Archive for February, 2007

In a Midrash the Jewish sages said that prayer is like talking to a wall. The act of prayer, in this sense, is an anticipation, an act of anticipating that which has made itself absent. Prayer addressed to the absolute Other, the godhead, who is not present anticipates the presence of the godhead which is always already absent by choice. Deeply embedded within anticipation is the absence of the other. At the same time, absence is embedded deeply within the anticipation of the self.

In this sense, prayer is messianic at its core. Waiting for the messiah is the point upon which prayer turns. This waiting assumes the absence of the messiah, an absence that holds within it the promise of arrival–someday but not now! Hence, the need for prayerful anticipation in order to move the self closer to the other.

This dialectic plays itself out in terms of unfulfillable tensions that are always already present within themselves. From a theological perspective faith or belief provides a kind of synthesis, not one that resolves the issue but one that purports to provide meaning for the existence of the tensions that are always already present. Faith or belief resolves the underlying pressure that develops from unfulfilled anticipation by providing assurance, however unfounded that assurance might be, that there is an end, that the messiah will arrive, will come.

But, what if there is no synthesis, no resolution to the tension; that the tension is one that itself anticipates the tension of the dialectic. If there is no synthesis then there is no real purpose in the act of anticipation, of waiting for the arrival. Yet, this waiting is all there is. It is embedded within the text of language, within the text of human understanding. We are the waiting animal, the anticipating animal. We live in time, bound to the temporal bookended between two absented Others, two eternities. So no synthesis is not necessarily the case, rather, death allows us to approach the wholly Other, the eternal, by becoming eternal thereby ruining the tension of waiting.

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Examining the educational reform movement in England which, in many respects, resembles that of the United States in its reliance on standards and high-stakes accountability, Rustique-Forrester (2005) argues that the unintended consequence of excluding children led to inflated estimates of results in British schools. This is, it seems to me, no surprise. In the United States significant pressure to raise test scores have caused districts to both exclude children from testing and to under-report dropout statistics. Schemo (2003) reported that over half of the 5,500 students that left the Houston, Texas district that should have been declared dropouts were not. Haney (2000) reports that dropout rates for high school students in Texas have increased significantly since 1980 as pressure for standards and accountability have increased.

These are disturbing numbers, especially as one considers that the No Child Left Behind Act (the extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) (NCLB) is based on the standards and accountability system put in place by then governor George W. Bush.

There is additional evidence that adherence to standards limits the curriculum to technical aspects of reading and mathematics (arithmetic) while neglecting subjects like science, social studies and history, music, art, literature and physical education. Some have estimated that time spent in preparing students for high-stakes testing may be as much as 90 school days per year, a figure that amounts to one half of an average school year in grades K-12. This leaves precious little time for new instruction while focusing on ways to “beat” the test.

Marzano & Kendall (1998) estimated that if 3 days were needed to teach only national organization standards and 1.5 days were needed to then re-teach those standards, students would be in school from K through grade 22 in order to receive a high school diploma. This estimate does not even attempt to account for state and local standards for which students will be held accountable. Something is drastically wrong with a system that has so little regard for the consequences of the demands it places on teachers and students.

If we are not careful in the United States we will produce an entire generation of Trivial Pursuit players that will be lost forever to the joys of creative thinking and critical aesthetic reading. We are rapidly destroying the intellectual capital that drives the engine of our capitalistic enterprise. In the zeal to improve a system that is said to be broken, something Berliner and Biddle (1995) argue quite effectively simply is not true, Congress and state legislatures may just be the factors that break the American public school system to a point beyond repair. I hope I am wrong.


Berliner, D. C., & Biddle, B. J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Haney, W. (2000, Aug 19). The myth of the Texas miracle in Education. Retrieved July 22, 2002, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v8n41/

Marzano, R. J., & Kendall, J. S. (1998). Awash in a sea of standards. Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent Regional Educational Laboratory.

Rustique-Forrester, E. (2005). Accountability and the pressures to exclude: A cautionary tale from England. Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 13(26).

Schemo, D. J. (2003, July 11, 2003). Questions on data cloud luster of Houston’s schools. New York Times.

