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Collaboration Agent | Ecology of EducationEcology of Education

Collaboration Agent

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This post is cross-posted from www.joebower.org

Collaboration is a very important skill to have. If you are a teacher or parent, you know how cumbersome group projects can be. Sometimes the project itself is the least of our concerns.

But is it possible to collaborate too much?

I took some class time to show my students these videos on Stanley Milgrim’s Shock-Obedience Experiments. My students were fascinated and disturbed, as I was, by the results of this social experiment. I also plan on using this with my staff as a professional development activity.

Take a look. This might be your next lesson plan.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcvSNg0HZwk

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzTuz0mNlwU

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CmFCoo-cU3Y

If you can see why we should teach children to be mindful of the consequences of their actions, then you have to see why teachers too, must be mindful of their own actions.
When I relate this to education, I see teachers taking orders from all kinds of authority figures (politicians, superintendents, principals) as if the teacher was simply an agent of the state.

After all, they are just following orders.

After administrating a standardized test, the follow-up interview with a compliant teacher might go something like this:

Q: It looks like you were under some stress?

A: I found it quite stressful. Yeah I did.

Q: But you went on.

A: I did. Yeah. Because my principal said that these tests wouldn’t damage the kids long term. So…

Q: So if by chance these tests do hurt the kids, whose responsibility would that have been?

A: Well, in the eye’s of the Lord it would be my fault. Morally, it would be my fault. And I could argue that I was following procedure laid out by my government, superintendent or principal. Perhaps I could blame them. But in reality it would be me prepping and administring the test.

Q: And even with the burden of the knowledge, that morally you are responsible – you went on?

A: Hmm. I’m not entirely pleased about that, but I did. Yeah.

Q: How do you interpret the kid’s reactions to these tests seeing that the bulk of a student’s intelligence evades the clutches of these kinds of tests?

A: I didn’t… I don’t know… I didn’t actually actually think about it – maybe I probably should have – but I didn’t think about it that much. So… my job was to teach the curriculum and prepare them for the test. So…

And the interview with a non-compliant teacher might go like this:

Q: You were involved in an important exercise in educational accountability and the principal told you to go prep and administer the test. Why did you disobey?

A: It sounded a little bit like the Nazis in the Second World War Germany. It wasn’t my fault – it wasn’t me, I was told to do it.

Q: The majority of teachers go along with this testing – they prep their kids and administer the test.

A: I find that scary. I find that very scary.

——————-

I get that there are strong external pressures on teachers to comply.

I get that there is a “real world” out there that teachers must face. The stakes are high for all of us to comply.

Evidently, we can convince ourselves, in certain circumstances, that these harmful assessment practices are absolutely justified. When I started to look into assessment, I thought of bad assessment practices as something bad teachers- other teachers – did.

And now I see for the first time that this apathetic compliance is not some malevalent force out there. It’s very much in us.

In you.

In me.

In everyone of us.

If we aren’t prepared to think for ourselves and stand for something – to move for something – then we will reconcile ourselves to the perpetual status quo, spending our time getting children to accomodate themselves to playing the game. We educate them in the elaborate tricks and subtle nuances of maneuvering through the game.

And if we do this…

Nothing will change.

The recipe for all this is simple – all we need is for good people to say nothing.

At some point, your silence is betrayal.

But here’s the good news. If you asked any of the test-subjects from the videos above to participate in Milgrim’s shock experiments again, they would likely not mindlessly comply.

Their conscious reflection would enable them to replace their mindless compliance with mindful subversion.

Now it’s your turn…

This post is cross-posted from www.joebower.org

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Author:Joe Bower

Joe is a middle school teacher in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. Joe works to challenge 'traditional' schooling while exploring more progressive forms of education. He believes students should experience their success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information. He is also the author of For the Love of Learning @ www.joebower.org