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Unsettling Education

Searching for Ethical Footing in a Time of Reform


Edited By Brian Charest and Kate Sjostrom

Unsettling Education: Searching for Ethical Footing in a Time of Reform offers a counter-narrative to the prevailing orthodoxies of schooling and school reform that conflate education and learning with that which can be measured on state-mandated examinations. Despite the push to "settle" the purposes of teaching and schooling in ways that see education as the teaching of a discrete set of skills that align with standardized exams, there are teachers and students who continue to resist standardization and whose stories suggest there are many ways to organize schools, design curriculum, and understand the purposes of education. Unsettling Education shares stories of how teachers have resisted state and local mandates to teach to the test in dehumanizing ways, how such teachers have sought to de-commodify educational spaces, how they have enacted their ethical commitments to students and communities, and how they have theorized such practices, sometimes even reconsidering their roles as teachers and the very purposes of schooling. Volume contributors offer concrete ways in which teachers might challenge the structures of schooling to reveal the full humanity and potential of students through different forms of resistance pedagogy, institutional critiques, and critical self-reflection. Featuring a wide range of voices and contexts, the collections’ chapters blend story and theory, resulting in a volume both accessible and thought-provoking to varied audiences—from undergraduate students of education and concerned citizens to veteran educators, teacher educators, administrators, and policymakers.

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4. Beyond Mandates and Measurement: Imagining a Gradeless Classroom (Sarah J. Donovan)


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4. Beyond Mandates and Measurement: Imagining a Gradeless Classroom


In 2005, after my first year teaching junior high English, Illinois passed a mandate to expand the required Holocaust unit to include other acts of genocide. Like most new teachers, I turned to colleagues for help, but found very few knew much about genocide beyond the Holocaust, so I began researching and reading genocide literature appropriate for junior high readers.

The first book I found was Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen about the genocide of nearly 200,000 Maya in Guatemala in the early 1980s. I bought a class set with my own money eager to “meet” the standard and further explore this atrocity alongside students. I approached this reading the way our English department had taught the Holocaust unit, mandated in the early 90s: with a packet of guiding questions, discussions, quizzes, research, and a multiple-choice/short-answer final exam.

As we read Tree Girl, students filled out the packet, which I used to assess their reading. I marked wrong answers with a slash; I awarded right answers with a smiley face or a “Good job!” I continued like this until we got to chapter five, when the main character, fifteen-year-old Gabriela Flores, witnessed a massacre. The graphic nature of the scene prompted a discussion about the “truth” of this event and how Mikaelsen, the author, had access to the facts. Students wanted to...

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