ED 632 Journal John Taylor Gatto’s “Seven Lesson School Teacher” Mr Gatto’s piece just blew my mind. As far as I am concerned, he nailed it right smack square on the head. There is so much to talk about with this piece but I will only touch on a few that really hit home for me. “The logic of the schoolmind is that it is better to leave school with a tool kit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science and so on than to leave with one genuine enthusiasm.” So much of what Gatto says are things that I feel I have felt before but did not have the words to express how I felt. I do feel that we do our students a disservice by not allowing them to truly figure out what it is they are passionate about. We spend 99% of their time filling them up with useless information that they will never remember and will never need to remember. How much of what I learned in my 12 years of public education do I really remember? Not to mention the 4 years of higher education that I paid for. I remember taking a class at University about all the different Native American tribes in the U.S. The whole class was spent memorizing the different cultures of the various different tribes that inhabited the Americas. For our final test in this class, the professor picked three or four of the tribes and we were to write about them. The only problem was we did not know which of the three or four he would choose, so you had to study all of them. Which I dutifully did. Now, I don’t remember a single thing about any of them. This class was part of my core history classes for my Secondary Education in Social Studies degree. What a waste. And I think this is what Gatto is getting at for the most part. We don’t make the learning of material relevant to our students’ needs or desires. “But when the bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we've been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of. Students never have a complete experience except on the installment plan.” How frustratingly true is this? When I read things like this I can envision a whole new vision of how schooling might be. Where students are given time to truly go out and discover what it is they are interested in and then given the time to explore those interests through questioning, experimenting and general discovery. Teachers should be there to help answer questions, guide and mentor. And that is it. How wonderful would that be? 1
“Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do.” “Successful children do the thinking I appoint them with a minimum of resistance and decent show of enthusiasm.” I really love how he points this out. He says that the “bad” kids fight this. They so want to make decisions for themselves like what to learn and when to learn it but they don’t know how to express that except in acting out. I have long felt that the main reason I did well in school was because that is what was expected of me. I did what the adults wanted me to do because that made them happiest. I remember when I graduated high school I was not super happy and excited about the occasion. My mother questioned me on why I wasn’t happier to be finally finished. My response was that I hadn’t felt like I had accomplished anything to be that excited over. I didn’t really know why I felt that at the time but I feel now that I sensed that I had only jumped through one of many hoops I would have to jump through in life. And the next one was looming large in the horizon. College. What was there to be excited about? More school? “The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but need to rely on the evaluation of certified officials.” He mentions that what is missing here is self evaluation. He argues our students are not taught how to self evaluate but merely to rely on what professionals say about them to gain their self worth. Later on he mentions that homework is a way to extend the idea that we are always being watched. Also in this manner students are not free to learn something unauthorized. “Schools teach exactly what they are intended to teach and they do it well How to be a good Egyptian and where your place is in the pyramid.” Conformity. Conformity. Conformity. Reminds me of the Sir Ken Robinson video about how schools kill creativity. Overall, I don’t think there is a thing in this piece that doesn’t ring true if one were to really take a deep look at what is really going on. It might hurt to look at it, but we need to.
Substantive Education This week is the first that I have ever heard of the idea of Substantive Education. I agree with the authors of “A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Educational Fads” that many educators and administrators have no idea what it means to have a substantive concept of education. As an undergraduate in college I felt like the focus was on subject content matter (i.e. History, Math, Science etc.) and classroom management. I thought very little (if at all) about what it means to be educated and how we should understand the “educated person”. In my own public education experiences, I feel like my education was very nonsubstantive. I 2
remember focusing on concepts and memorization. I would simply study hard for a test, check the block, get the A then move on and not really critically think about what I had just attempted to learn. There was no attempt to connect the learning process with the reality of the world or to current events. There was no attempt to give context to what I was learning and why I was learning it at this time. How would it help me in the future? There was no attempt to connect what I was learning in one class with what I was learning in another. I do feel for the most part there was an effort in my schooling to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to think about a problem, analyze and develop solutions to problems, however, I do not feel it was part of an overall substantive, connected education. I have never enjoyed the opportunity to have my own classroom or share in conversation with other teachers in a staff meeting the realities of many of these fads that are listed by Elder and Paul so my personal experiences are very limited. I can, however, easily see how many of these fads, when used individually and not together as a system of education that focuses on the development of the whole learner (substantive education), can hinder the learning process. It feels like the focus of teachers and administrators are on just surviving the day. Teachers and administrators hardly have the time to think about developing a substantive model of education because they are too busy dealing with the day to day distractions that pop up constantly. It seems that students, parents, teachers and administrators are not all on the same page when it comes to the idea of how education/schooling should work. How do we get everybody on the same page? How do we start to change the thinking of everyone involved? I totally agree with the authors when they suggest that teachers are being pulled in so many different directions by the numerous different fads out there that it is impossible to put them all together into one cohesive educational structure. The more I think about it, it seems the educational process should be one that is developed from the bottom up instead of from the top down. The idea that a government can plan out in detail (and implement across the board “standards”) how every student should learn is crazy. Developing a learning model should start with the student. Many of the educational fads that the authors listed, I am very unfamiliar with. I have neither used nor seen these methods in action. I do recall having some block scheduling in my high school. I seem to remember that block scheduling was a good idea because it enabled students to be able to draw a connection between what they were learning in one class with another. Cooperative learning is another one that seems like everyone was trying to do more of when I was going through school. I also recall this being a big push in my undergraduate studies. I can see how this fad could be used improperly by teachers. It is a good idea to have students work together in groups to accomplish a task or project. However, without clear goals it would be easy for students to misunderstand what is required of them reducing the likelihood that something meaningful would be learned. Without a clear structure with high standards for the task the group is working on, it would be easy for the entire group to miss the point of the assignment completely. One fad that was not mentioned in the book (that is stressed in this program) is Project Based Learning (PBL). PBL is a way to center the class around projects as a means to learn subject 3
matter. The idea is for PBL to completely take place of the curriculum not to be used as a supplement to the curriculum. I can see easily that PBL could be used completely wrong by teachers if they don’t understand what it is supposed to do. PBL seems like something that an entire school would need to adopt in order for it to be effective. It would be hard to try to implement a PBL curriculum in a single classroom without the support and backing of other teachers and administrators. A project in PBL should incorporate all subjects and all learning styles together. It would be easy for a teacher to develop a lesson that has a project at the end of the unit and think that would be considered PBL. PBL, like all of these “fads”, is a great idea when done properly, however, when not done with the substantive education thinking in mind is just another way to confuse and disconnect students’ from the learning process.
