Archive for the ‘Educational Philosophy’ Category

I decided to mess around with making a video for my students as I begin to teach research methods to graduate students. In this course I push ideas such as clarity of thinking, accuracy in both thinking and in how one relies on source material, precision in thought processes, relevance of information to one’s argument, the depth and breadth of one’s investigation of both the relevant literature and the methodological approach one takes as a researcher, the logical development of the argument, the significance of the argument and, finally, whether or not one has been fair to all sides of a given position–this last point is not to argue that one cannot take a stand, rather that one must at the very least acknowledge alternative stances and, if one wishes, pick them apart.

This YouTube video will serve as an introduction to the class in which we discuss issues related to the difference between belief and rigorous research. I sort of like what I made here. I think it serves as a good introduction to the topic, but, then, I am the creator and am a bit biased.

My university is insisting that we all teach using technology to a greater extent in order to look good for an accreditation review upcoming in 2010. So there you have it.

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Seed Newsvine

Žižek suggests that choice is available only within the boundaries of the overlap of conflicting interests. Only when ideas are in competition is there a need to make a choice. If everyone agrees with each and every premise then there is no need to make a choice. But, it is clear that each of us is faced with significant opportunities to make informed choices because we do not live in the bubble of the same.

In schools, where curriculum is a central issue, there are three competing interests that are often in conflict with one another. There is, of course, the district, the governing body that oversees the delivery of educational efforts to students within the oversight boundaries of the district itself. In the case of the district the goals for curriculum are driven from the top down. Districts, no matter how large or how small, are driven by the need to seek standardization, to centralize the decision making process, and to control, to the best of its ability, the outcomes of the process of teaching and learning. In direct competition with the district, and at the other end of the continuum is the classroom. Classroom teachers spend their day in direct contact with children and are, therefore, far more prone to devote their energies into understanding the context within which they work. Classroom teachers understand the need to decentralize schooling and to approach the classroom with an open and flexible attitude if they are to be successful. Stuck in the middle is the school itself. School administration is, in fact, stuck in the middle, having to contextualize yet retain administrative control. This paradox of leadership leads to understanding curricular continuity and negotiating curriculum design through professional conversations within the school. See fig 1 below.Curriculum Design

NCLB has usurped the possibility of understanding curriculum development as a meaningful conversation by successfully defining the conversation as one that is driven from the top, a conversation that is immune to considerations of context or negotiation. By establishing management parameters the professionalism has been removed from teaching and leadership roles removed from the principal’s office.

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Seed Newsvine

This week the American Educational Research Association is holding its annual meeting in Chicago. This important conference brings together researchers and teachers from all areas of the spectrum of education and, as such, is one of the more exciting places to be as a professional educator. In this post I am going to summarize some of the more important points I heard today.

David Berliner spoke about the state of education in the United States today as a political space in which the ENDS of education have been taken away from professional educators and the MEANS of education have been corrupted by the reduction of knowing to a single test-score number. As test scores become the ENDS of education, primarily due to NCLB, then the MEANS of education become teaching to the test. When knowledge as an END is replaced by test scores then the only thing worth knowing is “is that going to be on the test?”

Another speaker argued that there is simply too much policy, policy layered upon policy upon policy. Fossilized reforms are something like geological layers as legislators fail to review either old policy prior to passage of new policy or evidence in support of policy legislation in the first place. The result is a web (more like a rabbit warren) of overlapping policies and legislation that boggles even the least capable minds.

Perhaps my favorite speaker argued that we do not live in an age of educational uncertainty. Quite the contrary, NCLB has placed a strangle hold on certainty. Schools are certain as to what programs count and what to teach in order to avoid the degradation of being labeled low performing. The problem is not certainty but faulty logic. NCLB is based on a confused logical structure where knowledge is reduced to test scores, schools are expected to solve social problems, and reading and math instruction are scripted and uniform across irregular contexts. This speaker called not for evidence based teaching as NCLB does, rather he argued that there ought to be EVIDENCE BASED LEGISLATION. I suggested to a colleague sitting next to me that perhaps those that pass the laws ought to be subject to the consequences of their own legislation. Congress ought to be forced to sit for say the 12th grade test. It was also suggested that no legislation be passed that does harm to anyone.