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Standards in American education are the current driving force of policy discourse. Standards based education, data driven practice, research driven pedagogy and the like all spill out of the same well of mediocrity. While mediocre results are certainly not intended by those that foster standards as a solution to perceived failures in American public schools, the results of institutionalizing rather good ideas has the result of lowering the bar of expectation and forcing teaching into a routinized rut of compliance with external ideals that accompany standards, often in the form of performance rubrics.

I believe there are lessons to be learned from the work of Bakhtin and Levinas as the idea of standards are (re)examined as No Child Left Behind legislation is reviewed in Congress. While I am not optomistic that political solutions provide important insights into professional problems, I am hopeful that discussions about educational practice and an honest political discourse may have some influence on decision making.

Bakhtin (1993) argued that as an independent self, I am answerable to the other for my actions. Answerability is similar to the idea of responsibility for the other (Levinas, 1969; 1987; 1991; 1997). The difference between Bakhtin and Levinas turns on the to and the for where the to is a guilt driven obligation to act responsibly where the for is a pre-existing obligation to respond, to be response-able when the other is in need. The former is a more-or-less self-centered obligation where the latter is more-or-less self-less in its orientation. The fact, however, is that the distinction does not blur the ethical responsibility of the self to/for the other.

In terms of classroom practice this translates into an obligation of the teacher in the classroom to create authentic and engaging lessons, lessons not driven by theoretical constructs or outside/imposed criteria. To be authentic the classroom approach must have three essential components:

  1. The lesson must have value to the student beyond the four walls of the classroom.
  2. The lesson must be academically rigorous so as to challenge but not frustrate the student.
  3. The product of student work must have an audience beyond the teacher (Newmann, Byrk & Nagoaka, 2001).

By developing authentic lessons, teachers will create engaging classrooms, ones in which rigorous engagement is not replaced by the application of irrelevant standards and obscure theory. The engaged classroom is one that is alive and ethical and one in which there is no alibi (Derrida, 2002). It is only “without guarantees [that] one must directly engage with others and expose oneself to perspectives and feelings different from one’s own” (Morison, 2007).

As standards are currently applied, students are responsible to teachers who are, in turn, responsible to administrators who are, in turn, responsible to school boards who are, in turn, responsible to political agencies or legislative bodies or both who, in the end, are theoretically responsible to those that elect them to office or, through taxes, pay their salaries or both. In the final analysis, there is nobody that takes on the responsibility, in a Levinasian sense, for the students, the ultimate learner. Standards are imposed upon the system of public education from the top as they filter downward toward the ultimate consumer. By the time standards reach the classroom they have undergone an ethical change in the sense that they are now mandates rather than a part of an ethical conversation. Standards in the classroom become dogma not ideas to be subject to critical analysis. I agree with the concept urged by Applebee (1996), that standards guide curriculum only as far as they become conversation starters. Once they become absolute dogma they lose the ability to guide an inspired and engaged classroom practice.


Applebee, A. N. (1996). Curriculum as conversation: Transforming traditions of teaching and learning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1993). Toward a philosophy of the act (V. Liapunov, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Derrida, J. (2002). Without alibi (P. Kamuf, Trans.). Stanford,CA: Stanford University Press.

Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and Infinity: An essay on exteriority (A. Lingis, Trans.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. (1987). Time and the Other (R. A. Cohen, Trans.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. (1991). Wholly otherwise. In R. Bernasconi & S. Critchley (Eds.), Re-readingLevinas (pp. 3-10). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Levinas, E. (1997). Otherwise than being or beyond essence (A. Lingis, Trans.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Morson, G. S. (2007). Bakhtin and the teaching of literature. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 350-357.

Newmann, F. M., Byrk, A. S., & Nagaoka, J. K. (2001). Authentic intellectual work and standardized tests: Conflict or coexistence (Special Report Series). Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research.

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I have never considered myself to be a Luddite. I purchased my first personal computer over 30 years ago, an Apple IIe to be sure, and have been using technology ever since. But times have changed. My campus is being invaded by LiveText, a corporate attempt to respond to the current trend to objectify educational outcomes through technocratic, bureaucratic requirements of alignment to standards, accountability to standards, and assessment documentation. The idea behind all this is that unless one has objective, observable proof that external standards are being met, one cannot be sure that there is any learning taking place.

