Monday, February 07, 2005

Progressive/constructivist education plays golf (rev.)

Prof. Plum's latest offering reminds me of a wonderful piece of satire by Kerry Hempenstall I read a while back. The virtue of this satirical piece is that it nicely and perfectly encapsulates the progressive/constructivist ideology -- a fantastic ideology that would be driven out of town in any other profession.

Mr. Hempenstall, one of the foremost reading experts, tells how the founders of whole language would teach how to play golf. I wonder how they would train pilots and physicians?

Hempenstall, K. (1996). Whole language takes on golf. Effective School Practices, 15(2), 32-33.

Well folks here we are at the WL School of Golf with our two founders - Smith and Goodman. What can you tell us about your method of teaching beginning golfers?

"Yes, well, our approach to teaching golf is more of a philosophy than a method. We consider that golf is an holistic experience which comprises more than the sum of its parts. Golf, to us, is an irreducible experience best learned by doing, so we enter all our novices in the Australian Open because that's authentic golf. Our role is that of motivator/facilitator, we empower our students to grow in golf. We do not teach skills of course; even though some students request help with their swing, we explain that swing is only a sub-skill of golf, and to emphasise it out of the context of authentic golf is time-wasting or even harmful.

We do like to see our learners practise their invented swing during the Open itself of course; the principles of the swing are eventually induced by the learner who is highly motivated during an Open, but probably bored to tears and disheartened by artificially timetabled swing practice. Thus we (along with another former champion, "Jocular" Johnny Rousseau) consider that the swing will evolve naturally, that feedback is pointless and it may even damage the essential confidence that learners need if they are to take risks with their golf. Since golf is as natural as learning to speak, we allow it to develop, rather than forcing it - just as speech developed.

Golf being such a natural pursuit, there is no need to demonstrate grip, stance, or even which end of the club is best to hold - gradually, through playing in authentic tournaments, the efforts of the novice will more and more closely approximate that of Greg Norman. If for any reason development is slow, probably caused by earlier misguided attempts at skill instruction, we provide entry into other golfing majors, such as Augusta, or St Andrews - more immersion in real golf is the answer. Golf improvement depends largely on the learner's establishment of a self-regulating and self-improving system, not on anything an instructor provides.

We also ensure that our students don't practise their chipping or bunker shots as that involves fractionating the great game. Similarly, we consider driving ranges and putting greens are merely mind numbing traps only used by old-fashioned, ignorant instructors who fail to understand the implications of the new research literature on preferred golfing styles. Golfing-for-meaning is our mantra, because of course golf is a very personal activity. Only by considering the golf experience from a developmentalist-constructivist-relativist perspective can we move away from the notion of goals prescribed autocratically from above.

We believe that players can progress far beyond the shallow objectives of the ball-in-hole-in-minimum-strokes model which dominates in certain quarters. Our players are encouraged to achieve satisfaction of their own diverse needs, which may be markedly different from those of course-designers, or self-appointed traditionalists. The golfers transact with the course, bringing their own unique understandings and experiences to the event; they should not feel tied down by conventional notions of what the process should mean to the player.

We also teach a revolutionary strategy in that we encourage our learners to disengage from the tyranny of the ball. The ball is only marginally relevant to the game, and is too often over-emphasised. It is, after all, only one cue to the deeper transacted meaning of the golfing experience. Students are sometimes bemused when we instruct them to pay as little attention as possible to the ball - just a quick glance is all that is needed as they stroll along the fairway (to ensure that their prediction is correct, and it is a ball not a cowpat). Striking any ball that meets the definition of a ball will do, it needn't be your own - in fact such an action is a genuine indicator of the degree to which your comprehension of the true potential of this exciting game is developing.

How much success are we having with our up-to-date, golfer-centered philosophy? We have numerous anecdotes from dedicated teachers who find our approach so much more rewarding - they have no trouble engaging their students; they see the joy on the faces of the students; they are exhilarated to be part of this important redefinition of the essence of the game. Scores? You ask? Unfortunately that question is very revealing of your failure to keep up with modern research. You are still dominated by out-dated reductionist models of golf. One cannot validly and reliably keep scores without interfering in the golfing process; scores do not reflect all that is entailed by golf; they fail to capture more than the most miniscule element of the whole game. Scores are likely to be used to compare golfer to golfer - which is an unconscionable intrusion on the innate developmental trajectory of each individual seeker of golf prowess.

We anticipate our philosophy will sweep the golfing world. It is new, innovative, flexible - everyone's a winner. And we won't stop there either. We already have plans to take on swimming coaching for beginners, using our proven immersion techniques. The sky's the limit - Hey, Kenny G., have you thought about using our approach for beginning skydiver training?"