Finally, a speaker argued that education cannot be reduced to a model that corresponds in any way to producing widgets in a factory. By that logic FedX Delivers–Teachers Teach holds supreme. The fact is, however, that teachers do not exist, only teachers in a context exist and only in that context can teachers navigate through the murky waters that make up the classroom. Teaching is not something that can be planned except in broad brush terms if only because the unexpected is bound to happen at any moment of the day. Teachers are not tutor technicians preparing their students for tests. In the end, high stakes testing is blocking effective implementation of curriculum that encourages students to solve problems, to think about difficult problems, to rigorously reflect on ideas and concepts, and to remain curious about the world in which we all live. American educators for years have been critical of the centralization of European and Asian educational systems. The irony is that Europe and Asian nations are becoming decentralized as the United States moves toward a centralized national system of education.

I expect to be NCLB’d out by the end of the week. More to come later.

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Okay, you just have to visit Educating Alice and read her post Anti-Intellectual Education. As a regular reader of this blog I continue to be impressed with the thought that goes into the writing and the generally correct posture taken. In the final analysis, I am constantly reminded that one goal of education is to do no harm to kids. The other is to cause them such discomfort intellectually that they have no choice but to think, to struggle with ideas and to emerge from their struggle as productive and competent citizens of the world.

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In a stunning article in Educational Theory, Tyson E. Lewis (2006) argues that contemporary schooling in the United States, through policies of zero-tolerance, lockdown, and No Child Left Behind policies, separates and isolates students from the body politic by creating ambiguities that emerge from the complexities of disciplinary procedures and high-stakes assessment policies prevalent in inner-city schools that serve low-income, minority students. Lewis relies on arguments made by Italian political philosopher, Giorgio Agamben, and Critical Theorist, Theodor Adorno to make his case.

According to Lewis, Adorno makes the case that schooling creates the precondition for fascism to take hold due primarily to the undemocratic nature of the classroom. In Western education the classroom is often understood as a place of discipline and punishment, of separation and separating, of execution and executioner that is implicit in the student-teacher dialectic of power and passivity. School is not understood, in the main, as a place for developing autonomy, critical decision making, or self- and communal-response-ability; this in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. Lewis seems to understand the difference between language and the Real (Žižek, 2002).

Agamben, according to Lewis, presents a case for the Nazi death camp as the paradigmatic case of the creation of exceptional space, space removed from the principal political space of the community yet existing within that space without visibility or recognition. This form of exceptional space extends to many institutions found in the Western idea of Global Capitalism such as airports, hospitals, and credit bureaus. Lewis argues convincingly that schools must be included in this exceptionality as well. When such exceptional space is created “life is held in suspension, neither inside nor outside the polis, neither fully alive or dead. Stated differently, life is made to survive in legal limbo” (Lewis, 2006, p 161). Schools, create space that is inherently undemocratic. Student’s lives are suspended while dependent upon the whims and fancies of outsiders, political and administrative demands, that place their lives in suspension where survival in legal limbo is, perhaps, all that can be expected.

What is destroyed in the process is not dignity, rather it is control or the illusion of control. When placed in survival mode, life is reduced to the bare necessities, to what Agamben (1998) has labeled homo sacer, literally, sacred life, but in Agamben’s terms is defined more metaphorically as bare life. In the paradigmatic exceptional space, the Nazi Death Camps, homo sacer collides with the ordinary citizen, one surviving in limbo, outside of the borders of the political system and one entrenched within the borders of that system; one powerless, the other holding the key to ultimate power—life and death.

The United States is not exempt from creating borderless states of isolation. Native American people have lived in isolation on reservations for a hundred years or so, isolated as sovereign nations within a sovereign nation, a euphemism that is intended to hide the source of Real power. During World War II, Japanese Americans were herded into internment camps, isolated in the California desert and the Great Basin where they could be separated from Real Americans. More recently, the detention camp at Guantanamo place the lives of enemy combatants in limbo under the watchful eye of the military. Each of these instances, including the paradigmatic case, fall into what Agamben (1998) calls biopolitics.

Lewis extends this argument to schools, labeling the activity of schools and schooling as biopedagogy. Students are placed in a position of being homo sacer in the sense that because they are subject to nothing but external rules, to not being able participants in the decisions that directly and indirectly impact their lives, schools are places where students necessarily collide with those that choose to control them. Schools isolate, separate, and punish sometimes just because they can. The real tragedy is that this all appears to be normal to the rest of us.


