Does learning begin and end in the classroom?
In a bizarre twist on the grade school classroom contract, ABC News reports that Westfield High Schoo
l in Virginia has prohibited students in AP World History from consulting any outside sources, including parents, classmates, the internet, or anything other than their textbooks and lecture notes.
It’s not clear if this is a serious policy. A spokesman for the Fairfax County Public Schools described it as “… a little tongue-in-cheek from the teachers,” but the principal of Westfield High claimed that the policy “guaranteed fairness among students and wouldn’t give a student with more resources an advantage.”
There is of course a serious side to the “fairness argument.” Things like a supportive home environment can have a real impact on educational achievement and it is clear that such factors are not consistent across families. It’s possible that the policy was meant to address this imbalance.
But it reveals one
of the principle conundrums of the principle of fairness: for things that are not (easily) redistributable, like the quality of parenting, fairness may require bringing everyone down to the lowest common denominator.
This seems particularly troubling in the case of education. It severely truncates the scope of learning and inquiry to the viewpoints offered by the texts and teachers, reducing what should be an exploration to mere rote learning. So even if fairness is important, should it ever be an excuse to compromise the general quality of education?
Photo by Flickr user alamosbasement used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.