Minds of our Own After watching the first two segments of the “Mind of our Own” series (found here), I have to admit that my jaw dropped in shock and awe a couple of times. The perspective with which these videos portray what is fundamentally wrong with the way we are educating our children seems like common sense. It seems to me, after watching the first two segments (“Can We Believe Our Eyes?” and “Lessons From Thin Air”) that the overarching theme is that, as educators, we must start any class or lesson with where our students are in regards to their knowledge, theories and ideas about a particular topic. Seems pretty basic. In fact, I recall (although vaguely) learning something to that effect in my undergraduate studies. I am sure this is one of those time tested practices that is always passed along to every new teacher. So where does it break down? From the time young eager teachers leave the comfortable confines of their university classes to the time they get their first classrooms, this little bit of information seems to get lost. Or does it? It may be more like reality hits. As the videos point out numerous times, I am convinced that the system prevents the question “What do you already know about...?” from being asked. Teachers have way too much on their plate trying to get through the required material in amount of time allotted. That bit of information is seldom thought about because the focus is always on the prize, which is the grade (or the standardized test). There were certainly several very profound moments in the videos that really made me consider what it means to learn or to try to educate someone else. First of all, I must say that I was stunned and shocked and appalled when those seemingly easy questions were asked to the Harvard and MIT graduates. Then came the realization that I didn’t know the answers to those questions either. Sadness took over and a sense that I had been cheated out of my “education” overwhelmed me. Why wasn’t I taught those things in my 16+ years of public and postsecondary education? The first example was trying to light a tiny bulb with a battery and single piece of wire. The Ivy League graduates couldn’t do it (although the methods they were 4
trying (not to mention the confidence at which they thought they could do it) mirrored mine own). It made me smile when they showed the student finally grasping the concept and understanding (truly) how the bulb/battery setup worked. It was a profound moment. A breakthrough. Even after the several well planned lessons her teacher planned and executed, the student really didn’t understand the concept the teacher was trying to relay. When asked how she would have taught the class, the student answered she would have started with looking at the inside of the bulb first. Once she understood how the electricity flowed in the bulb the “bulb” in her head finally clicked. That just goes to show, sometimes (all the time) it is a great idea to include students in the planning of lessons. The point that implanted on my mind the most was when Prof. Rosalind Driver said (35:39) a lot of times learning involves “not adding new information to what we already know, but changing the way we think about the information we already have. It means developing new ways of seeing things.” How often do educators think about the perceptions and theories that students already come to the class with? It is hard for me to say. I don’t have a classroom currently, so I wonder if this is ever brought up. If a typical school and educator were similar to those portrayed in the videos, my conclusion would have to be seldom. Those ideas that students have in their heads when they come to class are deeply held beliefs. It is very hard to change them as demonstrated by another student when asked about being able to see in total darkness. She was certain that the human eye would adjust (after 45 minutes) and would be able to see a red apple in a room with absolutely zero right. She did say that you wouldn’t be able to see the red but a lighter shade of black. So they tested it. The student, even after being placed in a room with no light and not being able to see the apple right in front of her, still believed that eventually her eyes would adjust (maybe a “day or so”) and she would be able to see the apple. Her idea of how vision and its relation to light is fundamentally wrong and even after seeing with her own eyes (actually not seeing) that you need light in order to see, she still didn’t believe. Those are some deep seated beliefs and quite the steep hill for any educator to overcome. In the second video, “In Thin Air”, again I was amazed (and equally embarrassed because neither did I) that those same Harvard and MIT grads didn’t know how a tree went from a seed into a great big gimongous shade provider. Their basic concept of how photosynthesis works and how trees gained mass is incorrect. How could that be? A process as fundamental to life on earth as photosynthesis and nobody truly understands how it works? Again, sadness takes over. Prof. Kathleen Fisher points out that this is a symptom of “learning to pass tests instead of learning for understanding”. In another example of a teacher’s best efforts and intentions gone awry, a student failed to grasp the concept of photosynthesis after several classes and labs covering the topic in depth. A few weeks after the unit on photosynthesis, watching the student struggle to correctly explain the process, the teacher says, “I hope I didn’t ruin him by teaching him facts, this kid is a good thinker”. I think the teacher had an “ah ha” moment. I think at that moment he realized his method of teaching might not be the best thing for this student. He realized his failure to allow this student to think critically and deeply about this subject the student has failed to grasp the 5
concept. He failed to change the fundamental way that student thought about photosynthesis. Prof. Philip Sadler says, “The most important thing to know is what your students come to class with. You have to know what peoples prior ideas are in order to have a chance to change them.” (12:30) Prof. Kathleen Fisher points out that often students can give the right answer but when you ask why or to explain how they come to that conclusion, the answer is, more often than not, wrong. There is a lack of deep understanding. Why is this the case? This is one of those questions where there is not just one answer but probably a combination of things. There were several ideas that struck me while watching the video. The first one is that we try to teach the student way more than what he can handle, not to mention way more than there is time for. Time to truly, deeply understand fundamental ideas. The focus is always on the right answer. As long as we teach the student what a right answer will be on a test they can prepare for that and study. Our best students are those who have mastered the cram session the night before the test. Second, our expectations for students are way too low. Perhaps, as a teacher, we are hesitant to tackle a subject because we feel it is too hard or that our students just might not be able to grasp an idea. Perhaps, the fact that we never give the students a chance is the real travesty. It seems to me every class should start with a question, what do you already know about (fill in subject)? Then, what do you want to know about (fill in subject)? It is up to the teacher to fill in the gaps. Sounds pretty simple.
