Zombies No More (part 3)
In a seminar in writing and teaching nonfiction, I asked my students to develop an instructional plan based on their assessment of a stack of middle school students’ papers. The result? Papers that sounded nothing like the bright, committed young teachers I had come to know; instead, stiff monotones of edu-babble describing drill-and-kill activities straight out of grammar workbooks from the 1940’s– this despite our in-depth studies of research that indicated activities like these were completely useless, even counterproductive, in improving student writing. And then, students who confessed that they’d frozen in their tracks when they realized the assignment was related to standards established by national accreditation organizations.
It’s not so easy to forget your roots, especially when you’re caught off-guard. That’s usually when you retreat to the comfort of automatic pilot. So it was with many of my students. Their experiences of schooling were so bound up with memories of high-stakes tests that when the going got tough, they produced dutifully correct prose with ideas shaped exactly to the liking of their most formidable high school English teacher. And they didn’t even realize they’d done it.
Isn’t that how it seems to work? I’ll never be like my mother/father/teacher. Then one day, you wake up and that’s exactly who faces you in the mirror.
Schooling is like that, too. We go in to learn to read and write, and we emerge having been shaped: boy, girl, American, smart, successful, etc. At the start of the Industrial Revolution, schooling trained students to be obedient factory workers. In many ways, my students had been similarly trained by the years of NCLB-driven curricula and instructional practice: don’t color–or live–outside the lines.
That’s what you call a hidden curriculum, I told my students.
Then a student asked, “What’s your hidden curriculum?”
There was a long pause before I heard myself speak. “I want you to take what you learn and put it to work. Go out there, get tenure, then do everything you can to challenge the policies and practices that are making schools so toxic for kids and teachers. I want you to be leaders. I am, quite simply, preparing you to carry out guerilla warfare.”
I’m pretty sure I heard some approving murmurs. Then P. spoke. “Cool,” she said. “And we don’t have to rewrite those papers, right?”