policy — before I’ve actually through through the logic (or lack thereof) in the rule.
    I like Colorado’s standards.  They’re good reminders of what’s important — without being so restrictive that I feel like I’m just facilitating someone else’s content.  (By the way — there’s a tension here between feeling ownership of what I teach and realizing that, ideally, I am facilitating the learning of the content that is important to a number of different folks — my students and community included.  Can anyone help me tease this idea out more?)   
    We do need to have some guiding principles that are shared across classrooms.  NCTE and IRA have published these .  What guiding documents are y’all using in your classrooms? 
    Do you find them to be helpful, or restrictive? 


5 thoughts on “Pushing the Boundaries

  1. Yes, the standards are important, especially since the final mirrors what’s included in those standards.

    With that said, my view is that Florida’s Sunshine State Standards (SSS) are the basics, and I need to add on to them.

    For instance, the genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are not included in the SSS. However, I nonetheless spend three days on the issue to ensure students are able to link past historical issues with current world history.

  2. You sound like me, arguing with my wife at home (who is also a teacher..) Always dangerous ground to tread, the boundaries are there for a reason, but who puts gets to decide where they sit? Who benefits when they are placed in a certain spot? Ideas of open source curriculum that supports the efforts / needs of a certain space or community come to my mind. In Manitoba we have very clear curricular outomces in all subject areas that it is law that we adhere to; but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be “massaged” to fit the needs of particular classrooms, kids, and communities.

  3. Our Va. state standards are very clear, sifted nicely by our county into the “essential skills” that we are obligated to teach to “mastery”.

    Some of these standards have changed over time, mainly those that were originally unclear, or not appropriately matched to grade level developmental readiness. The uproar about the social studies standards was particulary loud, and it was noted that the group that devised these standards did not include any actual teachers. This was at the very start of the accountability movement in Va (under Gov. George Allen,12-14 years ago), a mammoth Rebublican effort that set the tone for change years before NCLB.

    The social studies standards have changed alot, and now county curriculum guides across the state are more focused than ever on the exact “essential” information that we need to teach, the kids need to know, and the testers put on the test.

  4. Further thoughts on pushing boundaries and clarifying my thoughts …

    I’m wrapping up my first year, mired in state standards and the teaching standards (California). My teaching program had me consider the standards before I created a unit or lesson, so the standards aren’t so much what I think about when I think about pushing boundaries.

    (This will be my usual ThinkWrite with moments of confusion.)

    Across the room, on the shelf of my desk is the NCTE issue with articles about subversive teaching. To me, this is less about subverting standards that I think are useful — shouldn’t we have goals for our students and ourselves to create a consistent, scaffolded educational system? — than it is about subverting conventional wisdom about how my students think. My kids rise to the challenge of conversations that aren’t just about the text, but are about where the text intersects with their lives. Where it intersects with history. Admittedly, that was what interested me, the idea that I could picture a place or time or person through a book and maybe learn more than I could in my dry history class. When I stood on the desk reading a chapter from the Vagina Monologues, I wasn’t forgetting state standards, but I was thinking about engaging my students, getting them to talk about the story, what it mean, what she was saying. And, yes, I wanted them to have some fun, too. I’ve been on a jag of late about how English class systematically kills the love of reading in many of our students. We finished Lord of the Flies this week; many of my students expected most, if not all, of the boys to die because “everyone died in every other book we’d read this year.”
    I want to push the boundaries of their thinking. I don’t want them to change their political allegiances, or stop reading their Bibles, but I hope that I push them to consider other points of view, to hear other voices (and know what that word means, oy).

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