Sir Ken Robinson and Creativity in Schools (Videos: here, here, here and here) How did the idea that creativity is not important in a well rounded education come about? Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and Mr. Robinson said, “creativity is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status”. I must admit that I was (and still am) one of those kids who always thought I wasn’t blessed with creative ability. Where did I get this idea? I certainly do not remember, but the more I read about creativity, the more I realize that creativity is not a God given talent and there is no creativity gene. There are an endless amount of ways to promote creative thinking. One of the themes that seems to run through the creative thinking circles is being more like a child seems to allow more creative juices to flow. Again we will resort to Einstein who said, “to stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition”. Speaking about children, Sir Ken Robinson (SKR) says, “Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they 6
will take a go. They can improvise and they are not afraid to be wrong”. This statement from SKR rings true to me. Children can not be afraid to be wrong because they don’t know any better. How could they? They learn from the people around them what is right and wrong. How those people respond to them being wrong determines how children learn to feel about being wrong. SKR is of the opinion that schools make them afraid of being wrong. I can totally see how this can happen. With the stress being on testing and grades, if a student is wrong, they fail. Currently, schools make being wrong a bad thing. Wrongologist ( I didn’t know there was such a thing) Kathryn Schulz, in her TED talk, paints a perfect scenario. “Think back for a moment to elementary school. You're sitting there in class, and your teacher is handing back quiz papers... So there you are in grade school, and you know exactly what to think about the kid who got this paper (one with a really bad grade). It's the dumb kid, the [trouble maker], the one who never does his homework. So by the time you are nine years old, you've already learned, first of all, that people who get stuff wrong are lazy, irresponsible dimwits and second of all, that the way to succeed in life is to never make any mistakes.” And how do students deal with this? By becoming straight “A” students and making it a point to never be wrong because if they are then there is definitely something wrong with them. Or by accepting the fact that they are dumb and stop trying (the trouble kids). Or I suppose some of us just refuse to be wrong. That could explain why, despite in the face of an insurmountable amount of facts that say otherwise, my brother will argue until he is blue in the face to prove he is right. (that could also explain the Republican Party) I agree with Schulz on her analysis of St. Augustine's insightful thought, “I err therefore I am”. Augustine realized long ago that being wrong isn't something to be embarrassed about or something we should try to eradicate. What fun would being perfect be? Schulz correctly points out that being wrong “is totally fundamental to who we are”. To relate this back to SKR, he states, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong you will never come up with anything original”. By stigmatizing mistakes, “we are educating people out of their creative capacity”. The story about Jillian Meyers as relayed by SKR was an interesting story to think about. How many students, in the age of ADHD, don’t get the opportunity to truly discover who they are and find out what SKR says speaks to their most “authentic self”? These days when students do not conform to the rigid rules of public education or heaven forbid they think for themselves, they are put on drugs that will make it easier to control them and make them who we want them to be. We don’t allow them to figure out for themselves who they are. Jillian’s mom, exhausted after trying to figure out what was “wrong” with her hyperactive daughter, took her to a dance school and she became one of the finest dancers this world has ever seen. How many students are never taken to their dance school? SKR speaks a little about what he calls a “crisis of human resources”. He states that our public schools do not encourage students to find their natural talents. He says that we “have no sense 7
of what our talents may be or if we have any at all”. By having such a linear model of schooling and always telling our students what to think about and how to think about it we do them a disservice . They seldom get a chance to think for themselves and often times that is discouraged in the classroom. I imagine a classroom where students are participants in every facet of the lesson planning process. Where they are free to incorporate the things they are interested in into the learning experience. It’s all just a matter of tying it back into the learning objectives. They are free to discover their talents. In today’s model of schooling we try to make everybody the same. What SKR calls the “fast food model”. He relates being an educator to being a farmer. Just like a farmer who can only create the conditions for cultivation, a teacher can only create the conditions for learning and the best way to do that is to personalize education to the people you are teaching.
