Accountability, Shakespeare & Scribbling

by beccaborrelli

On Sunday, my professor and his wife had students over for a post-finals celebratory barbecue– mostly grad and PhD students in communication studies. I was the only education person.

The conversation turned to learning…

<Well okay I turned it there>

Shiner Bock and three double chocolate cookies. Sugar and spirits enhance… brazenness. I was center of attention and well… loving it.

“The academic in me resists ultra-fringe thinking but I can’t help getting all conspiracy theorist over federal education interventions. They fly in the face of everything… everything we know about human learning. I mean they have  to know what they’re doing is hurting kids.”

Nervous laughter from the others cued me back to earth.

<Okey dokey… took that one too far>.

My professor’s wife smiled.

“Well we need some accountability. Perhaps it’s about striking a balance.”

I was embarrassed.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I nodded and smiled warmly. Eye contact. Polite chuckle. “You’re absolutely right” I conceded.

The energy at the table relaxed, and I shared in their sense of relief.

I focused attention back on my Shiner Bock.

Perhaps Shakespeare meant accountability to thine ownself except for Common Core Standards (and at barbecues.)

Maybe this was the balance she was talking about.


Sugata Mitra has done over a decade of research on human learning. It suggests, quite compellingly so, that human learning is a self-organized system.

(read: self-accountability) (read: humans can learn anything from foreign languages to biotechnology on their own*.)

This is an idea most aren’t ready for and I’m sympathetic. To tell a lion born behind a fence that he can survive without the zoo keeper would be a hard sell.

We can’t solve a problems at the same level of thinking that created that problem.” ~A. Einstein

Perhaps we do need accountability after all.


“Oh honey,” she said to her son. “Why did you scribble on your art portfolio?”

I watched out of the corner of my eye.

He didn’t try to tell her, and I saw her comment didn’t phase him either. To her credit, she raised her boys to have confidence in their voice. To her credit, they were in fact scribbles.

He knew it was silly to explain. Even at seven years old he knew what it looked like to an outsider. A sloppy, mindless aberration of materials.

I considered telling her, but thought better of it. (How does one measure the meaning of a scribble?)

Shakespeare got it right.

We can’t. And we shouldn’t try.

The meaning is meant for the scribbler’s “ownself.” That is enough after all.

But if I had to…


I might have said

The scribble on the left was a color mixing experiment for khaki shorts on a bungee jumper. The scribble on the right was a texture experiment for a volcano.



* “On their own” means without teachers, tests, or formal school intervention. The children in his studies were motivated by individual curiosity and peer interaction.