Friday, February 25, 2005

Remarkable color photography from Czarist Russia

Now for something completely different, as the Pythons used to say.

I came across an astonishing collection of color photos taken in the early part of the 20th century. These photos were taken by the Csar's photographer and document the lost world of the Russian Empire in vivid color. These photos represent a pioneering effort in color photography. The Library of Congress collection is available HERE.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Pundit parents

The Education Wonks have done it again and assembled a delicate smörgåsbord from the edusphere.

What caught my attention, in particular, was a pundit parent's experience with EM: If your school has Everyday Math. Fortunately, there are parents who care enough about education to make an end-run around fuzzy math by either buying the right books, teaching their kids, hiring a tutor or tutoring program or all of the above.

The post also contains a long, long (and I mean looong) response from a true believer in fuzzy math, replete with accusations of "bald-faced lies" and the like.

I have often wondered to what extent the effects of fuzzy math are distorted by interference from parents. Imagine a district using fuzzy math and a number of students doing splendidly on tests (assuming the tests are not fuzzy tests). Then the results are trumpeted by the district and seen as vindication. But it turns out the results are due to what pundit parents and many others like her did: getting their kids the benefit of real math.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Surreal "Learning"

Jenny D is having an interesting discussion on the question: Are Teachers Responsible for Student Learning?

In the surreal climate created by the dominant progressive/constructivist ed ideology, this question cannot be taken at face value. Someone unfamiliar with this creed might innocently assume that "learning" is the same as academic achievement. That's not at all the case. "Learning" has an idiosyncratic meaning that can only be unraveled by immersing oneself in the thoughtworld of this regnant anti-intellectual ideology.

Professor of education
George K. Cunningham discussed this peculiar meaning of "learning" at an AEI conference:

Education schools are certainly going to survive. The more important question is whether they will be relevant. To answer this question it is necessary to define two distinctly different belief systems in education. The first of the two asserts that the most important purpose of education is the enhancement of academic achievement. The public, legislatures, governors and the No Child Left Behind legislation (NCLB) all support this position. Proponents of this view want students to increase their reading comprehension, become more skilled at performing mathematical computations, know history, and understand science. The operational definition of academic achievement is performance on academic achievement tests. The adoption of academic achievement as the primary purpose for our schools is an assertion that schools are best evaluated in terms of how their students perform rather than by what teachers are doing. The selection of instructional method is determined through an examination of their effectiveness in terms of academic achievement.

Education schools and the national organizations that support them have a different focus. They believe that instructional methods should be evaluated in terms of their fidelity to a progressive philosophy of education. Their focus is on "learning" rather than academic achievement. While the terms "academic achievement" and "learning" may appear to refer to the same activities, the instructional methods designed to enhance "learning" are primarily child-centered and may not only fail to increase academic achievement, they may actually degrade it. Instead of teachers teaching students, they believe that it is the role of a good teacher to create the proper environment for learning and if this done properly, students will "learn" by constructing their own meaning. "Learning," unlike academic achievement, is evaluated in terms of what the teachers is doing. It does not require an examination of what is happening to the students in the classroom.

Also relevant to Jenny's discussion is a book I recently referenced that analyzes how dominant ed doctrines undermine student efforts and responsibilities

Success is not enough

A successful reading program is being eliminated in Chicago. If DI is so boring as claimed by some, why not have a good dose of DI mixed in with regular reading?

Excerpt from Chicago Sun-Times:

City schools to ax scripted reading program despite gains
February 21, 2005
BY KATE N. GROSSMAN Education Reporter

Last December, the Chicago Board of Education called the news media to a small school in Woodlawn to show off the best and brightest of its "rising stars."
The Woodlawn Community School boosted reading scores by 20 percentage points in one year after rededicating itself to a controversial, scripted reading program called Direct Instruction, the principal proudly explained.

Now, the board says DI must go.

A Chicago Public Schools committee reviewed six research-backed grammar school reading programs recommended by the state and picked all of them, except Direct Instruction. The 40 or so schools using DI can continue if they've shown success with it, but no new schools can adopt the program.

