Standards and Teacher Autonomy
The ongoing debate about the increasing importance of uniform educational standards in the public school system often centers on pedagogical issues. Paul Thomas, in his “A Case Against Standards,” offers a political perspective. Siding with those who construe standards negatively as leading to a greater bureaucratization of students’ learning, Thomas claims that standards diminish teachers’ professional autonomy.
When teachers’ work is increasingly defined by standards of education enforced from above, the political hierarchy of institutions of learning is strengthened. As he puts it, until teachers “are allowed the autonomy to be professional, however, we are destined to fail our ideals established for universal public education.”
Agreeing with Thomas’ overall view, I wonder, nevertheless, whether autonomy is something that should be merely “allowed”. Shouldn’t teachers cultivate their autonomy, assert it, and struggle to defend it? As a relatively new teacher, I have often been extremely surprised to see teachers accepting their lack of autonomy as if it were simply a dictate of nature.