Skirt the rules.


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Image via i can read
Image via i can read

I’m attempting to participate in #rhizo14 because Dave Cormier’s work on rhizomatic learning and communities really interests me. I had such a great experience last winter with #etmooc so I’m hoping to be able to keep up with this course, if only to read and view the content shared.

Week 1- Cheating as Learning

This week’s heading makes me uneasy. Cheating = bad. Listening to Dave explain what this week is all about, I get it, I do. But I don’t like it. I guess I don’t have to.

After watching Dave’s intro video, I thought immediately of my last year-ish in the principalship. Mandates were coming down from the state level hard and fast. More standardization. More rigid schedules. We adopted regimented programs with accompanying fidelity checks and the works. More consuming.

Less autonomy. Less freedom for teachers. Less creativity. Less thinking. Less creating.

Maybe it was because I didn’t agree with any of it. Maybe it was because I was pregnant and I really didn’t have the energy to be gangbusters about the straight and narrow path public education was taking. For whatever the reason, I decided to respect my teachers’ freedom and trust them as professionals. I was going to squeeze every ounce of wiggle room out of what I, the middle man, was expected to hand down to my teachers. Some went rogue and adjusted schedules or approaches. Others chose to stick to the plan. There was discourse and conflict and messiness and also some beautiful things that emerged during this time.

Cheating? Nah. Skirting the rules? Definitely.

There was something very instinctual about my decision not to wholeheartedly push the directives. I wasn’t trying to be defiant. I felt it was the right thing to do. The teachers needed me to. The kids needed me to.

I understand that not everyone has the authority to act in this way, or the desire to. Teachers are slaves to schedules and their supervisors and curriculum guides and standards and common assessments and often have to act in ways that defy their guts. Teaching shouldn’t be like that. Learning shouldn’t be like that. Can I ever go back to being a principal in a public ed system? I’m not sure. Not without a lot of autonomy and trust given to me from those above.

Dave shared that the reason we consider cheating to be cheating is because there is a defined set of answers or rules or structures in place by someone in “authority.” The teacher in the classroom, the superintendent, the state department of ed. We’ve all grown accustomed to this power structure and it’s become ingrained in the traditions of schooling.

When we decide to cheat, or skirt the rules, we have the opportunity to disrupt those power structures. For good. We can free ourselves from rigid thinking and one-size-fits-all and we can start imagining and creating in new ways.

There are are still teachers who still don’t allow kids to talk to one another during classwork. During “learning” exercises. They consider “talking to your neighbor” to be a form of cheating. “I don’t want to see your neighbor’s answer on your paper. I want to see your answer.”

What if the answer created by the student and his neighbor is far superior to the one that the individual could conjure on his own? And what if those partners then joined heads with the students across the room? (Yes, I’m suggesting that, perhaps, the kids should get out of their seats.)

Community emerges. Co-creation of content, of knowledge, and shared experiences.

It’s hard to relinquish control. It’s okay to want consistency and quality for all kids. That can happen while respecting the professional and the child. While respecting freedoms and passions and interests and needs and strengths.

It seems to me that for something considered to be so highly disrespectful, cheating as learning requires a great deal of respect for the teacher and student.