- Freedom to Experiment
- Freedom to Fail
- Freedom to Try on Identifies
- Freedom of Effort
Although these freedoms are not a particularly new idea, it was new to me this year, and it really helped crystalize several previous thoughts I’ve written about. It definitely resonated with my ideas that agency is not a binary quality of an activity, but that learning activities can contain different degrees of agency. This framework helped illuminate some of those different degrees to which an activity can contain freedom/agency.
1. Freedom to Experiment
So, how do standards rack up to freedom number 1? Ok at best, I suppose: it could be worse.
The standards themselves are quite open and emphasize higher-order skills, which can be learned in many different contexts. This provides some grounds for exploration and experimentation in learning. At the same time, it doesn’t require such experimentation and teachers can use a very structured, linear lesson plan to teach whatever standard it is they are trying to teach. So, it could go either way here.
2. Freedom to Fail
How do the standards rank to freedom number 2? Definitely a big fat zero.
The standardized tests very explicitly do not allow for failure–you need to get them right, and get them right that first time, otherwise there are consequences for both you as a student and your teacher. Any system that has high stakes tests by definition does not include freedom to fail; that is literally a part of the definition of “high stakes.”
3. Freedom to Try on Identities
C’mon standards, how about freedom number 3? Another big disappointment.
The whole point of a standard is that by definition, everyone fits the standard and looks the same. A standard creates one identity that everyone has to mold into by the end of each year- your ability to try on different identities, to specialize in your learning in any way is irrelevant and not encouraged by the standards. In fact, the standards are very explicitly reinforcing uniformity, the exact opposite of this freedom.
4. Freedom of Effort
What about freedom number 4? Well, standards probably didn’t make school any worse off at this than it was before, but there’s certainly no improvement here.
Can you choose to try hard in your learning one day, and not in the next? I’m not sure this goes against the standards as much as it goes against our very idea of school, which is comprised of kids sitting in chairs and being forced to put effort into listening to a teacher at prescribed times. The standards certainly don’t help the issue (there’s things that need to be learned this year by everyone, whether you want to or not!). But school itself was structured quite heavily against this freedom well before the standards arrived.