When “Slavery” Meets the Standard
What a Wisconsin homework assignment shows us about the danger of academic standards
This was the homework question: “Give 3 ‘good’ reasons for slavery and 3 bad reasons. Make notes and then put them into COMPLETE SENTENCES on a separate sheet to prepare for presenting an argument.” There are many things that can (and will) be said for this, but I will only point out one.
The assignment illustrates the underlying problem with creating an education climate where standards and testing drive teaching. Instead of starting with why we teach, then how we teach, and then what we teach, the politics of education often prefers to emphasize the what. It’s believed that focusing on standards, skills, and testing makes education apolitical. What should teachers teach? Oh right, argument and sentences like it says in the standards because they will make children college and career ready.
This homework disturbs me not only because it reduces the gravity and inhumanity of slavery to a ditto, but also because in the context of American education today, the teacher’s supervisor can defensibly say it was good teaching: a homework assignment linked to classroom work (school-home connection) that aligns to a high-leverage standard (teaching argument) and emphasizes students’ literacies (complete sentences). We must discuss as a nation why we have an education system in the first place, a discussion that becomes all the more imperative when you look at how education is defined in each of our fifty states.
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