The Official Theory of Learning It was very interesting to read about how the official theory of learning came into existence. In his book, “The Book of Learning and Forgetting”, Frank Smith paints quite an interesting picture regarding the history of learning theory (as well as the rise of current public education) tying it nicely to the rise of the field of psychology and the military. The first thing that struck me was Smith’s analysis of the classic view of learning. Since the beginning of human existence the view of learning was that you learned from the company you kept. This is very easy to see when you think about small villages and towns where everybody knew everyone else and everybody worked together as a community. Not like today’s communities where we don’t even know the names of our neighbors who live five feet away (I don’t). Children learned from the follow community members around them. There was not a school with a teacher to send a child to. There were no books to memorize or tests to study for but yet everybody seemed to learn what needed to be learned in order to sustain the community. How was that possible? These days I think you would be hard pressed to convince somebody that was possible today. This leads me to believe that bringing in community members into the classroom from all walks of life is a GREAT idea and probably something that is not done nearly enough. The way Frank discusses the one room schoolhouse makes me want to go back to those days. No, it definitely was not a perfect setup but it seems a bit more logical than the set up we have now. In the one room schoolhouse, older students would be key contributors to the education of 8
the younger students. Today, however, the teacher can be a well educated facilitator who can guide a population of students through a more substantive, classical curriculum. I agree with Frank when he says, “It would be better if you could regard your job not as the instructor who organizes the learning that students are supposed to do but as the guide who makes what we would like students to learn interesting, comprehensible, and accessible.” The idea that our entire system of education is based on Hermann Ebbinghaus’ theory, a theory that, as Frank points out, is based on nonsense, is laughable. The learning curve that he developed sounds fairly logical. However, the forgetting curve was something I had never been exposed to (as Frank points out, it was conveniently ignored). I think this is something that we all know inherently. I mean who has not crammed for a test then forgot most of it by the time the final rolled around? I just think that nobody ever relates that to the system of learning that we are exposed to. I know I certainly have not. I never questioned whether or not it had to be this way. I never knew to think or ask if there was another way. I guess that goes to show that I definitely am a product of that system. Another interesting topic to think about is the introduction of testing and grades into the education process which in turn introduced cheating. Before there was such a stress on tests and grades, the focus was on students’ abilities and interests. With the establishment of testing and subsequently scores and grades, Frank points out, “cooperation, which had previously been the key to learning, was driven underground”. Students no longer shared their work for the betterment of everyone but instead began to compete ruthlessly with each other for the better score. Being a Social Studies teacher (or wanna be), I have to comment a bit on whether or not teachers should concern themselves with truth. As a young student in undergraduate school, I was first made aware of the inadequacies of what was being taught in public High School history classes. Predictably my college courses were more indepth than any high school class would be, however, it was glaringly obvious that much of what is covered in high school classes are filled with half truths and “glaze overs”. Not only that, but once I started reading books about history in my spare time because it was interesting to me, I really realized that what I “learned” in school was mostly incorrect or just part of the story. At no point in my high school years was I encouraged to examine the other side of a historical account. As a student, I was basically just force fed information and drew relatively little connection between different topics and definitely no connection to the present. As educators, I believe it is imperative that we give our students the full story and the whole truth. At the very least, we should at least show them where to and how to find the truth. Or at least encourage them to look deeper and see other perspectives. This is something that I was not encouraged to do and only realized the significance of doing so later in life. I feel that, perhaps, a lot of times why educators do not tell the whole truth is because doing so is oftentimes hard. Taking the time (which teachers seldom have) to discuss more in depth topics is hard. I feel, (coming from a nonteacher) that teachers may tend to skip the hard discussions. It would take time to really examine Columbus’ real agenda and what really happened on Cuba. Do teachers set the expectations high enough for students? Do they 9
even believe their students could comprehend the more in depth topics? When I do get a class, I hope to set my expectations high enough for my students so that wanting to examine and question topics further comes second nature.
