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Friday, May 18, 2007

For Non-Commuting Contemplation Only

If you ever wondered why homeschooling became such a trend, SC&A has the answer. Do not read this if you are shortly to hit the roads for a commute home. You are apt to be pretty dazed by educational philosophies such as:
“Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know – it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.”
and:
“…a student attains ‘higher order thinking’ when he no longer believes in right or wrong“. “A large part of what we call good teaching is a teacher´s ability to obtain affective objectives by challenging the student’s fixed beliefs. …a large part of what we call teaching is that the teacher should be able to use education to reorganize a child’s thoughts, attitudes, and feelings.”
"Affective" means emotional. The aim of much modern teaching is to get students to feel passionately about issues; whether they actually understand them is considered unimportant. Indeed, giving them any tools and knowledge that would allow them to assess evidence independently is considered actually harmful. The little brats might start asking hard questions, thus messing up the classroom dynamic.

Your impulse upon reading SC&A's foray into education theory might be to dismiss the selection of quotes as cherry-picking a few random whackheads burbling into silence. Oh, no. This type of thinking dominates educational departments in US universities, and naturally enough has begun to seep into the wider university. See FIRE for examples, such as the Michigan State University "rightthinking" requirement for graduation:
After months of public pressure, Michigan State University (MSU) has ended its controversial Student Accountability in Community (SAC) program. FIRE urged MSU to end the SAC program because it forced students whose speech or behavior was deemed unacceptable to undergo ideological reeducation, or else face effective expulsion.
Eventually we will have to get all of our scientists from Czechoslovakia, Poland and India; our homegrown talent will all be too busy weeping and hugging trees to actually do any research.

Photon Courier, Chicago Boyz and Betsy's Page are three blogs that sometimes look at this issue.


Comments:
"Eventually we will have to get all of our scientists from Czechoslovakia, Poland and India; our homegrown talent will all be too busy weeping and hugging trees to actually do any research."

Or starting Hedge Funds
 
All too true....
 
Mama,

For someone who is so passionate about science, I’m not sure what your problem is with:

“…A large part of what we call good teaching is a teacher’s ability to obtain affective objectives by challenging the student’s fixed beliefs.”

Science is valueless in that it seeks ‘objective’ knowledge.’ Consider the ‘Global Warming’ issue. Is it not desirable to “challenge student’s fixed beliefs” that they developed from mass media input (e.g. Al Gore film production) and seek objective knowledge about the issue? What about Iraq and other political issues? Shouldn’t we be “challenging student’s fixed beliefs”; to transcend ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ value based opinions and seek objective knowledge about correct policies?

Also, I don’t understand your problem with “behavior change” in education. Is it not desirable for teachers of, for example, inner city schools to try to change the self-destructive behavior (violence, pregnancy, not learning, etc) that so many of those children manifest?

Finally, you obviously have never stood in front of a classroom filled with starry eyed drooping bodies who what nothing but out of school. If you had, then you would understand why “much modern teaching is to get students to feel passionately about issues.”
 
I have done some teaching - not of kids, though! My mother was a teacher, and a great one.

"Affective objectives" are not what we need. We do not need to teach children how to feel about issues, but how to think and analyze, and give them the basic skills to do it.

A very big part of why I AM passionate about science is because of my mother being a teacher. I saw what she did and how she did it, Tom.

As for changing the destructive behavior of inner-city children, there is no better way to do it then by teaching them to think, to reason, to have self-discipline, to have confidence in their ability to learn and to compete. Wake a child's mind, and that child will have a better future.

If it weren't for the actual teachers, like Betsy and Mamacita, our kids would be graduating with nothing. Teaching is such a hard job that you are always going to have sifting effect within it and end up with a lot who are really dedicated and gifted.

Are you a teacher? If so, how long and what grade levels?
 
"Are you a teacher [Tom]? If so, how long and what grade levels?"

Was! Long enough to burn out in the inner city teaching the population the Federal grants call "socially and educationally challenged."

Sorry about my rhetorical phrasing “you obviously have never stood in front of a classroom” which sounds ad hominem. That was not my intention. My point was that motivating students (i.e “much modern teaching is to get students to feel passionately about issues”) especially the type of students one finds in the inner cities is THE major challenge for teachers of that population. I speak from much personal experience and my many many colleagues also – a challenge that has not been remotely met.

Further, motivating students entails behavior change. This is especially true for inner city youth with behavior patterns that preclude learning.

Again, if teaching science is more than memorizing science, i.e. if it means thinking scientifically, then the process of getting to think scientifically entails learning to suspend belief. Belief and science are contradictions. I ‘believe’ in god. I ’know’ that water boils at certain combinations of temperature and pressure.

Finally, one can find special teachers who accomplish amazing things; but these individuals are ‘outliers’ - i.e. they are not typical. Perhaps, those you mention are such.

Best

Tom
 
My hat is off to you, Tom. As for those "special teachers", Mamacita switched to teaching at a junior college, Betsy Newmark is teaching at a charter school, and my mother closed out her career teaching at a parish school.

No teacher can actually teach unless the administration of the school is strongly supportive. So I somewhat doubt you are really different from others, although of course I don't know. My mother began her career teaching at an extremely impoverished mostly-minority inner-city school in the 50s. But the administration was excellent. There are great inner-city schools today, but they all have one common factor - an excellent administration that enforces discipline and an atmosphere in which teachers are actually allowed to teach.

I'm guessing you and I don't really disagree because of this "if it means thinking scientifically, then the process of getting to think scientifically entails learning to suspend belief."

Exactly. My criticism of the "affective" goal is that all too often modern curricula are working on generating BELIEF rather than knowledge or the skill sets required to acquire, order and sift knowledge. This is the root of my concern about bad science curricula.

As a practical matter, especially in most inner-city schools, failing to teach that mindset and teach it early dooms a lot of kids with potential to a lifetime of low achievement and mental apathy, because they don't know how to break down a problem and figure out way to address its components.
 
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