Monday, September 07, 2009

let's fix the thing!

Time magazine has an article this week about the challenges and strategies of Education Secretary Arne Duncan for fixing our nation's schools. He says,
"It's obvious the system's broken. Let's admit it's broken, let's admit it's dysfunctional, and let's do something dramatically different, and let's do it now. But don't just tinker around the edges. Don't just play with it. Let's fix the thing."
So he has a big pot of cash to throw at teachers and systems that can measurably demonstrate they are doing a better job.

I can say quite clearly and with a huge body of evidence to back me up, that the problem with American education is that it has largely ignored and forgotten the education of the hands and the essential relationship between hand, mind and heart. Last year when I was at the University of Helsinki, I visited the wood shop in the education department where kindergarten teachers were being taught woodworking skills so they could teach woodworking to their children. Would it be any surprise that Finland would lead the world in 8th grade student achievement in reading and math? Engage the hands in learning and the whole student follows. Ignore the hands and you lose the child's emotional and physical engagement in education. So, I agree with Arne. Let's fix the thing. But it may be a bit harder than some would expect. Very few teachers have had education of their own hands or in the relationship between hand and mind, and there is a strong academic bias against hand skills except those that fall into the narrowly defined category, "art".

It was a pleasure starting back to school last week and discovering how excited our Clear Spring School children were to have summer vacation over and structured learning commence again. Cyrano had told his mother that he couldn't wait to get back to his two favorite things, wood shop and math. Get the picture?


  1. Anonymous4:56 PM

    Such an obvious connection, and so easily ignored.

    Enjoy your new year.


  2. Hello Doug,

    I have been enjoying your blog so much! Thank you! I'm a Montessori teacher and feel very strongly about your message in this post. In Montessori we say "Give the world to the hands of the child", all the theory behind the method supports the idea that the hands are the vehicles for intelligence to be created.

    Thanks again for your wonderful posts,


  3. Susanne, Thanks for reading and sharing your encouragement of these thoughts. I am concerned that we have become a nation of idiots, believing what we choose, rather than being engaged in the exploration of reality, and that makes us subject to manipulation. Years ago a major foundation suggested that we engineer our system of education for the purpose of creating a large body of easily manipulated consumers.

    Purposely still the hands, keep them untrained and inexperienced in making things and keep them disengaged from personal scientific discovery and our current culture is what we get.

  4. Susanne, P.S. Thanks for the great quote.

  5. Doug,

    I wonder when we will get over the idea that throwing money at something will make it work better! There is such a simplistic notion here that teacher reward ought to based on student learning. While teachers are surely instrumental in helping students learn, it is the students who do the learning. And there are many, many other factors that determine whether they learn or not. As long as the govt has a unilateral view of what NEEDS to be learned and continues to try to measure it with tests, we're all going to be in deep trouble.

    Yesterday, Matthew Crawford was a guest on the Diane Rheem show on PBS. The callers were 100% behind what he had to say and told story after story of their own experiences. I surely hope there is a growing movement in what you and he (and many others of us...) stand for, although I am not seeing evidence of such in this kind of government claptrap.


  6. I wouldn't be minding if someone were to throw money at my program, but things don't seem to work that way.

    Administrators are looking for surefire administration and classroom management that takes the guesswork out of teaching and teacher performance. Can the teacher do it or not? Let's make sure by creating a careful script and check to make sure the teacher follows it.

    But teaching is more art than science. Some teachers just want to do what it takes to follow the plan and get by. They make administrators happy. Other teachers try to creatively adapt the curriculum to meet the real needs of their particular students and classroom circumstances.

    Guess who gets to control the money?