Author’s note: As a response to the bile being directed at teachers by President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and NBC News’ Education Nation, I’ve decided to publish a series of articles I wrote celebrating great educators in my life. I encourage others to make the world a better place by sharing stories of great teaching. (use the hashtag = greatteaching)
Welcome back! As we begin another school year it’s only fitting that we take a moment to remember and celebrate our teacher heroes. Recent weeks spent teaching Logo in several Australian schools renewed my admiration for teachers (even ones who don’t use Logo). Besides all of traits we know teachers possess – poise, courage, wisdom, patience, kindness, creativity… – I was reminded that teachers also require the stamina of triathletes. Teaching MicroWorlds to 120 laptop-toting seventh graders (at once) was quite an ordeal.
I started thinking about the greatness embodied by teachers recently when the world lost two giants of the profession. Jazz singer, Betty Carter, passed away in September. She was one of the greatest vocal improvisers and teachers who ever lived. Betty Carter felt a personable responsibility for keeping the music she loved alive and ensured just that by working with young musicians throughout her stellar career. She was committed to filling the world with music of the highest caliber.
I don’t know if “Ms. BC” knew of Logo or even owned a computer. What I do know is that every Betty Carter performance was a samba school. She collaborated with her young musicians and made them better through improvisation, humor, praise, gestures, a whisper in the ear and her example. Betty Carter was respected for the teaching she did via countless clinics in public schools and an annual intensive week she led for aspiring musicians.
In the best sense possible, every performance by her ensemble was the embodiment of mutual growth, creativity, expression and swing. I last saw the Betty Carter Quartet live in New York this past April. During the introduction of the band members, Ms. Carter said, “remember the faces of these young men because in a few years you will hear them again somewhere and think to yourself, ‘my how they have improved’.” At the end of the last set of the week she invited one young musician after another to come up from the audience and sit in with her band. Her scat-based battle with these musical hopefuls made them dig deep within themselves and perform beyond their expectations. When the number of aspiring students began to snake around the nightclub, Betty Carter passed the torch to the next generation. She turned to the young sweating drummer and said, “It’s yours baby. Let’s see how you get out of it.” Betty Carter sat down in the audience and laughed out loud, visibly proud of her students.
While I was never good enough to play with Betty Carter, I was good enough to play with Richard Lukas. In fact, thousands of junior high school students in Wayne, New Jersey had the opportunity to perform with him over three decades. Mr. Lukas was my junior high school band director. He taught me to play the trumpet, to swing a tennis racquet and he became one of my oldest friends – despite his early advice to my parents that they make my trumpet into a lamp. Tragically, Dick Lukas died of a heart attack in September of this year at only 54 years of age.
Mr. Lukas’ stage and tiny office were hothouses where less conventional students were cultivated. He was under-appreciated by his superiors, misunderstood by his peers and disparaged by parents who didn’t want their children to become musicians, but perform familiar ditties at two concerts per year. His ensembles always played music thought to be above the heads of students, but we were constantly rewarded by triumphing over challenging compositions. I remember the senseless controversy caused when Mr. Lukas decided to dedicate some of band time to the learning of music theory and history. He rightly believed that the school band served many purposes, among them was us to learn all about music, learn through music about ourselves and become well-rounded citizens.
I studied privately with Dick Lukas on and off through college and enjoyed the rare privilege of becoming my teacher’s teacher when he enrolled in a series of my LogoWriter courses. My teacher/student became an avid computer enthusiast who at one point had an Apple IIgs with thousands of dollars worth of RAM, drives and interface cards. We used to joke that his IIgs supercomputer could run a small country. Over the past couple of years he asked me about the net and I sought his advice regarding instruments for my junior high school children. We had come full circle. Every time my son asks me about his mouthpiece, I will think of Mr. Lukas. I am grateful for his wisdom, humor, friendship and guidance. He also filled my life with beautiful music.
In honor of my great teachers I thank you for your dedication to improving the lives of children. Your daily heroics deserve much respect and appreciation. While schools become more reactionary and regressive, you dare to challenge your students and the system with Logo. Your students will remember you fondly.