Max Weber (2002) argued that bureaucratic institutions, as impersonal entities, are without meaningful foundational support. Bureaucratic institutions ebb and flow by adhering to what is perceived to work, whether or not the perception is matched by the reality. Bureaucracies are heartless, without soul, inhuman places where decisions are made by objectifying the outcome desired and creating regulations to achieve the desired outcome. In education, bureaucratic thinking has gotten us into the event horizon of a black hole from which knowledge can no longer escape as the outcome of free inquiry.

LiveText, in the most arrogant manner, bills itself as the Single Source of Truth. The company states:

LiveText provides the most complete learning, assessment, and accreditation management solution™ available for all institutional stakeholders–from students to administrators–to meet and surpass these challenges and ultimately foster a learning environment centered upon evidence-based decisions and continuous improvement.

The claim of evidence-based decisions and complete learning, assessment, and accreditation management leading to truth
is absurd on its face. First, the claim endorses the epistemological claim that there is an objective, observable truth that can be discovered and analyzed if only we have the proper tools for that examination. The analytical, positivist posture is, however, not the only way of understanding the nature of truth. From Husserl (2006), to Heidegger (1962) to Derrida (2002) objectification of the external as a way of knowing is denied; one, rather, must reflectively examine the intentional experience of the Lifeworld, the world of phenomena and things, through an encounter with the interiority of the self in order to come to know anything. The assumption made by LiveText denies the latter in favor of the former position. By privileging the former LiveText attempts to compartmentalize knowledge without examination or reflection. Everything fits into the LiveText matrix thereby reducing knowing to a form.

Additionally, the claim of truth emanating from a single source oversteps the bounds of rationality placing LiveText in the metaphysical realm residing somewhere amongst the gods. Aside from finding this claim offensive, it is a claim that best resides in a seminary where theology is the topic on everyone’s mind. Claims of absolute truth are frightening and, perhaps, obscene as well. There is no room here for inquiry, creativity, or conversation–in spite of the claims of LiveText representatives that one can create tools that fit the needs of each user. If that were the case there would be no underlying code written to restrict the user to using the LiveText interface. With no underlying code, fully protected as intellectual property to be sure, LiveText would have nothing to sell and Capitalism would necessarily fail, leaving professors out there to fend for themselves.

It is not technology that alienates, rather it is the hubris of Capitalism and the lifelessness of the bureaucracy that alienates. I am alienated.


Derrida, J. (2002). Faith and knowledge: The two sources of “religion” and the limits of reason alone (S. Weber, Trans.). In G. Anidjar (Ed.), Acts of religion (pp. 42-101). New York: Routledge.

Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. New York: Harper Publishers.

Husserl, E. (2006). The Idea of Phenomenology. New York: Springer.

Weber, M. (2002). Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, Ltd.

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A colleague and I are working with two classroom teachers in Chicago as they introduce their 1st and 2nd grade bilingual students to Color Coded Reading.  CCR is a strategy that focuses on students developing higher order questions, especially synthesis and evaluation questions, that relate to text being read.  The practice works for both content area text and narrative text making it one of the more flexible reading strategies.  More of this project to come in the next few weeks.  For now, let me say I am having a ball collecting data on this project.  I must be a really good geek to think that data collection is fun.

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Fern functions as a transitional character.  Her intital act of saving Wilbur is selfless but she is unable to maintain her selflessness.  As she grows up her human interests overtake her childhood interests and she is forced to make a choice.  So far as the novel is concerned, Fern foreshadows Charlotte but she is not Charlotte.  Her willingness to be selfless for Wilber has its limits, its far to human limits to be sure.

Templeton also undergoes a transition as he saves Charlotte’s egg sac; although not entirely selfless,  Templeton acts as selflessly as he possibly can act in this case.  Engineering the transfer of Charlotte’s egg sac back to the barn is, for Templeton, an act of complete selfless behavior.  There is nothing in it for him.