Agamben, G. (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life (D. Heller-Roazen, Trans.). Sanford, CA: Sanford University Press.

Lewis, T. E. (2006). The school as an exceptional space: Rethinking education from the perspective of the biopedagogical. Educational Theory, 56(2), 159-176.

Žižek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real: Five essays on September 11 and related dates. London: Verso.

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Educating Alice posted a story regarding the Holocaust and Shoelaces. This story is important enough to read in its entirety.

I want to add my 2 cents here. I agree that we must teach kids to think about hard topics in a rigorous manner. Collecting 6,000,000 centimeters of shoelaces tied together is symbolic drivel, an act not worthy of serious consideration, except that it interferes with children thinking hard about the whole issue of the Holocaust.

I am currently reading a very short (66 pages) book by Robert Eaglestone, Postmodernism and Holocaust Denial. Cambridge, UK. Icon Books (2001). Eaglestone makes a thoughtful argument in which he distinguishes between the modern, liberal discourse that, through fear of political incorrectness, continences free speech to the extreme and a postmodern view that insists on rigorous attention to the ethical value of the argument itself. The modern view allows for debate where there is no debate. It makes room for Holocaust denial because free speech requires that both sides be heard–even when there is no other side. The postmodern view, however, requires one to address the underlying ethics of the argument leaving little room for sweeping events under the rug as if they did not occur.

Collecting shoelaces is much like Holocaust denial because it trivializes the reality of the event. It is something like creating a virtual reality, like decaffeinated coffee or non-alcoholic beer, allowing for an experience without the malignancy of the event itself.

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In a post on the NCTE blog, Barbara Cambridge writes in part:

I am encouraged that we are beginning to distinguish between formative and summative assessment, not to affirm one over the other but to accent that each serves a particular purpose, formative primarily to improve teaching and learning and summative primarily to answer accountability needs.

At the same time that we make that distinction, however, we might also think how doing each kind of assessment might affect the other kind. To return to the AFT forum Kent referred to, listen to points made by Paul Barton in a forum presentation labeled “‘Failing’ or ‘Succeeding’ Schools: How Can We Tell?” Barton makes four points about accountability data, the kind of data most often generated by summative assessments.

First, Barton contends that current practices ignore basic standards of accountability because curricula and tests are not yet aligned. Test scores used for accountability are invalid if alignment is not in order. My take from this point: Pedagogy, curriculum, and formative assessment need to track with summative assessment.

Secondly, Barton states that a series of snapshots of students in different years does not measure what is learned by a student in a certain school year. Barton recommends administering the same test at the beginning and the end of the school year. My take on this point: Formative assessments can be used to track progress during that school year so that students can be helped to make more progress between summative assessments .

Thirdly, Barton says gains measured during the school year should be transparent to everyone, especially teachers and parents. Transparency would be supported by having student identifiers to track students from grade to grade or by stretch tests that cover several grades worth of work but are taken each year. Tests, however, are really not needed every year. Samples, rotating testing, or testing on an unannounced basis would free time for more diagnostic testing (formative assessment), which research shows improves instruction. My take on this point: A system of testing periodically can serve accountability while honoring more frequent formative assessment that serves teaching and learning.

Fourthly, standards need to be set for how much gain is expected in a year. Teachers need to say what is typical at a low end and at a high end. We can still have high expectations and disaggregate by subgroup under this standards system. My take on this point: Hurray that teachers are identified as the professionals who should set standards.

Each of Barton’s points, it seems to me, recognizes the (potential) interaction of formative and summative assessment.

I want to comment on the points made as Cambridge relies so heavily on Barton for her analysis. I must begin by addressing the problems with the current obsession with notions of assessment and evaluation. As I have said many times in the past, the current reliance on technocratic solutions begs the question regarding the purpose of education in the first instance. The overarching problem with the reliance on assessment and standards is precisely the reliance on predefined outcomes as a substitution for real education, for real learning. It is somewhat akin to coffee without caffeine or wine without alcohol (Žižek, 2003), virtual reality is substituted for reality. The obsession with test scores, curriculum alignment, and the like creates the phantasm of real education allowing for the maintenance of the status quo, or worse, plunging the system of public education into the abyss of what Žižek (2002) references as the “Desert of the Real.”