©1998 Gary S. Stager
Originally published in Logo Exchange — Fall 1998
There has been much talk among the “EduWeb 2.0″ community questioning the value of formal schooling, particularly higher education. Will Richardson has written several blog posts on the subject.
While the democratization of knowledge and unlimited access to information are laudable goals, and perhaps approaching reality, I wonder about the role of expertise, specifically that resulting from “paying dues” in the learning process. Will culture contine to survive and civilization progress if everybody is equal and education is reduced to “looking stuff up” online?
Information access is no substitute for education.
Is this an educator endorsed expansion of anti-intellectualism?
Time Magazine’s columnist, Joel Stein, challenged some of these assumptions in a very witty article, Bring on The Elites. (I’ve waited a week for the entire column to appear online so I can share it with you). Here is a taste of Stein’s column.
Magazine editors and network executives make writers cut references and words they think most people won’t know — even though everybody has Wikipedia. We are becoming a country that believes the rich have earned their money but the well educated have not earned their intellectual superiority. This leads to a nation that idolizes Kardashians.
Antielitism is a cancer waiting to metastasize in any democracy and one that Alexis de Tocqueville worried about for the U.S.
I always get a bit queasy when I hear educators argue against education, including college opportunity, for all students. What do you think?
Wow! What a week. I’ve taught in Tampa, Seoul and after 25,000 miles, I am now in Paris to be a plenary speaker at the Constructionism 2010 Conference.
It is such an honor to be invited to speak at a conference featuring some of the smartest people in the world and pioneers in thinking about thinking and learning with computers. Two of Logo’s three inventors, Cynthia Solomon and Wally Feurzig, are here. Seymour Papert‘s influence is ubiquitous and in many ways, the conference is a celebration of Papert’s ideas, work, friendship and leadership.
There is a lot of talk these days about personal learning networks and learning communities, but this is a true learning community featuring experts who have been evolving ideas for as long as 40+ years and newbiews. There is serious expertise here! The conference attendees range from 20ish to 80+ years old. In the spirit of Papert’s Samba School metaphor, we get to spend the next five days “dancing together.”
My paper, A Constructionist Approach to Teaching with Robotics, sounds overly dry and specific, but I hope some of you will take a few minutes to read it since robotics is a metaphor for rethinking the nature of teaching and learning. I even briefly explored the severe weakness of what Apple is now promoting as Challenge-based Learning.
I hope to upload some of the slides I’ve created to supplement the presentation at a later time.
Please vote for my session, The Best Educational Ideas in the World, to be included in the South-by-Southwest Conference! I need LOTS of votes!
Summer Reading Suggestions
Here is a list of suggested reading by written by CMK 2010 faculty or recommended by them.
Whether you can join us July 12-15th or not, learning is a lifelong pursuit fueled by the powerful ideas and joy contained within the pages of the following books!
Constructing Modern Knowledge attempts to bring math, science, engineering and the arts to life through creative computing, authentic inquiry and project-based learning. This year, Dr. James Loewen, author of the bestselling books, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong will help participants learn history by learning to be historians!
His most recent book, Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History, is a critically important addition to any professional library and teacher bag of tricks!
Alfie Kohn has written some of the most popular, provocative and acclaimed books about education in the past quarter century. Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The latest of his eleven books are The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) and Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (2005). Of his earlier titles, the best known are Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes (1993), No Contest: The Case Against Competition (1986), and The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards” (1999).
Perhaps most exciting of all, two riveting hour-long presentations by Alfie are now available on one low-cost DVD. No Grades + No Homework = Better Learning allows you take Alfie Kohn home with you after CMK 2010 and share him with your colleagues!
Legendary school teacher, principal, reformer, activist and blogger, MacArthur Genius Deborah Meier had a new book just released, Playing for Keeps: Life and Learning on a Public School Playground. This book should be on your shelf next to her classics, The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem and In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization.
