The Untouchables

Sometimes the things that need to be questioned the most, are the things we feel we’re least able to question. The parts of the education system that carry the guise of being ingrained, natural, and untouchable. Things that have “always been” and things that will “always be”.


– grade levels

– curriculum

– assessment

– reporting

– timetables

– units

– classes

– classrooms

But if we really want to pursue more agency for students and shift the current paradigm of education, then maybe these are the very things that we should be critically questioning, challenging and re-imagining.

Sometimes this is difficult to do because these human-created systems have seemed to almost calcify overtime to the point where it’s hard to figure out how to remove them, or change them.

But if we ask ourselves George Couros’ famous question…

(Image source – Principal of Change Blog)

… with the intent of creating a place that respects and supports each student’s agency as a learner and a human being and supports the processes of learning as they naturally occur… would those elements and structures be part of the design?

How can we stop seeing these elements as untouchables and start having critical conversations about:

the purpose they serve, or perhaps don’t serve…

the way they support learning, or perhaps inhibit learning

the way the help students flourish, or perhaps prevent students from flourishing

the impact they have, or perhaps their unintended side-effects...

I’m not saying that they’re all bad (or that any of them are bad) I’m just saying that making an informed choice as an education community about the structures and systems we choose to have to support learners and the process of learning, is very different than passively accepting elements of the educational paradigm that have been passed down, or passed off as “untouchable”.

Which “untouchable” elements of the current education paradigm do YOU think need to be critically questioned?

5 thoughts on “The Untouchables

  1. Great thinking. Very often we are restricted in our going forward by ‘untouchable’ systems. I think whatever changes that come need to have greater student involvement in all areas of planning, assessment, organisation and structure of the school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! I also think that leadership can either set the tone of teachers being comfortable to ask these sorts of questions and challenge these sorts of structures… or afraid/worried/unable to. The difference between a professional learning community where teachers have these critical discussions in hushed voices but don’t feel comfortable to speak up and share publicly. Versus a professional learning community where leaders are explicitly asking teachers questions that engender these types of conversations in a way that makes them feel safe to share.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the image of these “untouchables” having “calcified.” It’s so arbitrary, though, isn’t it? Are we afraid it would just blow everyone’s mind too much to suggest changes?

    I wonder if, at least in part, the answer to breaking up that calcification is to first cultivate as much agency in our students as possible, because once the learning is more in their hands, they’ll start questioning these things, too. I’d always have pretty frank conversations with my students about the untouchables (“yeah, I totally agree it’s weird they make us split up by grade level” or “these tests really have very little to do with how you have grown as a learner this year & I’m so sorry you must take them”). I wanted them to see the man behind the curtain as much as possible so we could have those discussions.


  3. Pingback: Student Agency Resources | Educator Voices

  4. Pingback: Friday Newsletter: February 22, 2019 – American International School of Mozambique

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