Monday, February 21, 2005

NBPTS certification of little value

Schools give NBPTS-certified teachers huge bonuses. But recent studies have shown that NBPTS- certification is of little value. NBPTS disdains academic achievement and is part of the progressive/constructivist ed complex. No wonder the complex is hostile to objective achievement tests. Who wants to be told that the emperor has no clothes?

Governors and state legislatures in every state have embarked on education reform programs that are strongly supported by the public. All of these programs emphasize the goal of improved academic achievement operationally defined as student performance on standardized achievement tests.

In contrast to this trend, some of the nation’s most important education organizations have promoted teaching standards that emphasize a different set of educational priorities. They include the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and related groups such as the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).

The result has been an ongoing clash between two educational cultures: (1) those who believe that the most important activity of schools is the enhancement of objectively measured academic achievement, and (2) those who believe test scores are narrow and artificial indicators of learning and therefore should not be treated as education’s prime objective. According to the latter culture, true learning is evidenced only by real performance in the real world. In fact, to those who embrace the second culture, reform focused on the improvement of test scores is undesirable because it encourages the use of result-oriented teaching methods, not the process-oriented approaches that they believe are better suited to critical thinking (Casas, 2003; Smerdon, Burkam, & Lee, 1999). Unfortunately, portfolios and authentic assessments are far more subjective and less reliable than the standardized tests that they would replace. In effect, members of the second culture would rather water down accountability than temper their pedagogical idealism.

Schools of education operating under the auspices of NCATE and INTASC have embraced the second of the two cultures. They train teachers as though their states do not place a high premium on school and teacher accountability for test performance. The same holds true for the NBPTS certification program that has now been adopted in thirty states. It places little importance on academic achievement as measured by standardized achievement tests.

NBPTS’s Five Propositions of Accomplished Teaching say that teachers should be aware of the “broad goals, objectives, and priorities” set by authorities and of their legal obligation to carry out public policy. They also suggest that teachers should consult with colleagues and make their own decisions about what students should learn (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 2005, p.18). In truth, the Five Propositions give little attention to teacher accountability for student achievement, and even that limited discussion is diluted by a variety ofcaveats.

A more forthright expression of the NBPTS viewpoint is revealed in the first major validation study commissioned by NBPTS (Bond, Smith, Baker, & Hattie, 2000):

Brief additional mention should also be made of the deliberate design decision in the present
investigation to use measures of student achievement other than commercially or state-developed multiple-choice tests of generic academic subjects such as reading and mathematics.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to state that such measures have been cited as the cause of all of the nation’s considerable problems in educating our youth. To be sure, the overuse and misuse of multiple-choice tests is well documented. (p. 141)

This is an astounding statement. The authors of this study are not merely saying that there are problems with the use of standardized tests and that they prefer to use other methods, they are suggesting that the use of commercial and state-developed multiple-choice tests is the cause of the nation’s educational problems. To NBPTS, a superior teacher is one committed to a student-centered, constructivist style of instruction, regardless of whether the use of such practices produces gains in objectively measured student achievement (Ballou, 2003).

Most states seem unaware of the discrepancy and are committed to expanding NBPTS participation. They are investing millions on a program that they hope will improve academic achievement when, in fact, the program philosophy opposes singling out academic achievement as an unrivaled educational priority.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

More on massive government funding of fuzzy math

Not even the President of the country can defeat the zealous forces of fuzzy math.

This editorial appeared almost a year ago in The Education Gadfly and was written by David Klein, a professor of mathematics at California State University. Apparently, nothing has changed.


Will Congress hurt or help K-12 math education?

Much like the "reading wars" between phonics instruction and whole language learning, the K-12 "math wars" have raged for more than a decade. With many defeats and only occasional victories, parents, education reformers, and a number of university mathematicians have struggled against "fuzzy math" in schools. Now President Bush is proposing a bold plan to improve mathematics education, but some members of the House—even some members of his own party—are resisting.