Pete loves chilren’s books so much, he owns his own children’s bookstore, The Blue Bunny.
|Dr. Cynthia Solomon|
In addition to being a veteran educator, researcher and one of the three inventors of the Logo programming language, she has written two important books on computers and learning! Cynthia’s doctoral research at Harvard led to the publication of the critical book, Computer Environments for Children: A Reflection on Theories of Learning and Education. Cynthia Solomon is also the co-author of Designing Multimedia Environments for Children, with Allison Drum.
I can’t imagine Constructing Modern Knowledge without Cynthia’s generosity of spirit!
Read all about the Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010 faculty here
Brian recommended the following ecclectic collection of books.
The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul by Douglas R. Hofstadter & Daniel C. Dennett
A collection of essays about the philosophy of mind. Some are amusing, others profound, several are both.
He, She, and It by Marge Piercy
An artificial intelligence robot love story told from a Jewish feminist perspective. Amazingly it works. It reads like something that could have been co-authored by Marvin Minsky and Margaret Atwood.
The Recursive Universe: Cosmic Complexity and the Limits of Scientific Knowledge by William Poundstone
The book starts by describing Conway’s Game of Life. Then uses the game as a metaphor to explore a collection of interesting topics in math, physics, and information theory.
Machinery of Life by David Goodsell
A molecular biology picture book. It gives a gentle but thorough introduction to the molecules that are the construction kit that living things are made of.
On Education by Betrand Russell
Bertrand Russell’s riff on Mindstorms. It was written a couple of years before Seymour Papert was born and foreshadows many of his ideas.
John said, “The first two have been favorites for some time; the rest of the list is current reading.”
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sachs
Oliver’s mother gave him a cadaver for his birthday. The Wright Brothers visited his home when they were in London. Oliver tried to relive the joy of discovery by reproducing the experiments of Humphrey Davey. The book is filled with chemicals that when mixed explode.
The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance by Henry Petroski
The history of how the pencil came to be and the history of engineering in the U.S., i.e., the Erie Canal, the first engineering schools in the 1850’s, etc.
Infinite Ascent: A Short History of Mathematics by David Belinski
A history of mathematics, Euclid, Euler, all the greats …
Astronomical Sketching: A Step-by-Step Introduction by Erika Rix
Some of my students have followed the guidelines in this book and published their sketches at the Astronomy Sketch of the Day website
The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow
Yes, Louisiana and Florida defaulted on bonds (issued in London) during the 1840’s. One of Morgan’s board members advocated for socialism. How did we get into the current banking mess? Read this book.
Painting Chinese: A Lifelong Teacher Gains the Wisdom of Youth by Herb Kohl
A gorgeous meditation on learning, teaching and life by one of the world’s great educators and education writers!
The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School In The Age Of The Computer & The Connected Family: Bridging the Digital Generation Gap by Seymour Papert
You can’t think about thinking with computers without being well-versed in the wisdom of Seymour Papert!
The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith
One of the best books ever written about learning…
Teaching as Story Telling: : An Alternative Approach to Teaching and Curriculum in the Elementary School by Kieran Egan
An overlooked classic that should be part of any creative teacher’s library
|Dr. Gary Stager|
Making Learning Whole: How Seven Principles of Teaching Can Transform Education by David Perkins
A critically important book for curriculum planners and teachers – a much more thoughtful alternative to the much more pedestrian and coercive Understanding by Design
Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities by Jason Shiga
An absolutely gorgeous, fascinating and fun choose-your-own adventure book in the form of a graphic novel
A Schoolmaster of the Great City: A Progressive Education Pioneer’s Vision for Urban Schools by Angelo Patri
This book identifies and SOLVES every problem facing public education today. Oh yeah, Patri published this book in 1917! An amazing read!
To Teach: The Journey in Comics by Bill Ayers
Bill Ayer’s classic tale of teaching republished as a graphic novel
HowToons: The Possibilties are Endless by Saul Griffith
Wicked cool science experiments and engineering projects for kids presented in cartoon form.
In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning by Carlina Rinaldi (President of Reggio Children and Director of the Loris Malaguzzi International Center in Reggio Emilia, Italy)
There are many fabulous books that help you learn from the innovations of the educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy. (list here) This book is so heavy, you can read and re-read it for years to come!
Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World by Mark Frauenfelder
The Editor of Make Magazine shares his DIY adventures, the values of tinkering and learning to learn.
Number Freak: From 1 to 200- The Hidden Language of Numbers Revealed by Derrick Niederman
You might think of this as an exciting biography of numbers!
Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share by Ken Denmead
Cool modern high and low-tech projects you can do with your kids
Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) by Gever Tulley
The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky
Dr. Marvin Minsky’s seminal book
The Emotion Machine by Marvin Minsky
Dr. Marvin Minsky’s most recent book on artificial intelligence
Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope by Jonathan Kozol
Kozol has published countless gems, but this book moves me in incalcuable ways. This may be his most beautiful book.
El Sistema: Music to Changes Life (DVD)
Theere be no more exciting youth movement in the world than Venezuela’s El Sistema. This film will remind you of the potential in each child and make you want to sing, dance and change the world.
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) by Richard Feynman
This may be the only great ROTFL “beach read” by a Nobel Laureate for Physics you’ll ever read. I have given countless copies away as gifts to teenagers, colleagues and even grandparents!
Landon Carter’s Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation by Rhys Isaac
My Aussie friend, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, recreates life in Colonial America through the diaries and artifacts of a Virginia plantation owner.
The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century by John Brockman
Provocative thinkers and great scientists speculate about how life and science may change by 2050
History in the Making: An Absorbing Look at How American History Has Changed in the Telling Over the Last 200 Years by Kyle Roy Ward
What we may not know or understand incorrectly about US History.
Not Written in Stone: Learning and Unlearning American History Through 200 Years of Textbooks by Kyle Roy Ward
A classroom edition of “History in the Making”
American History Revised: 200 Startling Facts That Never Made It into the Textbooks by Seymour Morris Jr.
Another book about the wonders of history
Read all about the Constructing Modern Knowledge 2010 faculty here
Be sure to explore many more recommended books and resources for creative educators at Thc Constructivist Consortium Bookstore!
Learn more about The Constructivist Consortium!
Eight or nine nights each week for the past several months my family and were caught up in the American Idol phenomena. 38 million Americans watched the show’s season finale. I am encouraged that it is still possible to bring generations together around a wholesome event. In addition to being wildly entertaining, American Idol offers many lessons for educators.
All sorts of kids have talents we have yet to discover
The extraordinary drive and talent of the young adults participating in American Idol should remind us of the untapped potential in our students.
Hard work pays off
The American Idol contestants worked their tails off to prepare for each week’s show. Teachers involved in the performing arts know how hard children will work to prepare for a performance and similar opportunities need to become the norm in other subject areas.
Learning occurs best with an audience
An audience for one’s work gives that effort greater purpose. It not only motivates the learner, but also provides occasions for authentic assessment.
You need to be well-rounded
American Idol contestants needed to sing, dance and speak articulately. Only folks possessing the whole package would advance.
Cooperation is valuable
Nothing is learned in isolation. While American Idol was a competition, the finalists were required to perform together. This cooperation gave the performers greater respect for one another and taught valuable life lessons for the future.
Achieving ones goals is not a zero-sum game
I believed the “idols” who said that participating was reward enough, even if they did not win the competition. The television show sustained this community of practice by having the “losers” in the top ten return frequently for choreographed ensemble performances. Some of the “losers” have embarked on successful careers due to this exposure and their willingness to give it their all regardless of the situation. Clay seemed genuinely happy for Ruben when he was named “The American Idol.”
There are no makeup tests
You get one chance at the plate and have to hit it out of the park every time. When Clay forgot the lyrics to a song in the final rounds, he had to recover with grace and move on.
Talent trumps superficiality
I was impressed by how often the viewers rejected “sexier” contestants for those with more talent. This is all the more remarkable when viewers are picking a pop “idol.” Perhaps folks aren’t as shallow as we thought.
Education is growth
The contestants actually improved each week. That demonstrates their willingness to incorporate advice, experience, talent and risk-taking in order to improve their future performance.