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As Charlotte and Templeton, for different reasons to be sure, work together to save Wilbur from the slaughterhouse, what is Wilbur’s role? Is he just the cute pig upon whom Charlotte can focus her selflessness or to whom Templeton can be responsible? I think not. Wilbur floats through the story as the object of response-ability on Charlotte’s part and the reason for responsibility on Templeton’s part, but he does not reciprocate, at least not directly or overtly. Wilbur is the beneficiary of Charlotte’s and Templeton’s goodwill but he does not give directly back. He never acts with either responsibility or as a response-able character. Oh sure, you say, but he was Charlotte’s friend. True enough, but being a friend is hardly enough. One can be a friend without ever being response-able for the friend. What did Wilbur do for Charlotte? One can also be a friend without acting responsibly to one’s friend. Did Wilbur ever do any self-conscious act to Templeton as a friend?

So what exactly is Wilbur’s role? On the one hand, he serves as the focus of the ethical imperative for Charlotte and he stands at the center of Templeton’s self-conscious efforts of responsibility to Wilbur. After all, without such a focal point neither of the two characters would have any reason to exercise their ethical choices. On the other hand, Wilbur must play a role beyond merely being a foil for Charlotte and Templeton. Here we must turn to Derrida. Wilbur is the other to Charlotte and Templeton but he is in the process of becoming, of growing into something new, of discovery through experience. Wilbur is never finished, he never becomes. He is always anticipating, waiting, wondering, seeking. He represents the doubt of Derrida’s aporia as he anticipates what is to come. Wilbur represents the alterity of the other in its fullest otherness–an alterity without bounds yet one that is bounded by the barnyard; an alterity that is only recognized by the likes of Charlotte and Templeton but not Uncle Homer and Lurvy, the true humans of the story. To the humans, Wilbur is just a pig but to Charlotte he is everything that is becoming and to Templeton he represents a reciprocity over which neither Wilbur nor Templeton has any control; it is, however, that reciprocity that drives Templeton’s self-conscious behavior toward Wilbur at Charlotte’s request. As the embodiment of the other, Wilbur need not do more. His anticipation is enough.

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Bakhtin argues that the self is responsible to the other while Levinas argues that the self is responsible for the other. It is the distinction of the to and for that E. B. White presents through two characters in his iconic children’s novel, Charlotte’s Web, the story of how a spider contributes to saving the life of Wilbur the pig as she becomes responsible for Wilbur as the other. At the same time, Templeton, the rat, in a self-seeking role, also becomes responsible, not for, but to both Wilbur and Charlotte as Charlotte works to save Wilbur’s life.

From the Bakhtinian perspective responsibility to the other is anchored in the notion that my actions are what the other calls to task; what the other requires of me. My choice to act responsibly is one in which the self is satisfied without regard to the outcome for the other to whom the self acts responsibly. For Bakhtin, responsibility is not a selfless act but, quite the contrary, a self-conscious act. Levinas, on the other hand, argues that there is an ethical imperative that originates even before there is a self; this imperative is one in which the self has the absolute responsibility to act for the other; to selflessly care for the other even at the peril of one’s own existence. Understood from this perspective, Bakhtin and Levinas occupy two sides of the same coin. Both require the self to act in a responsible manner toward the other. The fundamental distinction is one between a self-conscious act and a selfless act.

In Charlotte’s Web, Templeton chooses to assist Wilbur at the urging of Charlotte but only when he sees value in the act of assistance for himself. In a self-conscious manner, Templeton comes to the aid of Wilbur if and only if he receives what he understands to be a benefit of equal value for himself, for example when Charlotte convinces him to search for words because if Wilbur is sent to the slaughterhouse Lurvy will no longer bring the slop to the barn, a delicacy Templeton desires. Templeton is acting in a Bakhtinian manner, responsible to both Charlotte and Wilbur. Charlotte, on the other hand, acts in a selfless way toward Wilbur. She is interested in being responsible (response-able may be a better way to re-present the notion of responsibility here) for Wilbur by selflessly spinning webs that urge the humans, especially Uncle Homer, to save Wilbur’s life. In the end, even as she is dying and needs to save her energy, Charlotte spins one final web for Wilbur; Charlotte is a true friend in a Levinasian sense.

As children read Charlotte’s Web it is important that they understand the distinction of being responsible to someone else and being response-able for another person. The ethical imperative of the for is, however, not necessarily easy for 3rd through 5th graders to understand. One suggestion is to create a dialectic in which Templeton’s and Charlotte’s acts with regard to Wilbur are compared and contrasted. Children can then see for themselves the benefits of being response-able, of being selfless regarding the other suggested by Charlotte’s actions as opposed to the self-conscious responsibility to the other suggested by Templeton’s behavior.