The first of Barton’s points is that “current practices ignore basic standards of accountability because curricula and tests are not yet aligned.” The underlying assumption here is that by aligning curriculum with assessments one will know with some degree of precision what is being learned, and by implication, what is being taught. The argument is a technocratic, utilitarian view of what should occur in schools, a neatly packaged Utopian understanding rather than one that addresses the complexities of teaching and learning, the multiplicity of contexts, interactions, and the like that make classrooms messy, nuanced spaces that require well developed professional judgment and flexibility in response to changing circumstances. Notions of alignment of curriculum to assessment deny the complexity in favor of packaging, of sound bites, of billboard slogans.

According to Cambridge, Barton’s second point, that “a series of snapshots of students in different years does not measure what is learned by a student in a certain school year,” is well taken. Her solution, however, fails to inspire. She states, “Formative assessments can be used to track progress during that school year so that students can be helped to make more progress between summative assessments.” Here she relies on Barton’s position that the way to overcome prior learning in any given school year is to pre-test and post-test thereby controlling for prior learning. Cambridge translates that idea into a distinction between formative and summative assessment but this is a solution that merely extends the utilitarian view that testing accounts for learning, at best a naive position.

Barton’s third point, that “gains measured during the school year should be transparent to everyone, especially teachers and parents,” presents an interesting problem. In the first place one must have faith that what is measured by testing actually represents gains in student knowledge. It seems that Barton’s first point negates this possibility unless, somehow, pains are taken to actually align curriculum with assessments. More curious, however, is Cambridge’s take on this point. When Cambridge states, “A system of testing periodically can serve accountability while honoring more frequent formative assessment that serves teaching and learning,” she seems to be privileging formative assessment without admitting to the potential problem that formative assessment is created to simply mirror the summative assessment thereby training (as one might train a seal, a dog, or a dancing bear) to perform well on the only test that counts, the summative assessment. Too many contradictions to suit my take on all this.

Barton’s final point according to Cambridge is that “standards need to be set for how much gain is expected in a year. Teachers need to say what is typical at a low end and at a high end. We can still have high expectations and disaggregate by subgroup under this standards system.” Where do I start. The whole notion that specific gain can somehow be measured represents a view of human nature that reduces everything to a number or a set of numbers. From my vantage point, that of a teacher of literacy, I tend not to trust the Positivists faith in this form of reductionism. Quite the contrary, I trust words, stories, narratives–NOT NUMBERS! Oh how I hate to shout, but English teachers need to shout from time to time. I am disheartened by Cambridge’s response as she cheers the notion that teachers should set standards. Well, duh! Of course teachers should set standards. But, when imposed assessments, notions of formative and summative assessments, dictated standards and the like are the norm, teachers will be reduced to nothing more than conduits for the transmission of the standards to children who are, in turn, reduced to nothing more than a number.


Žižek, S. (2002). Welcome to the desert of the real: Five essays on September 11 and related dates. London: Verso.

Žižek, S. (2003). The puppet and the dwarf: The perverse core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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I want to focus on the regulation or regulatory function of the American academic standards movement. It is precisely the regulatory function of that movement that requires closure, the encapsulation of the model itself. In this short piece, I want to examine the connected concepts of standards-driven instruction and data-driven instruction in American public schools. In a nutshell, data-driven instruction derives its power from the larger concept of standards-driven instruction. Both, however, miss the essential point that instruction must be less about technical complicity and more about knowing and knowledge.

A current sub-discourse of the American standards movement calls for the implementation of standards-driven or standards-based instruction. What is really meant by this language? What standards is one speaking of? How shall one implement those standards in the classroom? What standards are really important and why? Marzano & Kendall (1998) asked the question, what if all national standards that have currently been adopted by discipline specific professional organizations such as the National Council for the Social Studies or the National Science Teachers Association or the National Council of Teachers of English, were taught in public schools beginning in kindergarten and continued to be taught until a student graduated from high school—how much time would it take to complete one’s pre-college education? Using a quite liberal formula for teaching and reteaching every standard and assuring a reasonable degree of mastery of each standard, and using the typical formula of a 180 day school year and a 6.5 hour school day they found that a student entering kindergarten at age 5 would finally be ready to graduate high school at the end of grade 22—ten full years after the normal grade 12. Given this analysis, students would not be ready for college until they were 28 years old. Marzano and Kendall did not even consider state standards or locally adopted standards as a part of their analysis. What is clear to me is that the obsession with standards has led to an insistence on quantity rather than on quality in education. One must consider that there are many ways to address quality education, only one of which is to obsess over the quantity of what one learns.