You need to be able to take a punch
Responding to the audience may enhance all human expression. Some of Simon’s critiques were brutal, but honest. The successful performers respected that criticism. learned from it and responded in productive ways. This helped them improve.
A life in the arts is full of rejection, not often so lovingly offered. Students need to recognize the difficulty that lies ahead while not abandoning their dreams or desire to bring beauty to the world.
You learn by working outside of your comfort zone
While it was clear that some idols were better dancers than others, each contestant did their best to improve in areas outside of their comfort zone.
Master as many genres as possible
The requirement that contestants perform in a number of different genres leveled the playing field while causing the singers to stretch. You don’t have to like everything asked of you, but you must do your best. Flexibility and versatility are extremely desirable virtues.
While you can hardly consider Bee Gees or Neil Sedaka relics, millions of American youngsters were introduced to their songwriting talents. Great songs are timeless. The American Idol contestants benefited from the wisdom dispensed by these elders.
Production values don’t matter
Educational software and television producers believe that kids won’t watch anything without the latest in 3-D special effects. Great storytelling or music trumps production values. The American Idol set was ghastly and the background videos were distracting.
Teaching is storytelling
Part of what made millions of viewers tune into each show was the compelling use of storytelling that held your interest, recapitulated what you may have missed and introduced you to the lives and work of various musicians.
You care about great characters
The biographical profiles of each finalist and footage of them clowning around allowed viewers to identify with the contestants and get behind their favorites.
You must be graceful in defeat
Perhaps the most astounding part of American Idol was that seconds after being eliminated, that youngster needed to put on a happy face and belt one more song out for the audience. This demonstrated a remarkable level of graciousness, professionalism and poise.
Young people are willing to vote
…but apparently only if they like the candidates.
Americans are ahead of the media on race
I was frankly considered that America would not choose an overweight African American as their American Idol, regardless of his talents. The selection of Ruben Studdard proved that Americans were a lot hipper and talent than the national media whose magazine covers screamed, “Was American Idol Fixed?” following the final episdoe.
Originally published in the August 2003 issue of District Administration Magazine
Originally published in the September 2000 issue of Australia’s Hotsource online newsletter
I recently attended the American Association of School Administrators Conference. The wares being plied on the exhibit hall floor were at once both amusing and appalling. Everything being sold to the school superintendents was advertised as a solution. Next to the curriculum solution was the testing solution. Within walking distance you could find the technology solution and the vending machine solution. Why exert the effort required to solve education’s intractable problems? A solution to any problem could be exchanged for a purchase order.
Recently, the Logo list-serv, email@example.com,** was the site of a discussion begun by teachers in search of Logo workbooks and clip-art to be used in Logo projects. While slightly disappointing, this discussion is not unexpected. Teachers have been conditioned to follow lesson plans prepared far from their classrooms and their newfound enthusiasm for Logo leads to the inevitable quest for ancillary materials. Logo is not about solutions. It’s about problems – good hard ones.
Instead of dismissing the concerns of these teachers I think we should spend some time responding to their perceived and actual needs.
In Search of Ideas
Logo-using teachers do not need workbooks, worksheets, or multiple choice tests. They need good ideas, courage and permission to use their imaginations and value the interests of their students. There are not enough good books about learning Logo, Brian Harvey’s series, Computer Science Logo Style 1-3, is among the best ever written, but it is of little help for a beginning MicroWorlds user. The standard Logo books require enough translation of the Logo syntax to make the transition to MicroWorlds difficult. Adults interested in learning MicroWorlds would be well-served to spend the time working through the project booklets provided by LCSI. They should be encouraged to experiment with and extend the ideas in those student booklets. Teachers can also learn more in workshops and from colleagues online. HotSource, SchoolKit and the Logo Exchange journal are good sources of additional project ideas.
Children can learn a great deal from these carefully designed projects as well. They will quickly master the elementary programming skills introduced and should then apply this knowledge in service of their own project ideas. Logo is not intended to follow a prescribed scope and sequence-style curriculum. Logo, by its very nature, is anti-curriculum which in no way means that it may not be used to serve the school’s curriculum.
