Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bizarre MI practice

Ironically, as Howard Gardner is discovering more and more "intelligences," his theory is spawing more and more unintelligent behavior and practices, some bordering on child abuse.

Some time ago, James Traub of the NYT wrote a piece for The New Republic that must surely rank as one of the classics on this questionable theory. Unfortunately, the Traub article is hard to come by but can be found here. [Multiple Intelligence Disorder: Howard Gardner's campaign against logic] (Scroll down a bit).

Here is a brief excerpt on what could be called child abuse by MI:

M.I. has now spawned a burgeoning cottage industry of consultants and manual and videotapes. Several publishers have an entire sideline of Gardneriana, and I sent away for material from several of them. One of the items I received was Celebrating Multiple Intelligences, a teachers' guide written by Hoerr and his staff at the New City School, one of the most highly regarded M.I. schools.

The book consists of a series of lesson plans in the various intelligences, further divided according to the students' ages. In one exercise designed to stimulate the interpersonal intelligence, of students from the first through third grades, children form a circle and throw a ball of string back and forth, each time saying something complimentary about the recipient. The "learner outcome" is: "Children will focus on expressing positive comments to peers who they may or may not know well." Every exercise comes with "M.I. Extensions" designed to stimulate some other intelligence--write songs about the activity; play charades to illustrate the activity, and, above all, talk about how you felt about the activity. The sensitivity toward the variety of children's abilities is connected to a broader preoccupation with diversity.

In order to "look at issues of prejudice and discrimination relating to disabilities, race, gender and religion," the teachers devised an experiment in which "each child spent six hours a day being blindfolded, wearing ear plugs, sitting in a wheelchair, or having limited use of arms and hands." It lasted five days.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Divergent aims

Jenny D. is asking a good question. She wants to know how institutions like schools can gain acceptance and respect from the public?

I believe that schools pose a special problem. By and large parents and policymakers know that all is not well with pre-collegiate education. What may be less well known is that the education establishment is dominated by an education creed at odds with what many parents and policymakers expect -- a creed that disparages subject matter, explicit instruction and academic achievement in favor of some nebulous goals.

In a paper called Aligning Teacher Training with Public Policy Prof. J. E. Stone examines the divergent aims of the public and educationists.

What are the outcomes sought by the public? Parents and employers want students to have thinking skills, but they place equal or greater importance on academic fundamentals[7]. As Different Drummers found, “Most typical Americans—along with most employers—are alarmed by the number of youngsters they see who lack even basic skills, particularly such fundamentals as spelling and grammar. But for education professors, training teachers who stress correct English usage is a distinctly low priority.”[8] Education professors consider the public’s concerns to be “outmoded and mistaken.” In a word, professors are learner-centered but parents and employers are learning-centered.

All of this is to say that the teacher education community is comfortable with weak academic standards because they believe that education cannot be judged by whether it produces recognized forms of academic achievement. Instead, they hold that the important outcomes of education are the task-specific enhancements of intellectual ability that are presumed to result from learner-centered educational experiences. The knowledge and skills valued by parents and employers are considered secondary, incidental, and dispensable.

As college presidents talk with teacher educators’ about improving educational quality, they should bear these distinctions in mind. So should policymakers and the public. When teacher educators speak of good teaching, they do not necessarily mean actions intended to bring about the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills. In the learner-centered view, such recognized educational attainments are options, not requirements.
Speaking the same language about different things.

Not only are educators and policymakers using similar terms to refer to very different ideas about education, neither side seems to understand the inconsistency. Most policymakers want schooling that produces high minimum levels of conventionally measured knowledge and skills. Their expectations include the higher-order intellectual skills but the basics are seen as indispensable. They assume that educators respect those priorities and are using the best available means of producing the desired outcomes.

Teachers are given to understand that learner-centered practices are the latest and most pedagogically sound means of producing what policymakers want—or at least what they should want. Few have a clear understanding that these so-called state-of-the-art methodologies are recycled versions of a pedagogical concept that is marginally suited to academic achievement.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

"Progressive" educationists gut programs for the gifted

Educationists often complain about a "one-size-fits-all" approach to education -- but when it comes to the gifted, one size fits all is the way to go.