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Standards in American Education:
The Element of Surprise

If by the neologism, diffrance, Derrida (1978) is representing the idea that existence is framed by the past and the future, presented only as a trace of the present formed between past and future, and that the moment represented in the trace of present is neither fixed nor fluid, rather it is movement attached to all of the periods of past laid out prior to the phenomenon of the trace, while adapting out of necessity for survival to the alterity, or otherness, of the future, then, it seems to us that diffrance forms a frame from which to address the out-of-control movement toward standardizing American education through an appeal to the absolute nature of culture and the need to transmit the fixed nature of the values obtained by that culture to the young. For our purposes, we assume that diffrance includes, at the barest minimum, the idea we summarize above and, while this may not be the only useful definition of diffrance, for the purposes of inquiring about standards it forms a workable frame from which to investigate how standards may or may not do justice to American Democracy.

As we use the word trace it is only reasonable to make clear what we mean by the term. At once trace references the now and beyond the now bi-directionally. Derrida (1993) refers to the idea of trace indirectly as he writes autobiographically about writing in Circumfession:

“Without what I wrote in the past, or even what I seem to be writing here, but do without, foreseeing or predicating what I could well write in the future, so that here I am deprived of a future, no more event to come from me, at least insofar as I speak or write, unless I write there, for every man for himself, no longer under his law, improbable things which destabilize, disconcert, surprise in their term” (p. 30)

Here Derrida is responding to Bennington’s (1993) critique and categorization of Derrida’s work. Bennington focuses on both categorizing the schema of thought but offers predictions on what Derrida might have to say in the future. Derrida’s response is to explore the underlying nature of the trace as found in writing as writing focuses on the future while becoming an artifact of the historical past the moment it is abandoned by the author. Once inscribed to the past, writing provides no surprise or rich interpretative approaches to thought, rather, it simply is. The act of writing, on the other hand, is, at once, rooted in the future as it becomes embedded in the historical. Once written writing exists without change or changeability. The act of writing, because of its proximity to the future remains fluid, surprising, and potentially destabilizing as the writer struggles with alternatives presented. The idea of trace is extended to and lies within the period of time that is instantaneously formed, and then immediately unformed, between the static past and the fluid future.

Trace can also have a strong proximity to the historical past. The trace obtained in this writing to this point is anchored in the text of Derrida’s (1993) reflection Circumfession. As we write we are tied to the text of Circumfession seeking to construct meaning from the words of another as that other was writing with a proximity to the future. In either case, however, the proximities turn around on top of each other for while we are tied to the text, we also write with a proximity to the future as Derrida, writing with a proximity to the future, was tied directly (or not) to Bennington’s text. Furthermore, Derrida chose to tie his writing to additional texts including St. Augustine’s Confessions, borrowing both form and language to record his own trace representing diffrance. This is not simply to say that the bi-directionality of the writer is tied to a singular historical past or a multiplicity of possible futures only one of which will play out, rather, it is to say that the reciprocal interplay of past and future play themselves out within the idea of trace which is, in turn, represented by diffrance.

Diffrance itself accounts for trace by insisting that the writer strive to investigate all that is different from, in opposition to, and perplexing about a given proposition while differing a permanent solution to the problems posed by the given inquiry. In this sense diffrance accounts for the ability of the writer to alter his or her position upon subsequent readings of the same text. In short, diffrance suggests that problems investigated never are subject to ultimate solutions, rather, they remain open questions allowing one to not categorize thought but account for the “improbable tidings, which destabilize, disconcert, surprise in their turn.”

Diffrance suggests that to know something is, at best, diaphanous, a shadowy figure on the cave wall, subject to a trace suspension of disbelief, if only for an instant, as the present encroaches on both past and future. “One writes,” states Derrida (1993), “only at the moment of giving the contemporary the slip.” (p. 63). Because the trace exists only in the moment and then vanishes without a trace only to give way to a trace in its placead infinitum, or at least until the moment of one’s death, and because each subsequent trace opens the door to surprise, the notion of knowing and diffrance is contained within linguistic boundaries.