Teachers need to trust the skills, experience and imagination of kids and use Logo to enrich the learning process. If kids develop sufficient Logo fluency, they will be able to enrich a curricular topic with graphics, text, animation, interactivity and multimedia elements. This should become natural and expected of students with appropriate access to computers.
Those teachers interested in using Logo beyond the boundaries of the traditional curriculum should follow the interests and talents of their students? What would the kids like to design in MicroWorlds? Conduct a technology survey. Ask yourself sorts of video games, computer programs, web pages do you find in the community? What sorts of simulations could be built to concretize an abstract concept or historical event? Once you and your students have a problem-solving goal, start working towards solving it. Remember that one of the strengths of Logo is the ability to solve a problem in a number of ways. Share the knowledge, talents and breakthrough discoveries of your students within your community of practice and seek assistance from the online Logo community when necessary.
The question about using clip-art in a learning project is a bit more complex. As a general rule, kids should draw, paint, photograph or record any content required by their project. Illustrations too complex to be created on the computer may be scanned from traditional media into the computer. Original work should be the educational goal. It also eliminates any questions about copyright. I am horrified by the school reports consisting of photocopied illustrations from encyclopedias and am no more impressed by cut-and-paste reports created via World Wide Web plagiarism.
The issue of when to use clip-art is primarily a matter of balance. Ask yourself what the primary educational goal of the project is. If your students are developing sophisticated mathematics and computer science knowledge through the design of an interactive card game, then the educational outcomes far outweigh the virtue of hand-drawing 52 different playing cards. In that case, find some graphics on a CD or the web and paste those graphics in the turtle’s shape centre. If students are using MicroWorlds to tell a story, simulate a scientific concept or report on a historical event, they should design their own graphics (perhaps in collaboration with others).
The same logic applies to the use of music and audio in student projects. Narrations and simple musical accompaniment should be prepared by the learner. When a recording by Churchill is required, use the real thing – unless of course you think the kid would benefit from learning the speech and recording it herself.
Kids should be encouraged to derive satisfaction from their own creativity and not be compared to professionally created products. The neurotic needs of teachers craving error-free teaching should not be allowed to interfere with the learning and creative expression of their students.
Go on try something new. Take some risks. I dare you!
**site may no longer be active
There are many ways to evaluate excellent educational leadership. Here is a true story demonstrating such leadership.
A school principal recently led me on a tour of his elementary school. As we walked into one classroom I saw the blood flush from the principal’s face. We walked in on a classroom full of children watching a Disney cartoon while their teacher did paperwork. Once outside the classroom the principal apologized profusely and promised that the teacher would be spoken to.
This principal was embarassed by the lack of teacher professionalism demonstrated by using a cartoon to distract her students. Such practice is widespread and illegal. It is against the law to show commercial films to a public audience (including public schools) without the consent or license of the publisher.
My grade school-age nephews are watching plenty of commercial films as the school year winds down. Therefore, I’m inspired to share an article I wrote six years ago.
One seventh grader’s journey includes learning math through Scooby Doo
A version of this was published in the August 2001 issue of Curriculum Administrator Magazine
At our annual family dinner to celebrate the end of another school year each of our children reflected upon the lessons learned and the obstacles overcome during the previous ten months. Our seventh-grade daughter, who will be referred to by the top-secret code name of Miffy, shared with us a new pedagogical strategy and use of educational technology not yet conceived of during my school years. What was this innovation? Was it project-based learning, multiage collaboration, constructionism, online publishing, modeling and simulation? No, it was Disney films.
Yup, that’s right. Disney films (and several others too).
The following is a partial list of the films shown this year during class time by my daughter’s teachers.
I know that you must be marveling at the remarkable interdisciplinary properties of The Nightmare Before Christmas. You may also be wondering why there were no movies shown during fifth period. That’s because they don’t show movies during lunch.
Now I’m as fond of wasting time and goofing-off as the next guy, but Miffy was able to remember watching at least 34 films having no educational value whatsoever in one school year. In case you were thinking that they could be studying film criticism or visual storytelling you should know that they only watched half of most films because the periods are too short. Others were watched over several days.
