Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of ignorance.
– Robert Quillen
I won’t call it an argument.
What I got into this evening that lasted from the beginning of dinner, through settling the check, the drive to the movie theater and up to the point at which we took our seats for the previews was a discussion.
We discussed education.
In a party of 9, my friend and I ignored all others and searched for common ground.
He discussed from a deficit model.
He discussed the importance of standardized tests.
He discussed there were far more teachers who should be fired than were excellent.
He discussed end-of-year assessment and the ability to write a well-reasoned essay as the marks of a highly-qualified teacher.
I argued against it all.
I argued against it all except the very last point.
I wanted to. In my argument for project-based assessment, for the value of asking students what they can create and teaching to their passions, for the idea that having students read from textbooks precludes the idea that a teacher has created a constructivist classroom – in all of this – I could not make my way to the argument that writing an essay should no longer be the measure.
This thought hung on the coatrack in the back of my mind as I attempted to make my exit from the discussion.
He wasn’t ready for the idea that what might deserve our focus is teaching students to make arguments, but that writing them down – on paper or screen – mightn’t need to be the standard by which we measure their rhetorical abilities.
It was incredibly frustrating to realize how many layers of discussion were necessary before I would be able to get to an idea I recognized as truly progressive.
I wanted to suggest having kids write with video integrating links, tags and annotations a la youtube videos could liberate voice, deepen understanding and lead to more dynamics arguments. I wanted to suggest that writing in words wasn’t native to the human experience, that doing something because it’s what’s been done for centuries isn’t answer enough.
Instead of this, I had a discussion I’ve had time and again regarding truths I take to be self-evident. It was a moment of frustration. I want to be having a better discussion based on a common belief that learning and adequate yearly progress are not the same thing. Tonight, I had hoped that our conversation of what education can be could come from a mutual belief that teaching is a respectable profession and that we must care for teachers as we would care for students. It turned out, we weren’t ready for the conversation.
I’ll find myself in some iteration of tonight’s conversation again (soon, I’m sure). I will listen and question and push with as much vehemence as I did tonight each time I’m allowed.
Still, in some moments, it would be nice if we all decided we were ready for the next big conversations.