Do we infantilize teens? I remember many times saying to my parents that I was bored. I believe a lot of what John Gatto spoke about in his speech at the University of Toronto was on target. He is right when he spoke about my generation and perhaps before are a generation of people who need to be entertained. We are mesmerized by every new gadget that comes out. They are all must haves. After looking over the 6 purposes of schools according to Alexander Inglis it is clear to see Gatto’s claim that schools have created a population with severe habits of dependency. I guess a lot of this rings true to me because I went through the system and now looking back a lot of what Gatto says makes the experience make a bit more sense. 1. Adjustive: establish fixed habits of reaction to authority 2. Diagnostic: Determine each student’s proper social role by logging evidence on a cumulative record. Your “permanent record”. 3. Sorting: training individuals in only so far as their likely destination in the social machine 4. Conformity: Children are to be made alike so behavior will be predictable making the population easier to control and manipulate. 5. Hygienic (selective): Clean the gene pool; improving the breed stock by tagging the unfit making them unacceptable to reproduce. 6. Propaedeutic function: Small fraction will be taught to take over management of the machine Of the six, I can see the conformity the most. Gatto paints a very good picture of how the educational system fits very nicely into this consumer based economy we Americans enjoy so much. Schools make everybody the same so behavior will be as predictable as possible. Then when the machine comes out with the next “big thing” to distract us and keep us occupied we do not know any better but to go out and buy it. The schools, Gatto argues, have taken away the population’s faculty to critically think and make decisions in our own best interests. (Reminds me a lot of the way republican voters think and vote). Gatto says, “We had to be trained as consumers instead of producers in order to ensure there would be a demand for the corporations” or else no one would have invested in the machinery required to fuel the industrial revolution. I must admit it is hard to imagine that we are controlled in the manner that Gatto describes but I must also admit it fits and feels right. When you put all the pieces together it is easy to see why Gatto calls us “incompletely human human beings...the most reliable domestic market in the world”. No wonder we have the most prolific, mass producing economy the world has ever seen. Really, the plan is genius if it were not so evil. 10
Listening to Dr. Robert Epstein on MPR was fascinating. His ideas on teens and the extension of childhood are very interesting. After listening and reading Gatto, it is very easy to see Epstein’s point of view. One of the most interesting points Epstein makes, in my opinion, is that when you look at teens around the world there are not the problems and issues that we see with teens in the U.S. There is no turmoil or disputes with parents or the depression. Epstein’s argument that the reason that teens in the U.S. have such a detrimental experience is because we sever the connection between young people and adults. Unlike Switzerland, we send our teens to junior high school then on to high school just at the time when they should be spending most of their time with adults learning how to be adults. These days, according to Epstein, teens spend 70 hours a week with their peers either in school or through electronics. On average they only spend 30 quality minutes with their dad. (not meaning sitting in front of the tv) I find that statistic to be slightly disturbing. In other cultures, we find just the opposite. Epstein argues, and I agree, that most teen time should be spent with same sex adults so they can learn to become adults. By extending childhood for our teens, we are not inviting them to the dance (with the rest of the adults) at a time when they feel they are ready to dance. Instead we continue to treat teens like children causing them to want to “burn down the village”. Or just act out in the only way they know how because they do not have any power to do otherwise. Epstein also has an interesting view of what education might look like in the future. After listening to him, it confirms my fears that perhaps the field of education is not the best field to be getting into at the moment. He predicts the future of education is “in your kitchen”. With all the software and technology available you can learn just about anything in the comfort of your kitchen, he reports. He is correct. It makes sense when he says that education should be spread over a lifetime not crammed into the first 18 years of life. Why not let teens join the workforce if they are ready to and not quite ready to learn. In today’s school system a lot of times, Epstein says, “we are trying to fill a jug of water without making sure the cap is off”. Brilliant!! Those who are ready to learn are welcome to stay in academia. The last point he makes is that we do not treat any other age group as if everybody was the same except teens. We need to realize that teens are individuals and one cookie cutter lesson for learning is not sufficient to meet the needs for all of them. All real learning has to be personalized and individualized. Finishing Frank Smith’s “The Book of Learning and Forgetting”, I could not agree more with some of his points. He is dead on when he says, “teachers attribute boredom, confusion, apathy, resentment, anger and despair to the personality of the students, not to the dynamics of the classroom or to disruptive events that may be occurring in the students’ lives. Teachers may be oblivious to the consequences of what they are doing”. I would say most teachers ARE oblivious to what they are doing. Especially considering that most educational schools are teaching the official theory of learning. I was one of those students that thought that all of my educational experiences were good for me and were well thought out and planned for the betterment of me. It is sad to think that it was all a farce. I think that it would have been better if my teachers would have told me the truth (they probably didn’t know the truth either). I agree with Smith’s third step of his three step proposal, teachers need to be honest with their students. 11
Tell them the truth behind all the tests and all the assignments. He even suggests be honest to students about the sociology of education. Wouldn’t that be something?
Teacher as the Oppressor I really enjoyed all of the reading (and audio) this week. I am definitely convinced that placing the students wants/needs/interests first is key to developing a student who is interested in her own education. Reading through Dewey’s “My Pedagogic Creed”, I found a lot of what he spoke about familiar and on track with much of what others have discussed in previous weeks. Dewey says, “Without insight into the psychological structure and activities of the individual, the educative process will, therefore, be haphazard and arbitrary. If it chances to coincide with the child's activity it will get a leverage; if it does not, it will result in friction, or disintegration, or arrest of the child nature.” The relationship between the student and teacher is the most important aspect when considering a student’s education. How often does a teacher really get to know students’ interests and desires? I am sure it occurs, I even had a teacher role model in Junior High and High School with whom I connected with and became close with. But that relationship developed outside of the classroom as he was my crosscountry coach. I am sure those relationships develop, however, I have a feeling not nearly enough. In a way, Dewey is trying to tell us it’s really simple. “The child's own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education.” The rest is just guidance. In the first audio debate, Ivan Illich also speaks about this saying “You can’t force someone to learn that which does not fit his needs at the time.” When I read that sentence I envision a classroom full of students with blank stares on their faces robotically listening to a teacher lecture. These students needs are not being met at that moment. Dewey goes on to discuss how it is impossible to predict what the future is going to be so trying to prepare a student to meet the needs of this unpredictable future with some made up process/method seem to be counter productive. Instead he says, “To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently.” Basically teach him to think critically for himself and to make sound decisions based on all the information available. That is the best we can do for our students, unfortunately, it seems, this does not happen enough. I want to list a few of Dewey’s I believe statements that really hit home for me and ones that I feel I would like to try to incorporate into my belief system. ●