This remarkable waste of class time occurred in a school where requests for meaningful projects, hands-on experiments, field-trips, drama and other productive learning experiences are abandoned because of an oft-repeated “lack of time.” Sure the standardized tests and top-down curricular pressures wreak havoc with creating a productive context for learning, but we can’t blame this one on Princeton or the President. Somewhere along the line educators determined that the demanding curriculum was elastic enough for the illegal showing of countless commercial films.
My Daughter the Rodeo Clown
Miffy also told me that due to the SAT-9 exams, Career Day had been cancelled. I’m not sure which part of that statement is most tragic, so let’s state it in the form of a standardized test question.
Which is most pathetic?
a) Canceling Career Day because of SAT-9 testing
b) Career Day
c) The school’s remedy for having cancelled career day
The ingenious remedy chosen was to spend much of the last week of school watching a series of instructional videos called, “Real Life 101.” While hardly as educational as Mulan, these shows turned out to be far more entertaining. The audience was repeatedly reminded, “you don’t need a college degree for this career, but it wouldn’t hurt!”
You can’t make this stuff up! The worksheet that followed the Career Day substitute asked each child to rank these careers in order of preference and write a few sentences explaining their number one choice.
If I wanted my children to watch television, I’d let them stay home. At least at home they could watch something educational like “Behind the Music: The Mamas and the Papas“or learn about Beat poetry from the “Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” At least then they would have a chance to learn something more than the unfortunate lessons being modeled by their schools.
Last night, students in one of my pre-service methods courses presented a curricular lesson they designed and a paper exploring a dilemma encountered while student teaching. There was plenty of insecurity in their presentations – voices trailing off into near silence, as well as defensiveness when asked to support an argument or defend a position. Such reactions are predictable.
What struck me as significant was how future educators standing on quicksand were quite certain about their ideas, regardless of how flimsy they happened to be. When confronted with clearly obvious factual errors in the proposed lesson, more than one student teacher responded with a version, “Well, I disagree,” or “Because I said so.”
It would have been nice if these students demonstrated some humility and were eager to change their stance (and modify the lesson). Seymour Sarason often points out that schools “lack a capacity for self-correction.” In this case, it’s probably reasonable to conclude that schools are merely collections of teachers.
Certainty not only afflicts teacher wannabes. A few nights ago, a non-American blogger from a country far far away wrote a blog posting and then announced its existence to the world via Twitter. This blog quoted an online magazine’s account of a presentation by a popular purveyor of clichés and other nonsense about contemporary education. After careful deliberation I decided to ask the Twitterer/blogger about the fallacies and factual errors he/she reported in the blog post.
The blogger responded that he/she did feel a bit queasy about the validity of the information, but passed it on as the basis of policy recommendations nonetheless. Each iteration of the reporting – the article, blog post about the article and then the tweet about the blog post about the article about the presentation – FAILED to question the validity or even “truthiness” of the claims made by the original myth-maker. Each iteration leads to a greater impression that the information has been vetted and is factual.
I fear that Web 2.0 amplifies this false sense of certainty and accelerates the rate at which “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” (attributed to Mark Twain, even if I have reason to suspect otherwise given how every clever quip seems attributed to Twain)
Just in time!
Salon features an incredibly timely article*, The Certainty Epidemic, by a medical doctor named Robert Burton. Despite a reliance on neuroscience that may represent an even greater false sense of certainty where none is warranted, the article (and book it touts) raises important issues for all of us, such as:
We must learn to substitute “I believe” for “I know.”
Watch Stephen Colbert’s stunning 2006 performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner where he lampooned President George W. Bush’s reliance on his gut, rather than on his head. [Warning: There may be a juvenile commercial prior to the actual speech. It’s the best clip I found to embed in this blog. You may also watch the video, sans-commercial, here.
* Note: The “science” used to make Burton’s claims should be taken with a grain of salt and runs the risk of detracting from the important issue of us professing certainty when we are merely stating an opinion.