“I am the last of the eschatologists, I have to this day above all lived, enjoyed, wept, prayed, suffered as though at the last second, in the imminence of the flashback end, and like no one else I have made the eschaton into a coat of arms of my genealogy, the lips’ edge of my truth but there is no meta-language will mean that a confession does not make the truth, it must affect me, touch me, gather me, re-member me, constitute me, without that meaning, as always, putting an end to, and speaking before you, confiding in you at present what in another period I called my synchrony, telling you the story of my stories” (p. 75)

Knowing, for Derrida, is storied. It represents the intricacies of story telling and the momentary intersection of diffrance as represented in the ever present trace. It is the notion that as one moves forward in time toward the future while remaining shackled to the past, the writer is never subject to categorization or systematization. Quite the contrary, while categories and systems may arise from the relationships to past and future, the word that is penned is always open to a surprise to both the self as writer and the other as reader.

The Relationship to Standards

What does diffrance and trace have to do with standards in education. Let’s see if we can not make this clear. In a nutshell, what Derrida focuses on is that standardization, categorization, and systematization rests on a faulty foundation, one that fails to recognize a reciprocal relationship of the learner, inquiry, and content. Furthermore, standardization is a form of totalization, something that must be avoided at any cost. This is not to deny rigor nor is it to deny serious academic inquiry rather, to deny standardization, in the final analysis, supports both.

Bennington, G. (1993). Jacques Derrida. In J. Derrida (Ed.), Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (1978). Writing and difference (A. Bass, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (1993). Circumfession. In J. Derrida (Ed.), Jacques Derrida. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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During the last century, as school enrollment grew and education in the United States developed into a universal birthright, the character of schooling changed. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, schools were places in which students acquired classical knowledge without regard for usefulness or application. Knowing was privileged over doing. As the 20th century marched through time, as immigrant populations were being absorbed into the American mainstream, schools were transformed into places where professionals and quasi-professionals were to be trained to become contributing members of society. Spurred on by a nearly religious reliance on scientific progress, the mantra of public education, whether progressive or not, was to produce contributing citizens for the American Republic. Schools began to privilege doing over knowing.

Today, as we are barely into the 21st century, schools and schooling has turned full circle and, at least in political circles (and some professional education circles as well), school is now understood almost entirely in terms of technical expectations. The problem is, however, that this reliance on technical practice is not producing better students. Linda Darling-Hammond reported that in states with aggressive high-stakes testing programs students performed more poorly than in states that had non-aggressive or non-existing high-stakes assessments.

The fundamental tension is one between knowing and being able to do. I want to argue that knowing, being armed with knowledge of both classical antiquity and focused content is a path to being able to do. By learning to think clearly, to articulate, to write, to be able to make appropriate inferences and so on leads directly to an ability to perform at high levels in any task, professionally oriented or otherwise. I want to further argue that training in a professional or quasi-professional setting does not guarantee the ability to think clearly, the ability to make correct decisions.

The American obsession with testing and performance is counter-productive. Not only will children fail in the end so the nation will not be able to sustain a productive workforce, but the loss of intellectual capital in the process may be irrecoverable in either the short or long term.

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If you want to read a disturbing report then head to this link.  The predictions that most schools in the Great Lakes area will be ‘failing’ by 2014, the year that NCLB requires all schools to be performing at or above grade level, is disturbing to say the least.  If you are not sure about NCLB and the damage it is doing to public education, or even if you are, then this piece is something you should not ignore. 


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Dan Laitsch discusses the impact of high stakes testing on schools and children in the technical report found at the link below. He references the “negative consequences” of high stakes testing and analyzes those consequences. In his conclusion he makes four specific policy recommendations that he urges policy makers to follow. This is a good technical read.

“While such an accountability system may be sensible on its face, it does not account for multiple educational purposes or the complexity of assessment. Nor does it allow educators opportunity to use appropriate data thoughtfully to design comprehensive school reform. Instead, the stress on rewards and punishments based on test scores forces schools to consider the data generated as evaluative rather than as useful for informing instruction. The result is a system that appears coordinated, but results in a number of unintended-although not unpredictable-negative consequences.”


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The link below provides teachers with a number of resources for excellence in teaching for their classrooms. I have reviewed the history and language arts sections and I find them to be competent and useful for the classroom. This is not to say that one should not tweak them to fit the local context of teaching but they do make for a really good starting point as one begins to think about unit and lesson planning. Of course, the best part of these resources is that they are FREE–a service of federal agencies. Why not take a look?