“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” ● “I believe that the school, as an institution, should simplify existing social life; should 12
reduce it, as it were, to an embryonic form.” By this he means that life these days is so complex that a young learner is overwhelmed by everything that is going on. Dewey suggest making social life simpler a student would be less confused. ● “I believe that much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental
principle of the school as a form of community life.” Dewey says that schools are seen as places where information is to be given and lessons learned but that won’t be utilized until sometime far in the future. “As a result they do not become a part of the life experience of the child and so are not truly educative.” “I believe once more that history is of educative value insofar as it presents phases of social life and growth. It must be controlled by reference to social life. When taken simply as history it is thrown into the distant past and becomes dead and inert. Taken as the record of man's social life and progress it becomes full of meaning.” As a wannabe history teacher I take extreme note of this one. It seems, the challenge will be to connect the history of the past with the reality of the students’ present. “I believe that there is, therefore, no succession of studies in the ideal school curriculum.” Dewey says the important part is developing new attitudes and new interests in life experiences. Since education is life. “I believe that the active side precedes the passive in the development of the child nature.” In today’s schools students are put into passive mode and they are not allowed to be active in their learning and the result is friction and and waste. “I believe that interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power. I believe that they represent dawning capacities. Accordingly the constant and careful observation of interests is of the utmost importance for the educator.” This is my favorite statement. “I believe that only through the continual and sympathetic observation of children's interests can the adult enter into the child's life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it could work most readily and fruitfully.” “I believe that these interests are neither to be humored nor repressed. To repress interest is to substitute the adult for the child, and so to weaken intellectual curiosity and alertness, to suppress initiative, and to deaden interest.” How often does this happen?
In chapter two of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, Paulo Freire, discusses the narrative method of education. The teacher is standing in front of the class and students are sitting diligently in their desks recording everything the teacher is saying. The teacher talks as if reality were “motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable”. Or talks about a topic that is so foreign to the students that there is no possibility that the students are remotely interested in it. Freire says, “Narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads the students to memorize mechanically the narrated account. Worse yet, it turns them into "containers," into "receptacles" to be "filled" by the teachers. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teachers she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.” This is a sad view of the way education works in our schools. I, unfortunately, believe it is fairly accurate. In this method, (the banking method) the knowledgeable (the teacher) “bestows” information the the know nothing students. This projects and absolute ignorance onto the 13
students leaving them feeling oppressed and alienated. He says that the teacher presents himself as the students’ “necessary opposite”. In a liberated education, this relationship is reconciled so that both sides are student and teacher at the same time. I feel this a perfect solution. The teacher must become a student and learner in order to provide the best learning opportunity to students. The teacher must observe the students to learn their interests and develop a learning plan that fits students needs. In the second part of the educational debates, Smith talks about the most important thing about changing schools is forging a better relationship between the student and the teacher. It takes me back to the quote I have from Barbara Harrell Carson in week one, "students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them."
Empowering Students Kiran Bir Sethi asks, “Can kids take charge?” in her TED talk. I say yes. The only reason they do not take charge more often is because we do not let them. As was discussed in previous weeks, we infantilize students and do not give them the autonomy or empowerment needed in order to take charge. I think that many times we as teachers set our expectations much too low and we doubt the abilities of our students. Perhaps even before we give them an opportunity to prove us right (or wrong). Many times we may not even know what their abilities are because we don’t give them chance to show us. Sethi says, “When children are empowered they do well, very well!” That only makes complete sense to me. Children do not know limits until they try something and fail or adults tell them they can’t do it. If left to their own devices, I bet children would accomplish a lot of tasks that their teachers didn’t think they could accomplish. When we tell children they can, then they will. They don’t know any better. They have no fears and are willing to try anything. One of the things Sethi spoke about was the school in Ahmedabad, India. One way they breathed life into their lessons was actually having students do something. When they study child labor and sweatshops, the students actually worked in sweatshop like conditions for eight hours to get a sense what it was like. What a way to learn. Then they empowered them to go out on the streets and speak with real people to try to garner support to stop such practices. That is a lesson those students will never forget. The city also shuts down once a month in honor of the children. The whole city comes out for a festival of sorts to honor the children and the children are allowed to play and have fun. Sethi says the city does this to give to the children so in the future the children will give back to the city. Yes, giving back to the city. That is something I have never felt obligated to do. I have never felt a connection with my city. Is that because, as we have read and discussed in this class, the public education system virtually cuts off the students from the community for much of the year? I do believe that has something to do with it. Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High, speaks about trying to connect his kids to the community. He says that if we do not connect our children 14
