My students have handed in “final” drafts of their blog posts. I put the final in quotation marks because the post isn’t final until it goes online. But even then, because the student can go in and modify it as much as they want (as can I, but I’m going to restrain myself, intruding only to fix broken links and other formatting issues), it is never really “final.” More about writing and publishing on the Internet that I need to get used to. Publishing anything online is permanent in that it is almost impossible to get rid of, but never concrete in that it can be edited, modified, and reshaped. So much to think about, teach, and learn.
But I digress. I have now read and assigned preliminary grades to my students’ blog posts on education reform. Most of them are pretty good. Some are better than others, both in terms of their ideas and their style. Lots of bitterness about standardized tests and poor teacher quality (keep in mind, these students are mostly the product of rural schools). Some didn’t follow directions, and others let their emotions get the best of them. A few, however, have made me once again re-evaluate the idea of putting these posts online, theoretically, for the world to see.
One of my students argued that we can solve the problems of urban education by creating public boarding schools. Another compared the cultures of different races to show that we don’t need education reform but we instead need to reform cultures. Yet another accused all teachers of being lazy alcoholics who have serious mental issues.
Interestingly enough, we had spoken (albeit briefly) about the idea of residential schools when we watched the trailer for the documentary Schooling the World. Is our only understanding of what it means to be educated sending our kids to school? But we also talked about the challenges that schools and teachers face in overcoming the issues and challenges that students face outside of school. Taking the kids away from their families, though?
I promised the students that I wasn’t going to be evaluating their actual suggestions but instead how well they argue the reform they propose. But it was hard to stomach a proposal that looked to recreate one of North America’s darkest chapters, the residential schools. When I was a PhD student, I taught a man who had been a product of the residential school system in Canada. He told me stories about his experience there, and I couldn’t help but think of him as I read about my student’s grad plan for reforming urban schools (get rid of them and send them all to the country).
And I cringe at what kind of reception an idea like that will receive when it goes live online, both for me and the student. Part of me thinks that I have obviously failed at teaching some of these students the critical thinking skills, or knowledge acquisition skills, they need. Will people reading the blog think these reforms are all ones that I advocated for in class (disclaimer, they aren’t)? Will my student be equipped to deal with the possible mean and vicious backlash that the post will inspire?
But part of me is also proud that I created a classroom environment where students feel like they can take intellectual chances and possibly “fail.” There was something refreshing about reading a few essay that weren’t about how terrible standardized tests are or how awful their teachers were in high school. As misguided as I think their ideas are, some students genuinely tried to think outside of the box for this assignment. For that, I am proud.
But, I’ll let you, dear readers, be the ultimate judge. Visit edreformbyundergrads.wordpress.com. My ego can take it. But go easy on the students. I know the road to hell is paved with good intentions, my students really do mean well. There will be posts appearing throughout the week. Keep visiting or follow me on Twitter (@readywriting) for up-to-the-minute updates.