Saturday, November 05, 2011

On the limitations of class teaching

This is from Otto Salomon's Theory of Educational Sloyd:
" educational Sloyd the teacher addresses only one pupil at a time, while in class-teaching all children are addressed at the same time. A signal is given for all to stop and listen to what the teacher has to say; hence the train of thought of each individual is broken and attention, instead of being developed, is arrested and destroyed; the child forms a habit of breaking off a train of thought, instead of persisting in its continuance.

Not only so but progress is also retarded; an express train gets over more ground than what is termed a slow train, not so much because of the difference in the highest rate of speed which each engine acquires, but because the slow train has to stop at all stations, and loses so much time in slowing off and making up steam again.

So progress is checked in the individual when a train of thought is broken, and the more frequently it is broken, the slower necessarily will be the progress made."
In Salomon's allegory the fast train is Sloyd, or individual teaching, and the local train represents class teaching, though it may be hard at times to assess which train is which. Surely a teacher using a class teaching method can cover more ground in less time with the passengers seeing fewer sights. The question is whether or not any of the students will actually arrive at the station with any real knowledge after being run through the countryside at such speed and with so little individual attention. The overwhelming evidence proves that far too many will not.

If the subject matter is thought to be important, one would assume that it would be important for all students to understand it, and that each would thus actually receive the attention required to arrive at the station. But what we learn (and children who are no dummies also learn) is that despite the very best intentions of each teacher, the system will not allow each and every student's success.

The following is my opening quote from Chapter one of Matthew Crawford's book, Shop Class as Soulcraft:
“In schools we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement… Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract, and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”
And so I return to Salomon,
"From a purely practical, i.e. a utilitarian and economical point of view, it is said that class-teaching is necessary to get any appreciable quantity of work done."
But the current state of American education offers conclusive evidence that it does not work. One thing that students do learn is that the content of learning is not important. Offering evidence of ability to learn is the only thing that matters. Some will gladly play that game, but others for a variety of reasons will not.

But with individual teaching two important messages are conveyed. The subject matters, and each child matters. Those two principles are built into the approach. But once classroom teaching leaves the station, it will stop for no child.

On a converging topic, the state of Arkansas is having to beg off from key provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, according to a front page article in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Arkansas just can't make it with 400 of our 1100 schools failing to meet goals. It frustrates me that the answers to today's problems in education were offered in the 1880's and still not understood today, and are so very far from current educational thought.

Today I am occupying my wood shop. I cut lids from bases. I spent some time sanding. I'll put keeper strips on the insides of boxes so the lift lids will fit on in the exact place. If it doesn't rain, I'll spend some time in the yard raking leaves.

Make, fix and create...

No comments:

Post a Comment