When quantity is the issue one finds multiple stories of abuse of the system. Emphasis on quantity leads to erratic implementation of and/or assessment of educational progress. An example seems to be in order here. In around 2002 in Illinois, where I live and work, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) decided that they would no longer test writing in the state assessment, the ISAT. The resulting message schools received was to effectively eliminate writing from the curriculum in grades k-12. This action came because No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements focused on the technocracy of reading and math. Writing was, therefore, legislated out of the literacy mix. In 2005 the ISBE announced that writing would return to the ISAT in 2006 and 2007 being phased back in over the two year period. The problem, however, became one of what would be tested rather than how to teach good writing. Teachers began asking, “What did they want on the test?” The clear implication was if what they (whoever ‘they’ might be) wanted was known then students could be drilled into compliance with the assessment and scores might actually rise.

My concern here is that when technocracy is substituted for learning the result is not education, rather the simulacrum of education. When it is more important to know what they want then writing does not re-present thinking, quite the contrary, in merely repeats a mindless formulaic approach to putting pencil to paper conforming to whatever is currently in vogue, whatever those in power determine, in this case, corresponds to appropriate writing. Instruction under these circumstances might be better classified as training, something we do to dogs, seals and dancing bears for purposes of human entertainment. Such instruction is not open to surprise, mystery, or wonder. It is not open to anticipation of something to come, of the absolute other. It is not open to ideas, thoughts, or innovation. It is efficient, predictable, and produces expected results. The technocrats behind the standards movement rely on regulation to insure the possible, to conserve what never was and to block everything that could be anticipated.


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

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Nel Noddings once wrote, “Education should be emancipatory, not predatory.” Colman McCarthy (2006) writes, “Tests represent fear-based learning, not desire-based learning.” Here then is the problem: If the current trend in American education is, in fact, fear-based and, thereby predatory, how can we think about moving the classroom in the direction of emancipation and a desire-based curriculum?

I find the Hillocks (2002) informative on this point. It is not that testing is, in itself, an evil that we must tolerate. What is problematic is the way in which testing is used in the United States. Several points can be mentioned:

  1. Current testing does not necessarily test what is purported to be taught. In other words, tests do not align well with curriculum.
  2. The purpose of testing is not well understood, even by those who are responsible for the selection and administration of the tests. The simple fact is that large scale testing is appropriate when looking at general trends but when used to identify and isolate individual students or schools they are being misused at the deepest levels.

Furthermore, Applebee (1996) argues that curriculum is best understood as a conversation that is locally engaged in and must include multiple stakeholders such as the school community, parents, teachers, administrators, students, and others that have an interest in the development of young people within a community. By imposing external curriculum schools move away from their role as democratic institutions that have as an underlying purpose to develop democratic, critical thinking among the children they serve. Imposed curriculum, furthermore, removes motivation and interest on the part of students and, often, their teachers as well changing the curriculum from one that is based on desire to one based on fear.

Freire (1970) asks us to ask this important question when beginning to analyze the actions of those in power as they develop programs that effect the rest of us: Whose interests are being served by the actions or programs suggested or enacted into law? In the case of high-stakes testing as the principle outcome of the process of education the interests of test developers and publishers are clearly being served by this billion dollar industry. But, are the interests of students, teachers and the community as a whole being served? I argue that they are not if for no other reason than the despotism of the test undermines democratic institutions by modeling an undemocratic approach to teaching and learning the result of which is not lost on students or their teachers. In the end, those of us asking the critical questions are caught up in the futility of attempting to challenge the system that produces legislation in a democratic republic that is, at its core, undemocratic.