The Problem

"Fuzzy math," a philosophical sibling of whole language learning, refers to textbooks and school programs that intentionally de-emphasize basic arithmetic and algebra skills. At the elementary school level, these programs encourage students to invent their own arithmetic procedures, while discouraging the use of the traditional and far superior methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Calculator use is encouraged to excess—in some cases, they're even included in kindergarten lesson plans, at precisely the age that students should be learning basic computational skills unaided. Student "discovery group work" is the preferred mode of learning, sometimes the only mode, and the discovery projects are almost invariably incoherent and aimless. Some of the elementary school fuzzy math programs do not even provide textbooks for students, as books might interfere with student discovery projects. Arithmetic and algebra are radically de-emphasized by these programs. In the higher grades, mathematical definitions and proofs are generally deficient, missing entirely, or even incorrect.

The principal funding source of fuzzy math for the past decade has been the federal government by way of the Education and Human Resources (EHR) division of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The EHR is the directorate within the NSF that funds K-12 education projects. No single institution in the United States has caused more damage to the mathematical education of children than this low-profile bureaucratic unit of the National Science Foundation. The damage that the EHR has caused, and continues to cause, contrasts sharply with the NSF's overall admirable and important role in supporting fundamental scientific research.

For example, in October 1999, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 10 so-called "exemplary" and "promising" math programs that it recommended for the nation's 15,000 school districts. More than half of these "exemplary" and "promising" math programs were created with EHR funding, and the rest were and are aggressively promoted by the EHR. On the list were some of the worst math education programs in the country. For example, one of the "promising" curriculum called Everyday Mathematics calls calculators are "an integral part of Kindergarten Everyday Mathematics" and urges the use of technological aids to teach kindergarten students how to count. There are no textbooks in this K-6 curriculum—a serious shortcoming. The program assigns the standard algorithm for multiplying two numbers no more status or prominence than an Ancient Egyptian algorithm presented in one of the teacher's manuals. Students are never required to use the standard long division algorithm in this curriculum, or even the standard algorithm for multiplication.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Taxes finance fuzzy math

The role played by the tax-supported National Science Foundation (through its EHR division) in promoting fuzzy math is a scandal of monumental proportions. This NSF division was captured by fuzzy (constructivist) math fanatics some time ago and has been conducting an aggressive tax-financed campaign ever since to spread the constructivist gospel far and wide.

The results are described in this excellent article in Education Next by Barry Garelick.

Image from Education Next

Hat tip: Joanne Jacobs

Exotic epistemology

Hube's Cube points me to a job opening that should not be missed:

1. The position's primary responsibility is to teach a dynamic introductory course addressing the complexity of race and racism using an oppression framework which analyzes institutional and personal racism and race relations in the United States.

2. May teach other appropriate courses in human relations and multicultural education when needed, as determined by department. The theoretical base of the department includes a global critical framework of structural oppression, social and environmental justice and the interrelationship of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, xenophobia, imperialism, environmental issues, etc.

[. . .]

Demonstrated knowledge of: theories of racism and other forms of oppression and the interrelationships between them; theories related to social and environmental justice; non-dominant, non-western "ways of knowing"; connections between global and personal issues.
What might those be?

Far left takes aim at Instructivist

One of the joys of blogging is the responses one gets from various perspectives. Every once in a while this blog elicits a ferocious response from the far left. The latest attack on this weblog comes from Science And Politics, a blog that occasionally advises on education.

In one post, Science And Politics advises doing away with teaching the basics (they would be learned incidentally) and replacing them with
critical thinking and "sense".

Why does one so often hear that education can be improved by concentration on three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic? The way this is usually implemented is by giving students exercises in these three areas, then giving them simple tests to evaluate if they learned them. This makes the mechanics of teaching and testing easy, that’s for sure, and the test results can be used to punish under-performing students, teachers and schools.

But these exercises are boring and meaningless examples of rote learning. Is that the way we are schooling in the 21st century? What kind of ‘product’ is the result of such schooling? People who can read, write and add up numbers, people who are devoid of skills of critical thinking and discriminating between sense and nonsense.
Apart from the false dichotomy of teaching either basics or "critical thinking", what struck me most is that this advocate of critical thinking and sense writes in a later post that he cannot make up his mind whether calling the victims of the 9/11 attack Nazis who deserved to be incinerated is justified.