Here, Andrew Wolf writes about the "progressive" campaign to eliminate programs for the gifted and talented.

Everyone in Gotham should be proud of 17-year-old David Bauer, the Hunter College High School senior who won the top prize in the national Intel Science Search competition. This is an achievement not just for David, but also for his family. After all, they had to work particularly hard to make sure that their son received the proper education in our public schools.

This was no small task. The families of bright children have to engage in what has become a sad New York ritual: school shopping for a gifted and talented program. There are few programs remaining after nearly a half century of increasing "progressive" influence on our schools. These programs for academically advanced children are now "elitist" and damage the self-esteem of those who do not qualify. The answer is to drive all children into some egalitarian middle ground.

Barbarians on a rampage.

David is now a neighbor of mine in Riverdale, so when the Intel semifinalists were announced some weeks ago, and I heard that David was a Riverdale resident, I was excited by the prospect that perhaps he was a product of the local schools. But I couldn't say that I was surprised to learn that he moved here relatively recently, and that David didn't go to any of Riverdale's schools. The reason is that over the past decade, gifted and talented programs here had, by design, been gutted. The results have been disastrous.

Why? We have given over the school system to the adherents of "progressive education." Because they believe that all children are basically the same, they maintain that all children are gifted and talented.

So as David's mom was shopping around from school to school, finding the gifted programs in Manhattan, parents in Riverdale were seeing the district science fair scuttled, honors programs destroyed, homogeneous class groupings eliminated, and even a ban on spelling bees, all in a desperate attempt to drive all students to the same level of mediocrity. They succeeded. Admissions to specialized high schools, the key indicator of the success of academically advanced students, dropped by more than 80% in just a decade.


Some readers may be interested in this account by Heather Mac Donald detailing the "progressive" war against excellence in NYC. Apparently, high standards are "elitist":

Why, then, hasn't success-crazed New York trumpeted these schools with as much fanfare as it expends on the Yankees or the New York Stock Exchange? Simple: they embody one of the most odious concepts in contemporary education—elitism. Because they have preserved, by a lucky historical fluke, a century-old admissions system based solely on merit, they are a horrible embarrassment to New York's educational and public- sector establishment, wedded as it is to the philosophy of the lowest common denominator.
Left to its own devices, that establishment would long since have subjected the three exam schools to the same levelling forces by which it has ground down the rest of the education system. Instead, it is forced to erode them more slowly, by mindless bureaucratic regulation and the irritating friction of teachers' union rules. The recent history of the exam schools—the bitter battles fought to preserve their excellence—perfectly mirrors the decline of educational elitism in New York, to the great detriment of its entire civic culture.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Test scam

This is a pretty remarkable salary for someone who can't pass a teacher test. I'd be curious to know, though, what the test is asking. Maybe an enterprising soul can find a copy of a similar test.

Brightly, 38, a teacher at one of the city's worst schools, Middle School 142, allegedly concocted the plot to swap identities with Leitner last summer. If he failed the state exam again, Brightly risked losing his $59,000-a-year job.

How the scam worked:

Brightly allegedly helped Leitner obtain a counterfeit state identification card that showed Leitner's photo with Brightly's name. Using the bogus ID, the pair conned city educrats into issuing Leitner a school ID card to use on test day, authorities said.

Via Education Wonks

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Native Todesengel

Kudos to the Education Wonks for unearthing a story that sheds light on the possible motivation of the shooter at an Indian reservation. Contrary to the bleatings of skin color determinists and ethnicity mongers, the vile poison of Nazism can also infect preferred groups. The Wonks quote The Kansas City Star:

Although his people had long suffered oppression and were nearly annihilated, Jeff Weise identified with the oppressor and annihilator.

"I guess I've always carried a natural admiration for Hitler and his ideals, and his courage to take on larger nations," Jeffrey Weise, an American Indian, wrote in an online forum frequented by neo-Nazis and wannabes last year.