to the community, it is just a waste of resources. How true is that. We have all these people who could do a lot things for the community but instead we hole them up in buildings and make them feel disengaged from the community. Cut them off from the adult world. I loved the idea that Dave Eggers discussed in his TED talk. Dave and some of his friends, fellow writers, started a small tutoring business (826 Valencia). They offered free tutoring to students after school. I think it is great because the students were able to work with real adults one on one. Real writers and journalists helping students improve and create works. The volunteers helped the students publish numerous books. As Larry Rosenstock says, the idea of school is not to just study something, but to be like it. In other words, teachers should strive for their students to not just study science but to be like a scientist. Not study writing but to be like a journalist. He is so right. The best way for students to be like those people is for them to be around those people. Get the students out into the community or as Eggers did, he brought the community to them. Another thing Rosenstock spoke about that I really enjoyed was that at High Tech High they put an emphasis on displaying students’ work. They always show the work of students so others might see and say to themselves, “yes I like what she did here, maybe I will try something like that next time.” My sister is a teacher. She always gets excited at the beginning of the year because she has to go into the school a few days early to set up her classroom for the coming year. I envision her hanging pictures and maps on the wall. And making the classroom look as welcoming as possible. I guess that makes sense. I like to think, that when I get my classroom, I would do the opposite. I want my students to feel like they own the classroom. They are responsible for the set up of the classroom. They can bring their items in and we will definitely hang their work to cover the walls. Not only does that give them ownership of the classroom but it saves me a whole heck of a lot of time. And at the end of the year, cleaning the room is a snap. The students take it with them. I would absolutely love to work in a school like High Tech High. Rosenstock talks about our most memorable learning experience. He says that it most likely included a mentor, a project of some sort, involved community, a risk of failure, recognition of success, and public exhibition. I think that is about accurate. The cool thing about High Tech High is that it seems like every learning experience is like that for those students. Wow. Those students should definitely remember their lessons. I enjoyed listening to Stephen Heppell discuss how he became a teacher and how he had no idea when he started what made an effective teacher. So he asked his students to tell him what they thought their others teachers did that they liked and worked well. He says that that was probably the first time that they had ever thought of themselves as learners. Heppell says that it is so important for students to view themselves as learners and to realize how they like to learn. Today, perhaps, students are not asked to do that. They just wait for the next lesson to be thrown at them and they just absorb it like the last one. Like a machine. Heppell also spoke about how he thought engagement was the secret weapon. He says that if a 15
teacher can teach in an engaging way, that is what is seductive to students. For students to be engaged, they must be interested in the topic so that goes back to knowing what students are interested in. Then the teacher’s job is to relate that to the lesson and to the real world. Rosenstock gave a great example of this when he spoke about his time as a carpenter teacher. He said that he could relate carpentry to just about anything. He said the 2x4 is a history lesson all to itself. “You can study the world through anything”, he says. A teacher can do it through what interests the students. I envision myself doing this as a teacher by becoming a student in my own classroom. I anticipate some of my students knowing more than me about technology or certain apps. I am excited to learn from them as I know they will be excited to teach me. What is more exciting for a student then teaching? What teen doesn’t want to show off what they know?
Reflection, Reflection Reflection My high school civics teacher, Mr. Scholtz, is famous (well he is famous to me because for some reason this quote has stuck in my head throughout these years) for saying, “Americans are apathetic and ill informed”. I suppose in his own way he was trying to prevent another generation from being just as apathetic. Now that I have a few years on me, I completely understand where Mr. Scholtz was coming from and agree with his sentiments. Not to make this a political discussion but considering that less than 30% (apathetic) of eligible voters vote in America and those who do generally (Republicans) vote against their own self interest (ill informed), it would be hard to argue otherwise. Why does this occur? Raths quote, “People with few values tend to be apathetic, conforming, inconsistent, and what psychologists call ambivalent.” That sounds an awful lot like the American public to me. How is it that the American public, generally speaking, has so few values? According to Raths, a value can only become a value after careful consideration. Considering that a good majority of the population attends/attended compulsory public schools, one can argue that our schools do not produce an environment where careful consideration of values can be done. Based on my own experience, I can say that this is true. One can then say, “well isn’t it the parents responsibility to instill values in their children?” Well yes, but when the parents were educated in the same system they do not know any better. Then what about religion? Again, according to Raths, a value must be chosen freely and among alternatives. So while religion does have a ton of great values (and some not so great) built in it, how often is a person’s religion chosen freely and among alternatives? How many people truly decide what religion they will follow before they are brainwashed by their parents’ religion or their culture’s dominant religion? And once they are brainwashed into that religion, those values are mostly adopted without careful reflection. Unfortunately, a mass population who has been educated to not think critically or reflect deeply can be controlled by mass media and consumerism. I must admit that I just watched the documentary Zeitgeist: Moving Forward which discusses the decaying social structures (including education) that seems to be upon us and this has played into my thoughts this week as well. 16
Postman’s and Weingartner’s idea of having an entire curriculum consisting only of questions in a wonderful one. The list they supplied in their book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” are full of thought provoking questions that insists critical thinking and personal reflection if one were to answer them. After reading through the list, I would be hard pressed to remember a time when even one such thought provoking question was asked to me in school. If students were to reflect on many of the questions listed by Postman and Weingartner they were surely be able to reflect on their own lives and better understand themselves in the world leading to better decisions and a more rounded individual. After reading through the list, I am not sure how I would answer most of them. These are questions that require research on what certain words mean to me. I would need to reflect on different perspectives on many of the questions. I may even need to do some historical analysis in order to fully understand some of the questions and to give a complete answer. And I think that is the point. These are not questions that can be answered in a simple sentence. And there is not just one correct answer. I think it would be awesome to adopt something like this and track how answers change throughout the years. The way one may answer a particular question certainly depends on age, past experiences, and probably a number of other factors. I would have loved to see how I would have answered some of those questions when I was 10 compared to 18 compared to now. In fact, what a great graduation project that would be. Reflect on how your answers to several questions has changed throughout the years. What transpired to make your answers different? That would be fun.