I was asked the other day what I thought about the Ward Churchill affair. Frankly, I had not followed it at all (but you can: Apparently, Whingers want to kill him, or at least get him fired [. . .] while Progressives are divided: some distance themselves from "an obscure nobody that Right-wing pulled out to push their agenda [. . .], while others assert that he is telling the truths that are unpalatable to those whose emotional health depends on buying into neocon proto-fascism bait, hook and sinker [. . .] I have not read his paper (but you can:, so I will not take any sides. Perhaps he said the truth that makes Right-wing loonies uncomfortable, perhaps he crossed the line into conspiracy theories - I do not know.
I bring all this up because it touches on a larger issue. I have been puzzled for a long time about the nexus between educational philosophy and politics. It should be possible to ascertain solid educational content and sound instructional practices on neutral, scientific and non-political grounds. But somehow education arouses political passions as illustrated by this ferocious attack on this weblog by the same writer:

There is this batshit frothy-at-the-mouth winger who blogs at and who did not like my piece at the last Carnival of Education ( Quick perusal of his blog shows that he is all for teaching critical thinking, AS LONG AS such thinking leads inevitably to medieval right-wing ideological conclusions. He wants kids to learn the "facts" but it is his deluded hateful superpatriotic ( facts, not the real truth that he wants them to get to. He also keeps putting up the "postmodernist/deconstructionist liberal" straw-man, not realizing that such people are a) rare in academia these days, b) particularly reviled by liberals (do you think Sokal is a right-winger?), c) not really liberal [. . .], and d) more resembling current right-wing moral relativism (which is presented as moral absolutism, but it is really the same thing) than anything close to liberalism. These are the kinds of people, like the "instructivist", that Horowitz wants to push into universities (and lower-level schools), so they can raise yet another misguided Strict-Fathering generation of batshit brownshirts unquestioningly loyal to the Great Dictator and his minions.

Friday, February 18, 2005

NCATE story catches fire

A big thank-you to all the education bloggers who linked to my story about the politicization of teacher certification (Totalitarian Shadows). The many blogger links triggered an avalanche of visitors to my site. Maybe a critical mass is building that could put an end to this grave abuse of ed school accreditation powers.

You can read the NCATE document here. The relevant passage can be found under "ASSESSING DISPOSITIONS."

The entire passage reads:

In many instances, teams describe a unit using a standardized instrument that measures dispositions such as punctuality, dress, observation of rules and regulations, etc. While these are important aspects of professional behavior and units may assess these, unit assessments must also reflect the dispositions identified in its conceptual framework and in professional and state standards. Often team reports do not indicate any connection between dispositions specified in the conceptual framework and dispositions that are assessed. For example, if the unit has described its vision for teacher preparation as "Teachers as agents of change" and has indicated that a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expected that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice. If assessments do not exist, this should be stated in the report under Standard 1 and an area for improvement should be cited.

NCATE claims to have been given its powers by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Judging by the date of the publication this authority dates back to the Clinton era.

Maybe the current ed department head should pay some attention.

NCATE imposes a lot of highly questionable requirements on ed schools that I would like to address in a future post. These questionable requirements deal primarily with what is termed "best practices" and a deterministic conception of skin color.

See here for more on NCATE's dispositions.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

What we can learn from Singapore's math

A major study by the American Institutes for Research compares math instruction in the U.S and Singapore.

Here are major findings:

Analysis of these evidentiary streams finds Singaporean students more successful in
mathematics than their U.S. counterparts because Singapore has a world-class mathematics system
with quality components aligned to produce students who learn mathematics to mastery. These
components include Singapore’s highly logical national mathematics framework, mathematically
rich problem-based textbooks, challenging mathematics assessments, and highly qualified
mathematics teachers whose pedagogy centers on teaching to mastery. Singapore also provides its
mathematically slower students with an alternative framework and special assistance from an expert

The U.S. mathematics system does not have similar features. It lacks a centrally identified
core of mathematical content that provides a focus for the rest of the system. Its traditional textbooks
emphasize definitions and formulas, not mathematical understanding; its assessments are not
especially challenging; and too many U.S. teachers lack sound mathematics preparation. At-risk
students often receive special assistance from a teacher’s aide who lacks a college degree. As a
result, the United States produces students who have learned only to mechanically apply
mathematical procedures to solve routine problems and who are, therefore, not mathematically
competitive with students in most other industrialized countries.

