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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 2, October 2007

Rich instruction sacrificed

By Alfie Kohn

I’ve visited BC half a dozen times in the last two years and everywhere I go in the province I hear from teachers—and some administrators—about the devastating effects of the government’s education policies. The corporate-style emphasis on "data" and "achievement"—and the tendency to unilaterally impose that agenda on classrooms from above—hasn’t merely taken the joy out of learning (and teaching). To a large extent, it’s taken the learning out of schools, as rich instruction is sacrificed in order to raise exam scores.

Most BC teachers are terribly unhappy about this—and, in my experience, the better the teacher, the more unhappy he or she is. But very few have stepped forward and said, "This must stop." That, in effect, is what Kathryn Sihota has said. In the best tradition of civil disobedience, she has done what many of her colleagues would like to have done and, arguably, should have done. She has concluded that if she can’t justify spending classroom time preparing students for a test of dubious value, then she also can’t in good conscience "administer" that test.

To punish Sihota would be a dreadful mistake. It’s obvious that she has the best interests of her students in mind, but I respect her reasoning as much as her motives. I believe that her judgment about how best to teach and assess her students is better than that of provincial officials. I earnestly hope that her administrators and school-board members will join me in commending her courage and following her lead.

Alfie Kohn, a noted author and speaker was described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores."


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