Education for Happiness It is interesting to think about happiness in education. It seems fairly obvious that happiness is a necessary aspect of any good, well rounded education but it is seldom talked about directly. My initial thoughts are that if a teacher can provide an atmosphere that allows the students to feel safe and welcomed that will go a long way towards that end. Then engaging in a student centered, substantive educational plan will complete the task. As I read Noddings example of how poetry is not well liked by students in school, I realize that happiness also comes from understanding. Like she says, in school students are forced to memorize and break it down and be tested it over it. Generally this will force students not to like the topic. What if we were to just focus on how the poem made us feel or the emotions that are stirred? I love how she says, “Some things, even in schools, should just be offered as gifts no strings, no tests attached.” Isn’t this how all knowledge should be? The other aspect that will lead to a happy student is something that a teacher might have little control over. The home life. A teacher needs to be or at least needs to try to be aware of things that might be happening in the home. If a student has to work to help support or if a student has an unstable home life, that can obviously affect the students happiness in the classroom and overall. In a system that cares about the student, the question might be asked if this student is 17
ready to learn. If not then, it would be better not to try to force feed school to him. However, in the current system that is exactly what happens, leading to a lot of discontent around school. The other topic that is seldom discussed that Noddings touches on is the happiness of the teachers. Not only personal happiness but happiness about the school they work in. I have a lot of friends that are teachers and there are very few of them that are completely happy with the system they are in. An unhappy teacher who is not excited to be there can not possibly create the environment necessary for happy students. Happiness is contagious. It would be the responsibility of the administrators and principals to ensure the school as a whole has an environment that is welcoming to the teachers and the teachers feel they have autonomy and are welcomed and feel included. I am looking forward to testing these thoughts and theories in my class when that day comes. I feel I have a good set of tools to help me when the time comes.
About Me I
am a native of Dayton, Ohio where I grew up with my four siblings. I endured a pretty uneventful childhood and did the usual activities in high school including a high concentration of sports. After high school, I attended the University of Dayton where I earned my undergraduate degree in Secondary Education with an emphasis on Social Studies. While attending University, I participated in ROTC so upon graduation I was commissioned in the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant in the Signal Corps. During my four year stint in the Army, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to several different countries around the world including Korea, China, Kuwait and Iraq as well as being stationed in many bases stateside. With my service complete, I moved to California and became acquainted with the plumbing industry. This allowed me to transfer to Salem where I have been since 2006.
I have grown accustomed to Salem's soggy season, which I like a lot more than Ohio's frozen winters, and love the mild, sunny summers Oregon has to offer. One of my favorite things to do on a nice summer day is a day of wine tasting in the vast and beautiful wine country. In addition to sipping a few glasses of wine, I spend my time as a youth baseball coach and part time softball player. I aspire to be a high school teacher in the area soon. My philosophy of education centers around acknowledging that every student is unique and there 18
is a need to focus on individual strengths and interests. If at all possible, learning will be personalized and student directed. I believe students learn best when topics are linked to real world experiences. As a Social Studies teacher, I believe in a high degree of cooperative learning with an integration of technology. In the classroom, the ideas of respect, setting and meeting expectations, and accountability will be highly valued. My main goal as a teacher is to prepare students for their role as citizens and decision makers in a diverse, democratic society. I believe that positive relationships and clear lines of communication must be developed between both students and parents alike. Barbara Harrell Carson put it succinctly when she said "students learn what they care about, from people they care about and who, they know, care about them." Education has played an extremely large role in my life. For as far back as I can remember all that I have been told by my parents is how important an education is to being successful in life. I have generally always been a fairly good student, which is to say I applied myself well. Early in my education, I recall taking special tests to determine which career fields may be suitable for me when I became older. These tests would ask questions to determine which kind of personality traits I might possess which, in turn, would determine which career path would best fit those traits. I remember, as a child, I was very shy and introverted but I really enjoyed working with people once I got to know them. These types of traits produced a list of possible career paths such as teaching or accounting. At the time, I remember not being too excited about being an accountant but teaching was something I could see myself doing. So that is what stuck in my head. However, I now wonder what might have happened if I had not been “pigeon holed” into this type of career path. I mean, it was not like I had a great passion for teaching at the time, but it was something that I kind of grew into. Would that have happened had I not been pointed in that direction by this career path test? That would be hard to determine, however, looking back I feel I would have been better served if I had not been so influenced at such a young age. Knowing that those fields of work were the ones that “fit me best” limited my thoughts and desires for other possible career choices. As a young student, I felt that those few choices were all that I was good enough for and seldom thought of other possibilities. Today, education is my life. Throughout the years I did develop a passion for teaching, coaching and mentoring . I adore the thought of having my very own classroom where I can help mold the bright minds of the future. I long to see young eager faces willing and ready to learn and seek knowledge. For my students, I do not want to be a part of stifling their creativity and limiting what is out there for them. I want them to realize that they truly can be anything they want to be. The possibilities are limitless, and not just what is listed on some career test printout. I have also come to realize that learning is a lifelong process especially when it comes to being a professional teacher. In order to give my students the best learning experience possible, I will need to be on top of the latest teaching methods, ideas and using the latest and greatest tools available. As a teacher, I will constantly be trying to improve my skills and use the latest technologies to bring the type of learning environment needed to ensure students are afforded the opportunity to learn. 19