The postings give a glimpse into the thoughts of a troubled young man, now suspected of going on a killing rampage Monday before turning the gun on himself.
He said he was interested in finding like-minded Indians, a goal other posters on the forum encouraged. He also admitted he was a suspect in a threat at school.

"Once I commit myself to something, I stay until the end," he replied.Alternately using the online pennames Todesengel_German for "angel of death"_and "NativeNazi," Weise wrote several posts in which he said he believed Hitler and the National Socialist movement that embroiled the world in war and caused millions of deaths got a bad rap.

"When I was growing up, I was taught (like others) that Nazi's were evil and that Hitler was a very evil man ect," he wrote in one posting replete with misspellings. "Of course, not for a second did I believe this. Upon reading up on his actions, the ideals and issues the German Third Reich addressed, I began to see how much of a like had been painted about them. They truly were doing it for the better."

In other posts, he wrote that he believed a National Socialist movement could work on his reservation and planned on trying to recruit some members at school when it started up last fall.

"The only ones who oppose my views are the teachers at the high school, and a large portion of the student body who think a Nazi is a Klansman, or a White Supremacist thug. Most of the Natives I know have been poisoned by what they were taught in school."

The public school system, he wrote, "has done more harm than good, and as a result it has left many on this reservation misled and misinformed."

Monday, March 21, 2005

District discovers low scores

While perusing Education Intelligence Agency (it has something of an ominous ring), I came across this little tidbit:

District Pulls Charter of Los Angeles School. Good news for charter opponents: The Valley Community Charter School lost its charter for failing to improve student test scores. Bad news for charter opponents: The school's curriculum was based on the principles of John Dewey, with a lot of discovery learning and progressive education features.
Would that districts moved that fast with regular public schools!

Also, don't forget that the coloful Carnival of Education is going on the road. This week it will be hosted by Jenny D. Let's all make the Carnival a continuing success.

Submissions for the The Carnival of Education Week 7 should be sent to: jdemonte at comcast dot net no later than 10 pm Eastern, or 7 pm Pacific time, on Tuesday, March 22, 2005.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Edland apparatchiks

Ed unions really have a sweet deal going. They can coerce teachers to pay exhorbitant dues without being subject to democratic control. The nomenklatura doesn't even have to reveal its take.

Read about this scandalous state of affairs over at the Education Wonks.

As I have said before, I actually like the ideal of teachers having an organization that exists in order to advocate improved salaries and working conditions for teachers.

But... I will only support such an organization if it is democratically-run, financially transparent, and accountable to its rank-and-file. Neither NEA nor CTA comes close to fulfilling even one of these important criteria.
This is great. Appoint your own "executive committee" and have them make "recommendations."

In both organizations, dues are increased upon the "recommendation" of an appointed "executive committee." The membership never has an opportunity to have a say in setting the level of monthly dues. And since California is a "closed shop" state, the withholding of dues (from the union) is not an option.

Teachers who don't like their money being used for political campaigns that are contrary to their beliefs need to become familiar with the Supreme Court's Beck decision.

This site spells out the rights of union members under the Beck decision:

A decade ago, the U. S. Supreme Court established what are now known as "Beck rights" in the landmark decision Communication Workers v. Beck.1 Beck rights dictate that workers cannot be forced under union contracts to pay any dues or fees beyond those necessary for the performance of the union's employee representation duties.

In other words, any worker who objects to his union's use of his dues money for purposes not directly related to collective bargaining is entitled to a refund of that portion of his dues. Beck rights are a triumph of individual rights over the political weight of union leaders.

Although the Beck rights of union workers are well established as a matter of American labor policy, they go largely unrealized in practice for the following four reasons:

Most workers simply do not know that they have these rights;

Workers who are aware of these rights are forced to make the sometimes-untenable choice of resigning from their union in order to exercise them;

Workers do not have recourse to an effective legal enforcement mechanism if their Beck rights are denied them by their employer or union; and

Unions, who don't agree with the exercise of Beck rights, often engage in a variety of tactics to delay and frustrate workers who wish to limit their dues payments.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