Widespread evidence points to schools and school districts cheating on reported scores. Other evidence points to states that revise their state assessments in order to appear to comply with No Child Left Behind. Still more evidence points to misrepresentation of the data reported by the Department of Education and President Bush designed to make NCLB appear to be the cause of progress made in gains reported but when subjected to disaggregation of the data shows that NCLB may not have had any impact on rising scores. Further evidence points to higher dropout rates since the inception of NCLB. Overall the evidence developed by neutral investigators tends toward the negative. Not surprisingly, evidence from conservative and religious right sources consistently sing the praises of NCLB but I question their impartiality. Work that I have reported on shows clearly that the impact of high-stakes testing on teaching has a negative impact when teachers do not consistently reflect on their own teaching practice (Passman, 2001).

It is important that sanity be restored to American education. Reducing the process of education to a single test score does violence to students that can least afford it. Failing to properly fund public education does violence to urban and rural communities that can least afford it (Kozol, 1992). Thinking that we can improve education by creating fear among teachers and their students is short sighted and, in a democracy, unthinkable.


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

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (Revised ed.). New York: Continuum.

Hillocks, G. (2002). The testing trap : how state writing assessments control learning. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kozol, J. (1992). Savage inequalities: Children in America’s schools. New York: Harper.

McCarthy, C. (2006). Test-driven teaching isn’t character-driven, March 19, 2007, from http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0607-26.htm

Passman, R. (2001). Experience with student-centered teaching and learning in high-stakes assessment environments. Education, 122(1), 189-199.



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In a recent article in the Harvard Educational Review, Cochran-Smith & Lytle (2006) offer a well reasoned critique of NCLB. They analyze both the language of the act itself as well as the language of the tools used to implement the act published by the U.S. Department of Education. Cochran-Smith & Lytle explore in depth what they refer to as three images of teaching or, even more specifically, the “central common conceptions symbolic of basic attitudes and orientations about teachers and teaching that are explicit or implicit in NCLB (p. 668).” This article argues that NCLB is disingenuous toward teachers leaving them void of active agency as contributors to their own professional practice. The argument is further supported as they point to multiple instances where NCLB oversimplifies the processes of teacher learning and teacher practice because the act relies on a reductionist view of teaching and learning. NCLB focuses on a transmission model of teaching and learning at the expense of all other methods and models, this in spite of the fact that the past 30 years have pointed us in more constructivist approaches to classroom practice.

Cochran-Smith & Lytle also argue that NCLB has multiple detrimental effects on schools, students, teachers, administrators, the communities served by schools, and the nation as a whole. They argue that NCLB undermines the broad democratic purpose of education in our nation. Public schooling, since the late 19th century, has been, at least in part, dedicated to the development of a productive, contributing citizen; active members of the body politic. They argue that NCLB, by removing democratic initiative and decision making from local and state authorities, effectively removes decision making from the classroom. The imposition of a top-down system of regulations for public schooling flies in the face of democratic principles, hence NCLB undermines democratic principles by teaching teachers and their students that following orders is more important than thinking about the source or legitimacy of those orders.

Cochran-Smith & Lytle also remark on the effect NCLB has had on narrowing the curriculum by privileging reading and math at the expense of social studies, science and the arts. What is more disturbing is that when considering reading NCLB only considers the technical aspects of the reading process and then only follows a single model for the transmission of reading skills to students. There is no effort to address competing models, for reading for aesthetic pleasure, or for reading for content and information. Some studies have found that better than 71% of American schools have dropped social studies, science, and the arts from their curriculum and that the majority of these schools are those that are historically under-served in terms of both money and staff.

I am appalled by the problems that NCLB has created. I suspect that they are far more serious in both the short and long term than the problems the act purports to correct. I will be spending some time over the next few weeks thinking deeply about the issues presented by NCLB. I will address questions such as whose interests are really being served by NCLB. I will deconstruct the language of the act and the supporting documents that are designed to support the implementation of the act. As I do this I will be looking seriously at work by David Berliner (1985, 2002) and his colleagues and Walt Haney (2000) as well as a number of other researchers. I believe this is an important debate and invite broad discussion.


Amrein, A. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2002, March 28). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Retrieved July 19, 2002, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/

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

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2006). Troubling images of teaching in No Child Left Behind. Harvard Educational Review, 76(4), 668-697.

