Good Intentions & Unintended Consequences


Reposted from Blue Cereal Education:

When we try to mass-mandate solutions in ways that ignore or deny the underlying sources of the problems, there will be unintended consequences. We want so badly for ‘higher standards’ and ‘college ready’ to become unilateral solutions to complex problems, and to provide us with moral and legal cover as we marginalize and blame those not born into pre-existing privilege. We choose not just the height of the expectation, but its very nature. We rarely stop to ask if our concept of ‘mastery’ reflects anyone’s worldview but our own.

In practice, ‘high expectations’ has become a new poll tax or grandfather clause – fair and reasonable on the surface, but inequitable and perhaps even malicious just below the gilding. It’s a job description tailored to the person on the inside they’ve already decided to hire, labeling all others ‘unqualified’. It doesn’t have to be purposeful to be destructive (hence ‘unintended’), but I’m not always certain it’s not. Our conflation of ‘high standards’, ‘success’, and ‘compliance with my old white guy paradigm’ is simply too persistent to dismiss intent altogether. Real learning and its ‘measurement’ must vary with circumstances and goals. It must accommodate real students and teachers working through their messy, non-standardized worlds.

That this is cloyingly unsatisfying makes it no less true. Until we grasp that, we’ll just keep trying to pound the wonderful variety of pegs entrusted to us into the same damn little round holes. Not only will we keep failing to make them all fit, but we’ll break far too many along the way. Their destruction will be an unintentional consequence of our most noble rhetoric. The grades will go on their report cards, but the failure? That’s ours.

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