Independent Schools, Independent Teachers: Freedom and Responsibility – Independent Schools, Common Perspectives – Education Week

Independent-Schools_Common-PerspectivesThe other day a thread appeared on the National Association of Independent Schools online communities speculating on aspects of the great freedom that independent school teachers have to create curriculum and assessments suited to their strengths and to the particular needs and interests of their students and their schools. This got me to thinking.

This freedom has long been a classic double-edged sword. The virtues of “teacher autonomy” in independent schools were extolled to me even before I entered the field back in the Nixon era. As another veteran of that era commented in response to an earlier post here, the idea long prevailed in many schools (and perhaps still does in some) that a teacher would be taken to the door to the classroom, handed a textbook (a.k.a. the “curriculum”), and assured that paychecks would clear until June, short of some act that would rate firing for cause. What happened in the classroom would, by some sort of gentleman’s agreement, stay in the classroom, and the teacher would seldom be inconvenienced…


3 thoughts on “Independent Schools, Independent Teachers: Freedom and Responsibility – Independent Schools, Common Perspectives – Education Week

  1. Jim Wheeler

    Although I am not a teacher I’ve been on the receiving end enough to have thought about this issue. So, some thoughts.

    Teaching English Lit is different from teaching calculus or metallurgy, a continuum with economics and history somewhere in between those ends. It is not unreasonable for a textbook author or authors to limn the limits of, say, geometry, but poetry defies fences.

    The problem I see with complete autonomy is the potential conflict between subjective knowledge, such as superstition, religion or other bias, and objective knowledge, the principal example being evolution.

    There was a time, fairly brief I suppose, when the education establishment extolled the virtues of something called “Western Civilization”. This was bolstered by a list of what was called “The Great Books”, an interesting but in my opinion ultimately limiting attempt to define what a well-educated person ought to be exposed to.

    Teaching autonomy, like an economy, needs both freedom and competitive forces in order to thrive, but without freedom and creativity, teaching loses its audience.

  2. Jim Wheeler

    And, if you will, allow me to through out one more thought. By what criterion should we judge whether the teaching of the more subjective areas is successful? I suggest it is so if the students become autodidactic in those areas. Now, if I only knew how to test for that!

  3. Pingback: The Daily Find: February 23, 2013 | NAIS Annual Conference 2013

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