I am surprised that the study claims that in the U.S. "[i]ts traditional textbooks emphasize definitions and formulas."

What about the widespread use of fuzzy math books like

Everyday Mathematics (K-6)

TERC's Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (K-5)

Connected Mathematics (6-8)?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Totalitarian shadows

Will left-wing views become a requirement for teacher certification?

The National Association of Scholars reports a frightening trend of thought control in ed schools. What qualifies NCATE to be an accrediting outfit?


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Ill Disposed
K.C. Johnson, Brooklyn College–CUNY

Over the last decade, a new requirement has emerged in teacher-training programs around the country. According to the standards outlined by the National Council for Accreditation in Teacher Education (NCATE), prospective teachers must possess the "knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn." We can easily identify "knowledge" and "skills." But what exactly is "dispositions" theory? And why should people outside of the Education establishment be very much concerned about it?

In its 2000 statement of standards, NCATE defined dispositions as "the values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence behaviors towards students, families, colleagues, and communities and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as the educator's own professional growth." By 2002, the national accrediting agency was also mentioning a new definition: requiring would-be teachers to hold a prescribed set of beliefs on issues that the education school or department deems important -- such as a commitment to diversity or social justice.

"For example," the accrediting agency's 2002 assessment document noted, if an education department has "indicated that a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expected that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate's commitment to social justice."

To repeat: the national accrediting agency for education schools and departments has said that it's acceptable for prospective public school teachers to be evaluated on the basis of their political beliefs.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tackling reading comprehension

This issue of American Educator is a treasure trove of insights into the main obstacles to reading comprehension.

I particularly recommend:

Reading Comprehension Requires Knowledge--of Words and the World
Scientific Insights into the Fourth-Grade Slump and Stagnant Reading Comprehension by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

Prof. Hirsch identifies three main areas important for reading comprehension:

1. Fluency allows the mind to concentrate on

2. Breadth of vocabulary increases comprehension and facilitates
further learning; and

3. Domain knowledge, the most recently understood principle,
increases fluency, broadens vocabulary, and enables
deeper comprehension.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Reading instruction breakthrough

A new form of highly successful reading instruction called synthetic phonics might please everyone. This method might spell the end of the reading wars since it synthesizes fun and drill.

Excerpt from The Scotsman article:

Sat 12 Feb 2005

New teaching technique goes to top of the class


A NEW method of teaching primary school children to read and write has been hailed as a major success after researchers discovered it enabled pupils to surge years ahead of their contemporaries.

The groundbreaking programme, known as synthetic phonics, was created at St Andrews University and has been piloted in Clackmannanshire for the past seven years.

It involves teaching primary one children to read by learning more than one letter sound at a time. Youngsters are taught the initial, middle and final letter sounds so that they quickly learn how to blend them together to form words.

Videos and songs are also used to help youngsters spell and read unfamiliar words.

The new method differs from traditional teaching, where children are taught one letter sound at a time right through the alphabet.

Dr Joyce Watson and Professor Rhona Johnston, who developed the synthetic phonics programme, have been carrying out a study into its effectiveness since it was first introduced.

The results, published yesterday, revealed that, by primary seven, pupils were more than three years ahead of their peers in reading and almost two years ahead in spelling. The study also found that boys outperformed girls in reading and spelling.

Surprisingly, boys did better than girls.

It went on: "At the end of the seventh year at school, when the children were around 11.5 years old, they were reading at a 15-year-old level. That is, word reading was 3.5 years ahead of chronological age. Spelling was 1.75 years ahead of chronological age.

"The boys were significantly ahead of the girls in word reading and spelling. Their word reading was 11 months ahead of the girls and their spelling was nearly nine months ahead of the girls."

Dr Watson and Prof Johnston plan to conduct a further study to find out why boys seem to benefit more than girls.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Deconstructing edubabble

Anyone going through ed school is enveloped in a thick fog of nebulous words and phrases that cause a thinking person great discomfort. It is not always easy to put one's finger on the exact nature of this discomfort.

I think Prof. Plum hit the nail on the head when he said:

1. The core words in the argot of Edland (Edubabble), by which Edlanders conduct business (of transforming their words into countless materials, programs, and activities), are meaningless. They have no empirical referent; you look but nothing is there.

