Standards in education create what Slavoj Žyžek calls an ironic distance. One can think of this as a law that is ignored by all including the enforcers of that law. Another way to think about the ironic distance is as a social policy that is accepted by all but denied in practice. The former evokes visions of highway speed limits that are routinely ignored by motorists and only sporadically enforced by the police. The latter brings to mind blatant racism in a nation that claims it has extraordinary civil rights laws on the books. Finally, one might think of ironic distance as the religious leader that engages in illicit sexual relations behind closed doors; preaching one thing and doing quite the opposite. |
Standards in Education and the Ironic Distance
The standards movement in the United States is one dominant, bi-partisan theme in American education. Making the claim that it is impossible to learn unless the student and teacher both understand the subject to be learned and taught. That one cannot know if learning has taken place unless one creates a standardized test to assess learning. On both counts, this argument is based on pie in the sky. No doubt that teachers should be competent in the field they are teaching. They should know their stuff inside and out. Students, however, cannot know what they have not been introduced to. Writing daily learning standards on the board does not help students understand what they have not yet learned.
In the case of the standardized test, the underlying assumption is that learning takes a linear path. In fact, learning is a messy endeavor. Learning comes in flashes, in 'AHA' moments of clarity. Over time, if one were to draw a graph of learning, one would see a wavy line, not a straight one. Furthermore, not all children (or adults) learn at the same pace. Quite the contrary, we all learn differently and at a different pace. To assume that an instrument that is given at a set point in time captures evidence of learning is simply false. Additionally, standardized tests tend to correlate best with IQ tests and not with achievement.
Thinking about the ironic distance we have a case of the rhetoric not measuring up to the performance. By and large, educators are well aware of this fact. Politicians, however, are not. Educators find that they must work inside the confines of this ironic situation without a voice that is recognized as legitimate. Those who suffer based on this policy are students.
Standards in Education and Student Alienation
Standards have another chilling effect on school children. Think for a moment of the six-year-old first grader who doesn't quite measure up to the standard. He or she is labeled as a failure. Now, ask yourself how can any child of six be a failure in any sense of the word. Standards separate, in doing so they create a master-class and a class of alienated students. In a democratic republic, this is unacceptable.
Children do not fail in school, rather politicians fail schools who in turn fail students. Raise your voices and put an end to this madness.
Roger Passman, Ed.D. is a retired professor of language and literacy and secondary education. Prior to teaching at the post-secondary level, he was a middle-school teacher in a large urban public school system. His interests focus on school policy, student-centered teaching and learning, and the teaching of writing. He co-authored a book, Teaching Writing in All Classrooms, published more than 2 dozen papers in scholarly journals, and presented the results of his research internationally. In his retirement he authors the Progressive Education Now Blog. Contributing writers are always welcome. If you wish to write for the blog contact Dr. Passman at Writer Request
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