Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bad Egalitarianism at Westfield High

The AP U.S. History teachers at Westfield, a competitive public high school in suburban Washington, D.C. have banned curiosity and critical exploration. They sent a list of rules to all students, with this as Number One:

"You are only allowed to use your OWN knowledge, your OWN class notes, class handouts, your OWN class homework, or The Earth and Its Peoples textbook to complete assignments and assessments UNLESS specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.''

Students are forbidden to talk to other people, including their own parents, about the assignments. They are specifically forbidden to look things up on the internet.

Jay Matthews, the parent who brought this situation to the world's attention in the Washington Post, tried to get the teachers to explain themselves. They declined. He asked the principal. The principal declined to comment on the record, "but gave me the impression that the teachers, who did not respond to my request for comment, were only trying to be fair. Some students have more help and resources than others."

This is so sad. Egalitarian ideology has so clouded these teachers' minds that they have lost all sense of what education is about.

I hope this foolishness can be cured by gentle mockery.


Anonymous said...

I wonder if these guidelines might also have been an attempt to help students avoid plagiarism. If you have been taught something in another class, then include it in a paper for another class, citation becomes tricky. The same with internet sources and anything that is not strictly a textbook, journal article, etc. Obviously, the school has gone overboard, but I wonder if that was part of their thinking process. I know when I used to teach English to college freshman, they would often include information in their papers without any sort of reference, and when I would ask where they found the information, they would say that it was just something they knew, or something someone told them, and it was difficult to make them understand why they needed sources.

Gruntled said...

I agree that many students do not grasp plagiarism as well as they used to, mostly because of the ease of stealing internet sources. The cure for that is to teach how not to plagiarize, not to ban research.

Moreover, to make talking to your parents about a paper into an Honor Code violation goes way beyond concern with plagiarism.

Anonymous said...

In my AP US history class, we had to read from American Pageant, which is a pretty lame and somewhat inaccurate textbooks (in previous editions, it was also severely racist and pro-Manifest destiny, but by the time we had it that was mostly cleaned up. It still only had one sentence on women's suffrage though, which was pretty lame)
I took to fulfilling assignments by reading online course notes and wikipedia. In a class of 40 students, five got fives on the AP test, and I was one of them.