That's it! There is no empirical referent.

One thing one hears incessantly in ed school is that students "construct their own knowledge." This phrase is used by constructivists to justify non-instruction -- the demotion of the teacher from sage on the stage to guide on the side, as the constructivist slogan has it.

What exactly does constructing one's own knowledge mean? Do students construct knowledge ex nihilo? If not, what is the external input? If the input includes books, then how does that differ from explicit instruction given by a knowledgeable teacher?

If ed schools want to become relevant, a first step would have to be the rejection of fuzzy verbiage and the adoption of clear thinking.

But clear, critical thinking is anathema to ed schools as Prof. Plum points out:

2. Words that DO have objective meaning--that is, something IS there that two or more observers can see and agree upon--are shunned in Edland.

Systematic instruction.

Explicit instruction.

Distributed practice.

Skill elements.

Integration of elements into routines.


Error correction.

Forms of knowledge (e.g., concepts and rules are defined by their logical structure).

Communication formats (routine sequences for communicating/teaching concepts, rules, and strategies).

First amendment compulsion

Today's Chicago Tribune reports on the agonizing decision of a chancellor to invite a febrile professor to speak.

MADISON -- A Colorado professor who once compared some World Trade Center victims to a Nazi war criminal will be allowed to speak at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater next month, a decision the chancellor said was repugnant but necessary under 1st Amendment principles of free speech.

There is something I don't understand. Isn't this situation akin to editing? If I publish a journal I can exercise editorial judgment and control. The first amendment does not compel me to publish every article that gets submitted. Likewise, would the chancellor feel compelled under the first amendment to invite every unsavory character that comes down the pike? The usual characters come to mind.

Physics made comprehensible

Here is a great resource for anyone who wants to brush up on physics or help someone overcome physics phobia. Vectors and free fall should no longer be a mystery. It does away with the widespread misconception that astronauts are "weightless" because of a lack of gravity.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Culture war goes international

It appears that using the classroom for political indoctrination has international appeal. Australia is not spared.

IN the US it's known as the culture wars; the battle between a liberal-humanist view of education based on the disinterested pursuit of truth and those committed to overthrowing the status quo and turning students into politically correct new age warriors.

The editorial in the latest edition of English in Australia, the journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, provides ample evidence that the culture wars have reached our shores and that those seeking to control our schools prefer indoctrination to education.

Wayne Sawyer, the president of the NSW English Teachers Association and chairman of the NSW Board of Studies English Curriculum Committee, bemoans the fact that the Howard Government was re-elected and cites this as evidence that English teachers have failed in their job.

This also sounds familiar.

In the postmodern classroom, literacy is defined as social-critical literacy and texts are deconstructed to show how disadvantaged groups, such as girls and women, are marginalised and dispossessed. Ignored is the aesthetic and moral value of great literature.

The result? Traditional fairytales such as Jack and the Beanstalk and children's classics such as The Magic Far Away Tree are criticised for presenting boys as masculine and physically assertive and for failing to show girls in dominant positions.

The English classroom was once a place to learn how to read and write. In the edubabble much loved by teacher educators such as Wayne Martino, this more traditional approach is considered obsolete and, as an alternative, the English classroom must be "conceptualised as a sociopolitical site where alternative reading positions can be made available to students outside of an oppressive male-female dualistic hierarchy – outside of an oppressive phallocentric signifying system for making meaning".

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?"

Still reinventing the wheel

One would have thought that from the time of the invention of cuneiform and thousands of years and stacks of research later, the question of effective reading instruction would have been settled. But no, millions of dollars are still flying out the window on newfangled schemes.

L.A. Unified's nearly $50-million Waterford computer system comes into question.
By Duke Helfand
Times Staff Writer

February 7, 2005

The Los Angeles Unified School District spent nearly $50 million on a computer reading program that failed to improve student reading skills and in some cases hindered achievement because schools did not use it properly, according to records and interviews.

The district bought the Waterford Early Reading Program four years ago to supplement language arts instruction in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.

