Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Square Pegs and Round Holes: Community Schooling and the State

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Square Pegs and Round Holes: Community Schooling and the State

Article excerpt

I work at a community school. To me, a community school, also known as an alternative school, indicates a school that fulfills two major commitments: to stand outside mainstream pedagogy and to provide a safe haven for students who have been failed by the state education system. That these two commitments should go hand in hand is pretty much a no-brainer. The latter is well supported, but the former remains contentious. All levels of the education hierarchy pressure community school teachers to abandon the reality of what they see in the classroom and adapt to the latest one-size-fits-all bastardization of quality teaching and learning.

The problem, of course, is that the state funds community schools and expects us to meet its demands. That the money comes with strings attached proves once again that governments are interested in control, not philanthropy. And it leaves community schools in an awkward position.

Governments implement education initiatives across the board, with little consideration of the vastly different circumstances facing individual schools. This poses difficulties for mainstream schools, but for community schools it means failing our students. For example, consider the recent push for standardized testing. When we agree to standardized testing, we agree not only to subjecting students to standards, which do not consider their circumstances, but also wasting time on an exam that provides no educational benefits. But when standardized testing is rationalized by such terms as 'accountability' and 'transparency,' we are pushed to accept it as if it is supported by research. Surely, the time spent administering this test--and doing the inevitable coaching beforehand--could be better spent.

Research supports some concepts frequently embraced by alternative and community schools, but these concepts are predictably unpopular with education bureaucrats. Negotiating a curriculum with students has been proven to improve overall results in both literacy and numeracy, but it's harder to measure the success of this against state or federal benchmarks. Focusing holistically on each student, giving equal consideration to their welfare and their education, has long been known to benefit students, but this is impossible to quantify. If we must test our students against mainstream standards, we will begin to teach in a mainstream manner, squeezing out proven pedagogical philosophies. …

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