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

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Stanley Fish (1994) wrote, “Liberalism is tolerant only within the space demarcated by the operations of reason; any one who steps outside that space will not be tolerated…In this liberalism does not differ from fundamentalism or from any other system of thought.” (Emphasis in original; p. 137)

The question then arises as to whether or not toleration is possible at any level? If, as Fish suggests, any system of thought is tolerant only within the limits of its own boundaries, then are we not doomed to living within the limits of our own set of taken-for-granteds, our own imagination, our own cultural, religious, ethnic, gender, sexual orientational traps? And, if this is the case, then how can one claim tolerance?

Here Fish takes a stab at the modern project, pointing to the limits of reason (or of faith) as self-contained systemic approaches to problem solving. It occurs to me that the problem is not one of embracing a single point of departure for thinking but, as Derrida (e.g., 1983; 1994) suggests, exploring the double-bind that purports to re-present both reason and intention. Focusing on the moment of existence as it renders a trace of Différance so that truth is known in multiple ways renders the notion of a singular mode of thought obsolete. Situations, ideas, thoughts are all subject to rigorous analysis from multiple perspectives in order to approach a tentative understanding which, in turn, is always subject to further analysis and, therefore, is constantly in flux.

Levinas’ (1969; 1987; 1997) approach to the ethical may provide some wiggle room here. There is an absolute ethical imperative for Levinas which is to be responsible for the other even before the other exists. For Levinas this is the ethical absolute that exists in what he terms the face-to-face of the ethical imperative. It is only through this exercise of response-ability that one is fully human. There is no reliance on reason or intentionality here. Rather, there is a reliance on action, acceptance of the imperative beyond which there is nothing.

Both Derrida and Levinas practice a religion without religion. Both require an anticipation of that which is to come but which remains just out of reach. There is an anticipation of the infinite, beyond which there is nothing—at least nothing that can be determined or desired. So here is anticipation without desire, waiting without knowledge.

So, what does any of this have to do with teaching and learning? After all, that is what this space is all about! The response-able relationship between teachers and students, the reciprocal requirement of the face-to-face, is the goal of any classroom. As a teacher, I must accept the ethical imperative so that reciprocation begins and ends with me. I have the duty to my students to consider, analyze, plan, and execute and, finally, to reconsider everything I know or do in my classroom. If I do this, I will set the stage for a real partnership with my students so that they, too, will be prepared to reciprocate.


Derrida, J. (1983). Dissemination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derrida, J. (1994). Aporias (T. Dutoit, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Fish, S. (1994). There’s no such thing as free speech…and it’s a good thing too. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

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

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


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This morning on an ABC news program, George Will, commenting on the latest Bush administration scandal (the one at Walter Reed Army Hospital), argued that there can be no democracy, no freedom, without consequent responsibility for one’s actions. In short, Will argued that one must be held accountable for acquitting one’s performance in a post for which one has accepted responsibility. When one fails to perform to expectations, one should rightly expect heads to roll.

I do not often find myself in agreement with George Will, but here is a case in which I believe Will is absolutely correct. One must be held to account for that which one has accepted a position of responsibility. When one accepts such a post there is a presumption upon which the rest of us can rely; that upon accepting responsibility for such a post one has agreed to and is fully aware of the requirements of the post itself. Since one is aware of the requirements of the post it seems appropriate to hold one accountable to those thing to which s/he has agreed. It must also be presumed that by accepting a post one is aware of the consequences for failure to perform appropriately and has accepted those consequences even before accepting the posting in the first instance.

The key to Will’s position, it seems to me, turns on the notion that there is an offer and an acceptance of such an offer which creates a contractual relationship in which both parties have always already defined a set of mutual expectations and obligations. There is a mutuality of both expectation and obligation that exists between compliant and agreeable parties to an agreement.

So this set me to thinking about the problem in American education today. Students are being held accountable for expectations that, at in the very best case, are imposed upon them from some external body. Because the expectations placed on students are compulsory, forced on them from the outside, there can be no acceptance, in a contractual sense, construed by the promulgation of standards. Quite the contrary, since acceptance cannot be implied nor explicitly established, what the standards movement represents is a totalitarian problem demanding accountability from those from whom there has been no acceptance of responsibility; there is no contract between students being held accountable and the public holding them accountable. The problem is that students exercise no voice in creating mutually acceptable obligations and responsibilities for the exercise of accountability.

