Sitting on the Fence

I feel as though we are becoming more and more polarized in our country, especially in education. Often we find ourselves in discussions where it is either left or right and we can’t be in the middle for fear of being looked upon as apathetic. Everyone wants to think they are right and therefore that others are wrong. The more and more discussions like these I find myself in the more I think sitting on the fence is the best way to go.

Now there are certain things that we can never sit on the fence with. Students should always be treated fairly, with respect and dignity. However, there are many things within the educational realm with extremely polarized views.

Some teachers swear by their grade books as an integral part of their teaching. They would think it blasphemy to hear the outrages claims of those saying we need to rid out schools of grades. On the other hand there are those that see no value in grades as a means of feedback and that our classrooms would be better off without them. I would rather sit in the middle and acknowledge most traditional grading practices are archaic and should be reflected upon and revised. If we are up front about what we grade, how it is graded, why it is graded, and detailed feedback on the grading process in our class it is ok. Myself, I use standards based grading as a middle ground. I am able to clearly communicate to students and parents progress made toward a set of learning standards. There is no guess work as to how the grades are determined or what goes into the “A”.

Standardized Testing:
This is one that I may get heat for but again, there is a middle ground here. The issue as I see it is the amount of money spent creating, preparing, administering and grading these assessments. In addition, the amount of class time spent preparing and taking these tests is at a great cost to learning opportunities. Can’t we use small tests to gather the same data? How accurate is this data if so much time is spent teaching to the test? The tests themselves are a greater indication of teacher preparedness rather than student learning progress. If we instead down play their role and use them as snap shots or basic skills only, they can have little use for us. With technology we can offer more solutions with less hindrance on the classrooms themselves.

Standards and Common Core:
This is a hot topic right now with the advent of the Common Core standards and their role in the future of education in many states. On one hand there are the advocates of strict standards and increased rigor as the only means of “saving” education in our country. Conversely there are those that would advocate for more student driven learning where students guide their learning in absence of standards. Can’t we have both? Is it possible to have a loose set of overarching standards to guide our learning progress while giving students a larger role in the process? Standards are not the issue as much as our overreliance on them both as a means to drive curriculum as well as attempt to hold teachers accountable.

Instructional Procedures:
There are many ways in which a teacher can deliver content to a group of students. As with a favorite sports team, many teachers become a staunch fan of one way and nothing else. Whether you are lecturing, using PBL, Flipped Model, small groups, or any of the other numerous models, they all have value. What works one day will not work the next. What works with one student will not necessarily work with another. We need to stop looking for that silver bullet of instructional methods and realize that bullet is flexibility and evolution. The teachers who succeed are those willing to change when needed for the sake of the student.

Technology Use:
Yes, there is certainly opposing views on the value of technology in education. Many see technology as a great tool with unending potential for improving student learning. However, there are also those that see it as a distraction or shiny object flashing in the eyes of our students. I tend to think they are both right. Technology can, has, and will transform learning in our schools. However, if not used properly, it can be a distraction and a waste of resources. Stand in the middle where you use technology to further learning but not just using it to be using it.

Too often we get wrapped up in our “side” that we fail to recognize the value in the other side. It is in this moment that we are unable to learn and move forward but instead get entrenched in our viewpoints at the detriment of all. Often times sitting on the fence is viewed as the easy way out or just being lazy. However, in most situations, it is the dichotomy within issue that breeds inaction and stagnation. Most of the discussions in education have two sides and the middle ground between both is where I see the greatest potential for growth. I encourage discourse, argument, and discussion as a means of growth but we must stay in the middle to a certain degree for the sake of any change happening. 


John T. Spencer said...

I agree. We've gotten way too polarized. I love the way you spell out what you think and how you are so open to dialogue about issues in education. It's part of what makes your blog so fun to read.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Thanks is through conversations that we learn and grow as educators, and humans. When we dig into the mentality of you are wrong and I am right, we all lose.

Chris Megaffin said...

Thank you for this post! My school is discussing some of the very same issues and I appreciate how you advocate for balanced discussion. I agree that "One size does not fit all." The needs of the students must be taken into considerations balanced with research when examining and implementing change in the approach to education.

Nancy said...

If I have a watchword, it is "balance" and that's really what you are talking about. Most of the issues you address should not be seen as either/or issues; they are circumstantial -- more like if/then. When I visit schools around the US, I see the polarizing you mention, but I also see it in other arenas, particularly politically. The "silent majority" is alive and well but being eclipsed by the raging extremes. We need more "fence-sitters" -- the people maintaining more balanced views -- to speak up. Thank you.

PNaugle said...

Hi John,
Some things are beyond the control of the classroom teacher. We have state and district guidelines to adhere to. I can state my opinion on topics like grading, but ultimately it is out of my hands.

When I am asked my opinion, I am not a fence sitter, but I am also realistic enough to know that my option is hardly noticed where it counts most, within my state and district.

Hold true to your beliefs, even if they can not be your reality at this time. The conversations we have give us hope and sustain us during the troubling times we all face in today's educational system.

Keep pushing our thinking and keep stating your opinions. Maybe someday the right person - who can make change happen - will be listening.

Ann and Celina said...

Enjoyed your thoughts regarding these specific topics, and your middle ground perspective is insightful. Growth will flourish when humility is present. One cannot not assume they know everything, but rather should be indulging in conversations that allow for continuous personal growth. One cannot continue to grow when they are stagnant within their own thinking. Our students are forever changing because the world around them is at rapid speed- therefore we must keep a flexible mindset as we move forward into the 21st Century. - Celina

Wm Chamberlain said...

Problem with staying in the middle of the road is that you are liable to be run over from traffic on both sides :)

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Wm Chamberlain,

I see you point, but I am speaking more about the polarization within our "ranks" on so many of these issues. I feel as though you have to pick one side or the other as if it is a bad Twilight movie! :) There is merit to standing in the middle of the road and being observant of both lanes of traffic before moving forward.