The Least Objectionable Path

Two roads diverged in a wood…

We all pretty much know how this story goes but I think that its implications go beyond doing something different.  I think it often means doing something that is not easy.

The more I move my classroom in the direction of student created content the more I realize that the objections I hear from others about doing so involve a fear of the risk involved.  Recently the “What if” challenges that I get focus on things like: “What if the students create controversial content”, “What if the students arrive at conclusions that you don’t agree with?”  Or even “How can you maintain control in an environment like that?”

I have started giving them this answer, “I don’t know, but I think it is worth the risk.”

In my mind I have reduced these concerns to a sense of fear.  Not the kind of fear that a person should be ashamed of, but the kind of fear that we have when we are doing something effective and we are afraid that if we change what we do, won’t continue to be effective. That is a pretty serious risk.  Part of this fear I think, is the general mood of criticism that teachers and schools face in our country right now.  I think it is hard to take risks when we are under such critical scrutiny. We tend to avoid such criticism.

But I believe that we HAVE to. If we don’t we are failing our kids, our community and ourselves.  If we simply do what we have done or if we do things that avoid taking risks, we are not choosing what is best for our students, we are choosing what is easiest for us. I refer to this as THE LEAST OBJECTIONABLE PATH.

If all we do is follow the least objectionable path to learning, we are not really learning.  If all we do is follow the least objectionable path we are not innovating.  If all we do is follow the least objectionable path we do not expose people to ideas that expand their understanding of the world.  If all we do is follow the least objectionable path we do not teach our students to have a civil discussion with people whom we may disagree with at deep and personal level.  Most critically in my mind, if all we do is follow the least objectionable path we do not GROW.  This is the worst thing we can do, because the opposite of growth is death.

Take risks. Grow.  It’s worth it.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Least Objectionable Path

  1. Great post, Shawn. It can be hard to stay the course when there is pushback from many sectors, including students. I really want my students to embrace the challenges of ownership of their learning, but it is often the strongest students (in traditional measures) who are the most resistant because they have figured out school and do not want the game to change. In turn, those parents can voice concerns as well. With college in the balance, they often see the stakes as too high to experiment. How can we help students and parents realize that we are preparing them better by pushing them out of the comfort zone?

  2. Yes! I think it is worth the risk, too. What do you have to lose? Days filled with forgettable learning and possible scattered motivation? I am with you. Can’t wait to read more- you write about moments that I also ponder…

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