Supt. Roy Romer, calling Waterford "the Cadillac of all systems," promoted it as a promising new tool for raising test scores at low-performing elementary schools with large numbers of children who spoke limited English.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Teachers not allowed to teach

The Bloomberg & Klein regime in NYC is in the grip of the anti-intellectual and anti-knowledge progressive/constructivist ed cult. The regime has now ordered teachers not to teach. The teachers who want to teach must now engage in guerrilla tactics and conspire with students to evade the cult enforcers.

Excerpt from Newsday story:

Teachers want to talk


February 3, 2005

Stop talking in class -- that's the message many teachers are getting from the Education Department.

Many are ready to overthrow a "workshop model" of teaching that limits lessons to 10 minutes, with the chunk of the 40-minute period reserved for student group work -- with minimal adult interference allowed, some said -- and the last five minutes spent sharing results.

"We are no longer teachers. We are coat racks," said Steve Nathan, a social studies teacher at Russell Sage Junior High School in Forest Hills.

Chancellor Joel Klein last year introduced the workshop model primarily in math and English, but this year, critics said, many more schools across the city have been ordered to follow the model in every subject and every day.

The point is to replace the "chalk and talk" approach with a give-and-take style of learning that can help boost lagging students. It's a no-no to have students quietly jot notes all day.

One rationale is students learn well from peers, but teachers report that students without a clue aren't picking up much from each other during group work.

The result is that instructors, trying to "sneak in teaching," have been written up for workshop model lapses, union officials said. Other teachers have conspired with students to act immersed in the workshop model if an administrator pops into the room.

"Can you imagine trying to teach physics in 10-minute sound bites?" said Jeff Zahler, teachers union representative for Queens school district 30.

The model and other issues have reached such a boiling point in parts of Queens and Brooklyn that hundreds of teachers will protest at 3:30 p.m. today at education offices in Long Island City.

"This administration ... believes teachers are supposed to be coaches, not teachers," said teachers union head Randi Weingarten.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Pupils should play a role in education

Diane Ravitch reviews an important new scholarly book that blames behaviorism and progressive education for letting pupils off the hook. Students need to learn that they need to make an effort and not blame someone else for their lack of success.

I think the sensible approach would be to recognize that both teachers and students have an important role to play in the educational enterprise. Blaming only one side is ... well ... one-sided.

The current philosophy that dominates American education, Zoch demonstrates, is a strange concoction that has produced our current woeful situation. Behaviorists (James B. Watson, Edward L. Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner) encouraged the view that students were simple, passive, and easily manipulated. According to behaviorist principles, it is no longer “incumbent upon the student to do what is necessary to succeed,” for it is the responsibility of the teacher “to find the right stimulus that will cause a student to respond as desired.” In the behaviorist worldview, the environment is all, and the student is passive and as helpless as an infant.

Along come John Dewey, William Heard Kilpatrick, Colonel Francis Parker, G. Stanley Hall, and other progressives, whose philosophies relieved students of responsibility to make the necessary effort to learn unless they wanted to. Like the behaviorists, Dewey saw the classroom environment (created by the teacher) as ultimately determinative of whether students learn. Kilpatrick and other leading progressives thought that if teachers could discover children’s natural interests, then learning would be easy and fun. Hall worried that studying hard was actually dangerous to children’s health. The possibility that a student might “struggle and strain” to learn something not of his own choosing was foreign to progressive theorists. Indeed, they emphasized the importance of joy, not effort. Zoch shows that progressive dogmas about natural learning are clearly in conflict with the Jamesian philosophy of effort and insists that parents and teachers teach “the will to succeed” by setting clear expectations and demanding effort, not accepting laziness.

Zoch argues that the progressive philosophy, like behaviorism, puts the onus on the teacher to be perfect, imaginative, ingenious, and all-powerful. Both philosophies assume that the teacher can and must create exactly the right environment or the student will not learn. Furthermore, if the teacher follows progressivist dictates, she will never exercise authority in the classroom but will appeal instead to the children’s needs and interests. The teacher must be not only entertaining but also able to individualize instruction for each child, who is expected to learn at his or her own pace and in accordance with his or her individual learning style. The problem, Zoch says, is that teachers are expected to work hard to motivate kids, but kids aren’t expected to do anything other than wait for the teacher to motivate them.