All children are gifted

There is a widespread notion in edland that all children are gifted. I suppose it has its roots in a spirit of egalitarianism and in a desire not to be "elitist" (another notion that needs some scrutiny). The notion of universal giftedness may have received additional impetus from Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, a work of semantic legerdemain that simply relabeled abilities, aptitudes, talents and interests.The notion of universal giftedness may be a well-meaning notion but it has a downside. I was reminded of this while reading a review by Timothy D. Lundeen of a book on sexual differences:

Second, Sax echoes the educationist's mantra that "Almost every child is a gifted child." This seems ludicrous to me. The definition of gifted is top 3-5% on some dimension of human ability. There just aren't enough independent dimensions here for almost everyone to be gifted in some way. I would argue that the main three dimensions are athleticism, cognition, and empathy. Most other dimensions have a fair amount of correlation with one or more of these, with musically gifted people typically also cognitively gifted, etc. You might come up with a few more (memory ability doesn't seem to be correlated with cognitive ability, for example), but "almost everyone"? I wouldn't think that more that 20-25% of the population would be gifted regardless of the number of dimensions you chose to measure, and that most of these "gifts" would not be related to academic ability in any way.

The harm from this belief that "all children are gifted" comes when you then say that because everyone is gifted, everyone can be treated the same way. To his credit, Sax doesn't draw this conclusion, but is all too common -- my son went to Stuart Hall, one of the schools used by Sax as an example of best-practices teaching for boys, and I heard both of these statements from them (e.g. "everyone is gifted" and "we have the same program for everyone" and "even though your son has an IQ in the top 1% that doesn't mean he is more gifted intellectually than anyone else or could use any special help academically"). Particularly for children who are cognitively gifted, not having an appreciation for their learning differences in a classroom setting can often have long-term detrimental effects. (I see cognitively gifted children in a typical classroom as an unfortunate minority. They are not getting what they need to thrive.)
The truly gifted have very special needs as this tragic story of a child prodigy shows

Neb. Prodigy, 14, Dies in Apparent Suicide

By JOE RUFF, Associated Press Writer
March 18, 2005 8:04 pm
OMAHA, Neb. -- A musical prodigy who completed high school at age 10 apparently killed himself at 14, authorities said.
Brandenn E. Bremmer, who taught himself how to read at 18 months and began playing the piano at 3, was found dead Tuesday at his home in southwest Nebraska with a gunshot wound to the head, sheriff's officials said.

Here is a much more detailed account of the child prodigy's tragic suicide.

His mother said his mind was so facile that if a topic interested him, he could complete a semester's work in 10 days. She sometimes worried she couldn't keep pace with her son's intellect, and the family hired tutors.
Reading something like this makes the fashionable denial of the existence of innate intelligence seem ridiculous. It takes me at least two semesters to grasp one semester of chemistry.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sexually appropriate

We hear so much about developmentally appropriate instruction in the education world. Perhaps sexually appropriate instruction needs to be added to the lexicon.

Here, Rich Lowry is commenting on the paradox that ignoring sex differences manifesting themselves in different rates of development and interests may contribute to the very stereotypes that many bien pensants are trying to avoid by ignoring such differences.

Your 8-year-old son who has trouble reading or little interest in picking up a book could benefit from the Larry Summers controversy.

That's because from out of the ashes of the Harvard conflagration is rising a nugget of something valuable. The Harvard president, as everyone now knows, speculated at a seminar that men might be overrepresented for genetic reasons in the top jobs in science and engineering at universities. While Summers surely would now retract his comments, if nothing else, he struck a blow against the dreary orthodoxy of gender sameness.

In response to the flap, Time magazine ran a cover story featuring the work of Leonard Sax, author of the new book "Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences." Sax might simply have been dismissed as a Neanderthal not too long ago. The Washington Post ran a piece exploring the different ways boys and girls learn to read.