FREE — Federal Resources for Educational Excellence

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I posted a brief comment regarding NCLB and creativity at Helium. The link below will take you to that post. Thanks for taking a look at this short piece.

Is the American education system taking creativity away? – Helium

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Literacy Educators and the Public Deeply Concerned about NCLB (The Council Chronicle Online, Sept. 6, 2006)

This piece reports on a survey of English teachers in the United States regarding NCLB. 76% of the respondents believed that NCLB has had a negative impact on the teaching of English and literacy in the US. The only thing that is surprising about this number is that it is so small. Here is the real problem as I see it. NCLB strives toward differentiated instruction based on data that is carefully and systematically analyzed by instructional teams within schools. So far this is a good thing. The danger arises when districts, both large and small, begin to provide teachers with mandates for teaching with little or no support. Furthermore, NCLB restricts what counts as data to “sound science” which is a buzz word that data that does not rely on teacher input or judgment. Testing results are all that count as data.

Teaching is a profoundly human activity. Well trained, competent professionals must be expected to make judgments about students, curriculum and the like. Of course testing results must be considered but so must student produced work, journals, reflections, projects as well as teacher observations and student teacher interactions. Without the human factor at play teaching and learning is reduced to a mechanistic, profoundly undemocratic activity that is uninspiring at best.

So let’s use data to drive instructional decisions, but let’s make those decisions based on the broadest data set available.

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You might want to check out the following post at Helium.com:

Understanding the “No child left behind” law – Helium

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The importance of parental involvement in improving a childs literacy – Helium

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Teaching can be understood in terms of Derrida’s notion of the gift and, then, in Levinasian terms of the ethical imperative of the face-to-face response-ability of the self for the other.  I want to very briefly examine these ideas.  I do not have the space or the time to fully explore the implications of either idea; I do, however, have an inclination to start some kind of rich conversation about the ethical gift.

Derrida defines the gift as something freely given without any expectation of something in return.  The gift does not create an obligation on the part of the receipient nor does it derive from any sense of obligation on the part of the giver.  Gifts are, in this sense, spontaneous acts of kindness on the part of the self for the benefit of the other.  When the ‘gift’ is given because of a sense of obligation, creates a sense of obligation or otherwise is not freely, and without expectation of return, tendered an duty is created by the act itself and it is no longer a gift.

In the tradition of the Jewish Sages an idea of benevolent giving is placed on a continuum of righteousness from lowest to highest.  In this tradition, giving selflessly to care for the widow, orphan, and stranger is, perhaps, the single most important commandment one can follow.  There are, however, levels of giving that correspond to the value of the gift to the giver.  At the lowest end of the scale is the gift given for personal recognition.  These gifts are only given when the giver is publicly recognized, say in the back of a playbill as a supporter of the theatre company.  At the highest level is the gift given anonymously where the recipient doesn’t even know from whom the gift came.

Teaching is an act that falls out near the highest level of the continuum.  While not completely anonomyous, the teacher is, after all, a known comodity, teaching does not require an expectation of an obligatory return from the student.   The act of teaching is selfless, freely given to each student by the teacher.  While teaching is a paid job, the act of teaching itself, what goes on in the classroom, is the gift.  The face-to-face relationship the teacher has with her students is not subject to remuneration.  It is in that relationship, the relationship of response, the dialogic of the classroom, that establishes the gift, not the external source of income that is provided the teacher through an external and impersonal board of education.  The relationship of teacher and student is one that builds on the teacher’s response-ability to the alteriety of his students.

It is in this response to the alterity of the student that teaching takes on the ethical imperative described by Levinas in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being and elsewhere.  This imperative rests on the idea that the self has the absolute duty, one that was not requested but nevertheless exists, to care for the wellbeing of the other.  In teaching, the role of the teacher is one of caring, of becoming response-able for the welfare of the other, even at the expence of one’s own safety.  There is no answerability of the other to the self in this transaction.  It is a one way street, one that, if properly nurtured, may, over time, produce benefits for both teacher and student but for which the student as recipient has no obligation to become engaged in the first place.

So this is just a starter.  I’ll write more later but for now no more rambling.

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