Žižek (2003) pointing to the paradox that develops from the principle of conditional joy, that which places the academic radical in the hypocritical position of demanding social justice while hoping that the demands being made are not met, is instructive here. What Žižek argues is that while making demands that cannot be met (or must not be met because if they are then severe social unrest would occur) the radical academic is able to maintain his or her position of privilege at the academy. Žižek points out that the fulfillment of the rhetorical demand would ruin everything, much like Derrida’s (1993) warning that if the messiah were to actually arrive it would ruin everything for there would no longer be anything to anticipate. In the case of the standards movement, the ultimate fulfillment of the rhetorical claims would ruin everything for many.

The rhetoric of the standards movement, in fact, supports many vested interests, each of which is far removed from the students the rhetoric is supposed to serve. The argument, for fear of oversimplifying, goes something like this. If students know what they are supposed to learn they will be motivated to learn those things. Furthermore, in order to assure that learning is taking place, we must hold students accountable for that learning. Freire (1970) asks us to ask, “Whose interests are being served?” In the case of the standards movement the list is short, but involves billions of dollars. Textbook publishing houses and testing and measurement publishers are the largest beneficiaries of the public policy demanding standards compliance by the unrepresented majority—the students who are, in fact, the victims of this extraordinarily undemocratic movement.

It is time to rethink the standards movement in America. It is time to rethink No Child Left Behind. It is time to practice democracy before we claim to spread democracy around the world.



Derrida, J. (1993). Aporias (T. Dutoit, Trans.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (Revised ed.). New York: Continuum.

Žižek, S. (2003). The puppet and the dwarf: The perverse core of Christianity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

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Commenting on Rowen’s (2007) investigation on the importance of awe and wonder in the motivation to learn, Norris (2007) argues that there are three distinctive categories in which educational practice may be placed. First, there are things that enforce learning which includes such things as standards and accountability. Then there are those things that measure learning, things that include standardized testing instruments. Finally, there are those things that inspire learning, specifically awe and wonder.

The American educational system today relies on enforcement and measurement at the expense of inspiration. This is a tragic move on the part of educational policy makers, one that takes the joy out of learning. Dewey (1938) argues that in order for learning to occur one had to engage in what he called the transformative experience. In order to be transformed by the acquisition of knowledge, one must have a unique interest in learning, do the things necessary to acquiring and constructing the requisite knowledge, and finally, be prepared to attach language to the experience in order to confirm meaningful acquisition or construction of new knowledge. Instead of being a purposeful experience, learning today is both without purpose and joy.

Enforcement and measurement are, at their core, punitive, disciplinary approaches imposed upon the other violently by and through the exercise of raw power. I might even want to argue that enforcement and measurement are categories that preclude inspiration. They are technocratic impositions practiced against the weakest members of our society without regard to the fundamental purpose of education.

True learning is invitational (Smith, 1988), it occurs because one has the absolute desire to learn about something one knows little about. Learning is inspirational in the sense that one accepts an invitation to engage in the act of learning because one looks up and is able to say WOW! Until one is wowed, awestruck, filled with wonder (not in the sense of, “I wonder what is on TV tonight,” but in the sense of, “I wonder how that works.”) will one truly become a learner. Perhaps it is time to restore wonder to the curriculum.

I like to think this is possible through an inquiry based curriculum in which the teacher, acting as the adult in the room as he or she must, constructs a Curriculum Box, one that establishes the limits of the inquiry. Once the Curriculum Box is constructed, students are encouraged to wander around inside of the Box in order to explore some aspect that inspires one to learn more and more. In this way, students are guided through a curriculum that is designed to inspire, to awe, to cause one to wonder.


Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Harper & Row.

Norris, T. (2007). The refusal of wonder. In N. C. Burbles & D. Vokey (Eds.), Philosophy of Education 2006 (pp. 221-223). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.

Rowen, T. B. (2007). A retrieval of awe: Examining disruption and apprehension in transformative education. In N. C. Burbles & D. Vokey (Eds.), Philosophy of Education 2006 (pp. 212-220). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of Education Society.

Smith, F. (1988). Joining the literacy club: Further essays into education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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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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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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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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