Notable notes: (Un)Intentional?
This week’s notable notes focus on unintentional consquences that so often result from good ideas gone awry from the effect that bad writing instruction has on students’ critical thinking abilities to the impact of standardized testing on the type of people our students become.
My friend Liz Prather inspired me twice over this week. Once in person (which inspired my blog post “Teachers: We reap what we sow”) and once on her guest post for the Kentucky Arts Council. I have shared other posts from her blog Teach Like Everyone’s Listening, a theme that aligns well with my closing notes below. It is not surprising to me that Liz chose to write about the connection between writing and thinking for her guest blog, The ability to write well is the ability to think well. This is a connection we have discussed many times and one that is immediately apparent to anyone who teaches writing as more than a formula. Yet, her post underlines an important (and hopefully unintended) consquence of our focus on formulaic writing — writing is thinking and the ability to write well and the ability to think well are intrinsically linked.
Another piece I shared that plays along with this week’s on-going theme is an excerpt from an interview with Noam Chomsky on the Dangers of Standardized Testing. This piece provides a wonderful bridge between Liz’s piece above and the note below as well as gives some wonderful quotes about what we should really want out of our schools. I am willing to concede that the people (not the corporations, they are evil incarnate to profit from our children) behind our national testing obsession really want to improve our education system. Their intentions were good, but if they knew as much about children, learning, and education as they think they do they could have forseen these unintended consquences. Noam Chomsky describes some of these, but this is the thought that chilled me to the bone:
What kind of human being is that? Is that the kind of human being you want to create? All of these mechanisms- testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring… These ideas and concepts have consequences…
I want to leave you with two parting thoughts about living and teaching. The first comes from The Huffington Post and is the story of a teacher’s obituary. Faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis, Emily Debrayda Phillips wrote her own obituary and it has gone viral. There are a number of important reasons why I originally shared this post and why it resonated so with my friends and peers, but I think one important reason is that we should all take stock, from time to time, about the impact of our lives and our choices. I commented on the original post that I used to make my students write their own obituaries. This assignment was not intended to be a morbid exercise, but rather an exercise of hope. This was an assignment in a developmental writing class and I wanted students to visualize where they wanted to go with their lives. I wanted them to dream and to hope. When I read the obituary and the accompanying article I read about a life lived with joy and meaning. We should all be so lucky. Emily Debrayda Phillips touched the lives of others and that is one of the reasons I wrote my blog post “Teachers: We reap what we sow.” As teachers, and as humans, we should always think about the seeds we are planting with our words and our deeds. Emily Debrayda Phillips may not have had any buildings named in her honor, but there are monuments to her life in the lives of her family and her students. We must always remember that our actions have consequences and they might not be the ones we intended.