Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"Raise the Bar," or Not

While we're talking about watching our language--

Just in the afternoon, I've stumbled across the image of raising the bar on the education world about five different times. Here's what's wrong with "raising the bar."

Raising the bar is a perfect image for the idea of one-size-fits-all education. After all, it only makes sense if there's just one bar and it's set up in the only place where people jump. It's a metaphor that is repeatedly employed, and yet falls apart with very little examination.

Are we raising the bar for a high jumper, or a pole vaulter? Has to be one or the other, because here at the Common Core Track and Field Meet, there can only be one event.

What happens if we raise the bar for the 100 yard sprint? What if we raise the bar, but we set it up behind the jumping line? What if we raise the bar for the shot put? If we raise the bar for the limbo, isn't that rejecting excellence?

What if we raise the bar for swimmers? Should we raise the bar at basketball games, or should we raise the basket? Can we raise a bar at the band concert? Should we raise the bar for the dance group, or the drama club?

"Raise the bar" is the verbal equivalent of the oft-shared cartoon that shows all the different animals in school (the one where the fish fail because they can't fly). "Raise the bar" demands that we reduce the whole complicated business of education to one simple act that must be performed by every single student. "Raise the bar" insists that the whole wide range of human endeavor and achievement does not matter-- just the ability to get up over that bar. Use "raise the bar" with me, and I get the idea that your vision of what education is about is tiny and cramped and fails to reflect the full range of human awesomeness.

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