Monday, January 18, 2016

devilish details

As they say, the devil* may be in the details. And if someone had an understanding of developmental psychology, and was of malicious intent, he or she could hardly have designed a system of education worse for some kids than what came through the No Child Left Behind legislation. One clever thing that's been noted by some about the devil* is his ability to subvert honorable intentions toward sustaining injustice. No Child Left Behind  (NCLB) may have been inspired by the idea that no children should be left behind and that schools should be a factor in helping children rise up from the academic indifference associated with poverty. On the other hand, an understanding of child development would lead one of good intentions to have designed a system that actually alleviated many of the overwhelming challenges that children from poverty face in school.

The problem in NCLB was in the details. The idea was that if states and the federal government were to test kids and teacher performance, they could weed out bad teachers, reward the good ones, and pay specific attention to those children who were falling behind in academic pursuits. Standardized testing was thus pushed into lower and lower grades until even Kindergarten was affected. The problem with all that was readily apparent to those who have made a study of child development and the effects of poverty.

Through book learning, lecture and educational implementation of digital devices, children of all ages, in almost all schools and regardless of personal situations are pushed into abstraction that they may be developmentally unprepared to utilize or understand. So, what follows is just a bit of what we know about child development and if we know these things,  I'll ask why would we design schools in which children are required for so much time to sit idly at desks, attempting to process abstract information that they are not developmentally ready to understand. Piaget, in his study of how children mature to think, noted the differences between the Concrete Operational vs Formal Operational stages with those differences being described as follows.
The main difference between the two is that in the concrete operational stage a child is able to think rationally about objects if they can work with or see the objects. In the formal operations stage they are able to think rationally and do not need the objects being thought about to be present. – Website created by Yvonne Bellisario, Susan Mislavsky, & Paula Velasquez, Fall 2012

Piaget's research found that youth entered the stage of formal operations at approximately 11 years of age on average; however, there is a great deal of individual variation with respect to normal development. Children's cognitive development can be affected by many factors such as family culture; the quantity and quality of formal schooling or training; various medical conditions; and emotional or physical trauma.– Jean Piaget's Theory Of Cognitive Development,

Poverty affects a child’s development and educational outcomes beginning in the earliest years of life, both directly and indirectly through mediated, moderated, and transactional processes. School readiness, or the child’s ability to use and profit from school, has been recognized as playing a unique role in escape from poverty in the United States and increasingly in developing countries. It is a critical element but needs to be supported by many other components of a poverty-alleviation strategy, such as improved opportunity structures and empowerment of families. – The Effect of Poverty on Child Development and Educational Outcomes Patrice L. Engle and Maureen M. Black

Previous research has shown that those damaging effects (of poverty) can range from poor cognitive outcomes and school performance, to a higher risk for antisocial behaviors and mental disorders – Early Childhood Poverty Damages Brain Development, Study Finds

I can virtually guarantee that many students, delayed for years or more for various reasons, in their entry to the Formal Operational Stage, will be branded as stupid by the system, (or made to feel stupid for no fault of their own) when it is the system itself that does the devil's work.

The particular irony that will be noted by those familiar with the history of the manual arts movement  is that manual arts were originally promoted by many as a means to bring the poor and ill-equipped into school where they might prosper, and then become academically engaged. It was noted that manual arts training did not take away from academic pursuits, but instead, reinforced them, particularly for those students who saw no value in abstract learning. During the same time frame in which standardized testing took over American Schools, manual arts training was eliminated. How dumb was that?

Today in the wood shop, I will be installing hinges in a demonstration box to illustrate a particular type of hinge for a product review in Fine Woodworking.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the chance of learning likewise.

*I am not myself a believer in the devil. I believe instead of calling to the higher angels, of which you may become one.

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