It requires gumption to follow one’s principles wherever they lead. One may hope, for example, that children will be lifelong learners. But what if evidence and experience tell us that interest in learning declines when students are graded and made to work on academic assignments at home? Are we willing to question any traditional practices-including grades and homework-that interfere with important goals?
Advanced Placement courses often just accelerate the worst kind of lecture-based, textbook-oriented instruction. They’re “rigorous,” but that doesn’t mean they’re good. When it was reported that Scarsdale High School in New York joined other schools in deciding to drop all AP courses, an administrator at a nearby school circulated the article to his colleagues under the heading “Do we have the guts?”
To dig deeper is to ask the root questions: not how many AP courses kids should take, but whether to replace the College Board’s curriculum with our own; not how much homework to assign, but why kids should have to work a second shift every evening; not how to grade, but whether to do so at all.
Even when practices seem to be producing good results, a courageous educator questions the criteria: “Wait a minute-we say this policy ‘works,’ but doesn’t that just mean it raises scores on bad tests?” “My classroom may be quiet and orderly, but am I promoting intellectual and moral development, or merely compliance?” “Aren’t our graduates getting into prestigious colleges mostly because they’re from affluent families? Are we helping them become deep and passionate thinkers?”
Great questions. But again, I’ll ask, how many are grappling with these questions in the context of abundant, networked, ubiquitous modern learning? What kinds of literacies, practices, skills and dispositions do we have to promote today as opposed to even 10 years ago?