Debate Magazine

The Problem with Standards (from the Archives)

By Stevemiranda

The problem with standards is that by imposing a minimum, you are at the same time imposing a maximum. If you say to your 10th grade English class, “Write a five-page essay analyzing Joseph Heller’s use irony in Catch-22,” there’s pretty much zero chance that anyone will go above and beyond that.

From Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin, on the problem with enforcing minimum standards:

“[T]he people who work for you, the ones you freed to be artists, will rise to a level you can’t even imagine. When people realize that they are not a cog in a machine, an easily replaceable commodity, they take the challenge and grow. They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money. They do more than they’re paid to, on their own, because they value quality for its own sake, and they want to do good work. They need to do good work. Anything less feels intellectually dishonest, and like a waste of time. In exchange, you’re giving them freedom, responsibility and respect, which are priceless.

“As a result of these priceless gifts, expect that the linchpins on your staff won’t abuse their power. In fact, they’ll work harder, stay longer, and produce more than you pay them to. Because everyone is a person, and people crave connection and respect.”

At PSCS, we give students the freedom to be off campus for self-directed independent study for a set number of hours each school year. Because they’re off campus, we can’t track exactly what they’re doing all the time; instead, we trust them. I got an email earlier this year from a student who said she was scheduled to be offsite doing independent study, but she got sick and spent the whole day in bed. Those hours, she informed me, should therefore not be credited towards her independent study. It was a remarkable display of integrity. But you know what? It wasn’t unusual. Kids at my school do stuff like this all the time.


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