ECS 203

Rethinking our Understanding of a Good Student

According to the Western ‘commonsense’ understanding of learning outlined in Preparing Teachers for Crisis: What It Means to Be a Student (Kumashiro 2010), being a good student requires learners to behave and think only in certain ways (page 21). A good student must be able to do as they are instructed, listen to their teacher without question, and sit quietly whenever told to do so. Being a good student means that you try your very best to learn, understand, and interpret things in the exact way your teacher shows you to. In summary, a good student is expected to follow all instructions and learn all the material provided by their teacher.

Students who have been accustomed to these traditional methods of learning are privileged by this definition of a good student. Any student who was raised with a different understanding of teaching and learning, such as someone who was raised with land-based learning, may struggle to even be able to learn in such a drastically different environment. This definition of a good student also privileges students who do not have a learning disability or any other kind of disorder that may make learning in a traditional classroom more challenging, such as ADHD. In addition, it privileges students who excel through guided learning. Those who learn best independently and those learn through developing their own unique understanding of a topic will likely struggle to fit this model of a good student. A perfect example of this is ‘N’, one of Kumashiro’s former students who put little to no effort into English class until they were given a freeform writing assignment where the students could write whatever and however they wished. All of a sudden, ‘N’ was extremely engaged in the class and handed in a spectacular assignment (page 21-22).

This model of what it means to be a good student is directly linked to the historical roots of education. After reading just the introduction of A History of Education (Painter 1886), it became clear to me how our westernized education system is based upon the idea that people are “helpless and ignorant” prior to schooling and that, without education, they lack “the strength and knowledge necessary to maintain an independent existence” (page 2). The commonsense understanding that a good student follows all instructions and learns material in the exact way the teacher provides it to them stems from this idea that students are nothing without education. It directly correlates to this concept that they come into the classroom without any of their own unique and valuable opinions, interests, or knowledge; therefore, they could not possibly question their teacher or make any kind of decisions in their own learning.


  • Mack

    Hey Sarah,
    First of all, your blog post is extremely well thought out and organized! I really liked the fact that before entering into a discussion of how the readings present the ‘good’ student you first defined what a good student is generally thought to be.
    The points you raised about certain students being at a disadvantage under this definition of the ‘good’ student were insightful. If I remember correctly I had made a broad connection to culture in my blog post, but had not considered the learning techniques that students may have encountered at home. I like the way that you brought that up, hinting at other learning methods students may encounter at home.
    One question I would have after reading this is what your opinion of the ‘good’ students is? Does it align more closely with either of the readings, or do you have your own understanding of what makes students good?

    • Sarah Stroeder

      Hi Mack,
      Thank you so much! I would not say my idea of a good student aligns well with either of these readings. I find it really hard to say my definition of a ‘good’ student, as the premise of this idea is quite problematic and has disadvantaged a lot of students who could have been great students had they been given the right opportunities. Regardless, I think any student can be a good student. A good student is someone who is open to learning, kind to their classmates, and tries their best (whatever that may look like).

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