Virginia High School Says Barring Students From Doing Outside Research Helps Them 'Think For Themselves'

by Mike Masnick
Nov. 02, 2010

A few folks have sent over this bizarre and slightly scary story of the the Westfield High School in Fairfax Virginia, which recently sent home a notice of "Expectations of Integrity" for the school's Advanced Placement (AP) World History class, which admonished students not to do any outside research at all:
"You are only allowed to use your OWN knowledge, your OWN class notes, class handouts, your OWN class homework, or The Earth and Its Peoples textbook to complete assignments and assessments UNLESS specifically informed otherwise by your instructor.''
Internet? No, not allowed. Other books? Nope. Talking to anyone? No. Not other students, friends, family, experts or even strangers. The teacher made this clear:
"You may not discuss/mention/chat/hand signal/smoke signal/Facebook/IM/text/email to a complete stranger ANY answers/ideas/questions/thoughts/opinions/hints/instructions."
The school has suggested that the letter was "a little tongue-in-cheek," though that doesn't really make sense. Yes, I'm sure the bit about the smoke signals, etc. was "tongue in cheek," but it sounds like the general sentiment remains. But, the thing is, the school's defense of the policy doesn't make much sense either:
"The idea was to think for yourself," he said, "rather than to pick up something from somewhere else and parrot it back."
Huh? If you want people to "think for themselves" and not "parrot back" what they picked up from somewhere else, I can't think of any better way than encouraging students to find multiple sources and multiple viewpoints (including differing viewpoints) so that they learn to think through things from multiple perspectives, which really pushes people to "think for themselves" by weighing the different bits of information to decide what's credible and what's not. By requiring just a single resource, none of that happens.

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