Sunday, September 27, 2009

the tenth myth

Gerald Bracey, author of Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality wrote an article on Huffington post about the Nine Myths of Public Education which I repeat as follows:
1. The schools were to blame for letting the Russians get into space first.
2. Schools alone can close the achievement gap.
3. Money doesn't matter.
4. The United States is losing its competitive edge.
5. The U. S. has a shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
6. Merit pay for teachers will improve performance.
7. The fastest growing jobs are all high-tech and require postsecondary education.
8. Test scores are related to economic competitiveness.
9. Education itself produces jobs.
To Gerald's list I will add the 10th and it is the biggy. Despite all the wonderful heart felt teachers in the world, their passions for their kids and their diligent lifelong application of heart and soul to their work, public education was never really about education in the first place, but about socialization of the immigrant masses who posed a threat to the industrial economy. Yes, we wanted them to read. Yes we wanted them to write and add, subtract and divide, but most of all, we wanted them to be orderly and complaisant. So we have students sit still. We ask classrooms to be quiet and the teachers are judged by both peers and administration on the quiet they sustain rather than the excitement they engender. We have students fill out worksheets and answer multiple choice questions. Those who don't are subject to discipline. Teachers have classrooms with too many students to become fully engaged with the learning needs of each individual.

And yes, in case you ask, Independent schools like Clear Spring are also involved in socialization as well as education. We do interpersonal problem solving and conflict resolution in which the children themselves learn to be peacemakers with each other. Yes, we work on being orderly and respectful, in the classroom, on the playground and in the community. In fact, when the kids travel or go camping, adults are always drawn to comment. As one park ranger told me during a camping trip, "This is the most orderly and inquisitive group of kids I've ever seen!" But we pretend public education is about education while its structure diminishes the students, forcing them to tow the line, and damaging teachers and students alike. Reducing class sizes by at least 50% would be a good starting point. Allowing teachers time to really attend to the socialization needs of each child would be both a revolution in American education and one in society as well.

And so, is this about the hands? Am I boring you or leading you astray? I hope we are walking hand in hand. It is a slippery slope, covered in wet leaves, but I think I do know the way to the top.


  1. I was thinking as I read, take these ideas of yours to the Ghetto Classroom and demonstrate they work there. If you survived and accomplished what you accomplish now, then maybe enough people would listen to you, so real change could be made.

    The most appalling thing about your Blogposts is there are so few comments here, so little debate, few challenging your words, and I think that fits with a certain genuine apathy, despite what many people say about education. While many argue to go back to the "basics", your ideas go to the foundations of learning itself.

    I don't always agree and antagonistic thoughts often enter my head as I read your posts. Yet, there is a real need to test the kind of challenges you offer those who will listen. Please keep writing, in hopes that someone in a position to do something, will hear your message.

  2. Wyman, I would be hesitant to test what I do in a typical Ghetto classroom. The structure of typical schools is a challenge. 30 kids in a class is dumb idea as it allows for little give and take between teacher and student... they really don't get to know each other.

    I keep harping on theory, and you won't find anything new here. Pedagogy was based on observation of kids by teachers. But interject politics, disfunctional school settings in poor communities, plus the expectation that a good idea has to prove itself by addressing all of the above... it is a formula for disappointment.

    I will be doing a webinar for Ed Tech Specialists in Michigan in December, so that will be an opportunity for a wider audience. And I know there are interested teachers who are so under the gun, they don't come up for air.

    I am glad you don't always agree. Let me know when. It can help me to refine my own thoughts.

  3. I don't have 30 kids in my class but my 25 grade 7/8s are so uninterested in anything that for the first time in 18 years of teaching I seriously thinking about giving up.

    It is not the underfunding, which in the Australian education system is chronic. Nor the social issues, which are immense being a forestry town in decline.

    It is the complete and utter disconnection of the kids to anything set before them, and I mean anything. They have become so disaffected that nothing positive stimulates them.

    My woodwork shop has great facilities, fantastic hardwoods donated by the local mills. The kids are encouraged to make whatever interests them, creativity rather than recipe following are celebrated.However only 10 out of our 65 kids in the high school want to do it.
    I do realise that effective change is going to take generations. It just gets frustrating in the meantime!


  4. My mother is a retired Kindergarten teacher and she was teaching during the transition time when children's TV programming was supposed to really engage them in learning. Before TV it was easy to keep the kinds interested. My mother was the most interesting and engaging thing in their young lives. But it was very hard to compete with Big Bird and the rapid fire pace of TV learning.

    Much of the multi-media stuff has re-engineered the brain in subtle ways. The kids are attuned to faster things, and to get them to slow down long enough to develop skill can be a challenge. I don't know what to suggest. I do know that they need the kinds of opportunities your classes present. And often, they don't really know the value of what you have offered until years down the road.

    Being a teacher is often no piece of cake. But then sometimes a really good day will creep up on you. Today, my kids seemed disinterested. It was like herding cats, but then when I asked if they wanted me to do the last few steps on the project by myself, the said, "Oh no! we want to do it. And we want to add trim, moldings and handles." So sometimes they are just keeping their enthusiasm under wraps. At the 7th and 8th grade, students are hesitant to tell you that they like anything, as to admit such things can be an angle for ridicule. Stick with it. You may find that they like things better than they are willing to let on.

  5. I have noticed attention spans getting shorter. Mine included. BBC Radio used to do a one hour long play every afternoon (great to listen to in the workshop). They recently had to cut them down to 45 minutes as even educated adults were finding it too hard to sustain interest.

    I recently tried to show the kids a video, they grew extremely restless after 15 minutes, they needed a break, the problem was that I had forgotten that they are used to a commercial break every 15 minute at least.

    On of the six subjects I teach is IT. If I stand behind one of them when they are meant to be "researching" through a web page I can clock them at less than 5 seconds concentration.

    As the education industry gradually abandons books and resorts to the web for everything I fear attention spans will become a thing of the past. Ask your school a question, which do they spend more on books or IT? I am beginning to worry that continually lowering the bar is completely the wrong approach.

  6. This is something that has been noticed by others. And there are books on the subject. Technology is changing the ways we think. Check out the web article, "Is Google Making me stupid?" You can use google to find it.

    The big problem is that we are being driven toward rules based thinking in which you follow rules quickly toward a desired conclusion. This works for customer service, for instance last night our dish network went out, and the automated call in tech service led us to a successful reconnect.

    Rules based thinking is easily outsourced, or mechanized and automated whether you are talking about things being made by people at assembly lines, or robotics, or customer call centers for tech support... there are only a few very minor choices and potential paths which can be simplified into a set of rules which, when followed lead to successful outcomes.

    Art is something else. A wide open field of choices, leading to subjective outcomes, that are not discerned instantaneously, but assembled slowly and skillfully from diverse experiences and reflective thought. Schools and parents need to decide whether they want their children's lives to be rules based or readily controlled and possibly outsourced.

    Rules based operations are "scientific" in that anyone can follow through the same steps to the same outcome. Art is the antithesis. Skill and judgment within the individual are the determinants of successful outcomes, and success isn't all that easy to measure in the short term.