As Sax explains, at the heart of the debate about gender is a paradox: To ignore the hard-wired differences between boys and girls is to perpetuate gender stereotypes. That's because ignoring those differences means we will continue to fail to teach many boys how to read and many girls how to do math and science. Reaching a reasonable accommodation requires some give from both sides of America's culture wars

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Barking up the wrong tree

There is a movement afoot to blame the current high school for the woeful state of education. Among others, this movement comprises the current illustrious president, many governors and the incredibly rich head of Microsoft. But as Diane Ravitch points out in a New York Times Op-Ed piece this blame may be misplaced. The problem starts much earlier in elementary school and the middle grades:

It is true that American student performance is appalling. Only a minority of students - whether in 4th, 8th or 12th grade - reach proficiency as measured by the Education Department's National Assessment of Educational Progress. On a scale that has three levels - basic, proficient and advanced - most students score at the basic level or even below basic in every subject. American students also perform poorly when compared with their peers in other developed countries on tests of mathematics and science, and many other nations now have a higher proportion of their students completing high school.

While the problems of low achievement and poor high-school graduation rates are clear, however, their solutions are not. The reformist governors, for example, want to require all students to take a college-preparatory curriculum and to meet more rigorous standards for graduation. These steps will very likely increase the dropout rate, not reduce it.

To understand why, you have to consider what the high schools are dealing with. When American students arrive as freshmen, nearly 70 percent are reading below grade level. Equally large numbers are ill prepared in mathematics, science and history. It is hardly fair to blame high schools for the poor skills of their entering students. If students start high school without the basic skills needed to read, write and solve mathematics problems, then the governors should focus on strengthening the standards of their states' junior high schools.

And that first year of high school is often the most important one - many students who eventually drop out do so after becoming discouraged when they can't earn the credits to advance beyond ninth grade. Ninth grade is often referred to by educators as a "parking lot." This is because social promotion - the endemic practice of moving students up to the next grade whether they have earned it or not - comes to a crashing halt in high school.
Educationists disparage academic achievement and are prone to eduquackery. Teachers in the lower grades usually major in education and lack majors in academic subjects.

It makes no sense to blame the high schools for their ill-prepared incoming students. To really get at the problem, we have to make changes across our educational system. The most important is to stress the importance of academic achievement. Sorry to say, we have a long history of reforms by pedagogues to de-emphasize academic achievement and to make school more "relevant," "fun" and like "real life." These efforts have produced whole-language instruction, where phonics, grammar and spelling are abandoned in favor of "creativity," and fuzzy math, where students are supposed to "construct" their own solutions to math problems instead of finding the right answers.

Besides, in many ways our high schools are better than our primary system. They are the part of our educational system where students are most likely to have teachers who have a degree in the subject they are teaching. In the lower grades, most teachers are likely to have majored in education, not in mathematics or science or history; some even have both a major and a minor in pedagogy, yet end up teaching core academic subjects.
Diane Ravitch goes on to discuss a recent report by the National Association of Scholars on possible high school reforms.

A report released last month by the National Association of Scholars, an independent group of educators, outlined proposals that make more sense than those endorsed by the governors. Written by Sandra Stotsky, a former associate commissioner of education for Massachusetts, it proposes that students entering ninth grade be given a choice between a subject-centered curriculum or a technical, career-oriented course of study. The former would look like a traditional college-preparatory curriculum, with an emphasis on humanities, sciences or arts. The latter would include a number of technologically rigorous programs and apprenticeships. All students, regardless of their concentration, would be required to complete a core curriculum of four years of English and at least three years of mathematics, science and history. Students graduating from either program would be well educated and prepared for higher education.
Small is not necessarily beautiful.

THE report also recommends that teachers of core subjects have a solid background - at least an undergraduate major - in the main subject they teach, that teachers of technical subjects have either solid academic training or work experience in their fields, and that American schools have a longer school day and school year.
In addition, contrary to the philosophy of Mr. Gates's foundation, which has spent millions to create hundreds of small high schools with no more than 500 students, the report recommends that schools should have a minimum of 500 students. Larger schools provide better staff depth and stability - imagine how disruptive it is to a tiny high school if just a couple of teachers leave over the summer - and have a broader range of music, art, drama, debate and sports offerings. And research by Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that small high schools are more likely than large ones to have out-of-field teachers - that is, teachers who have neither a major nor a minor in their subject.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

NCTE against grammar

There is something very odd when an organization that purports to be a "professional" organization of teachers of English militates against even basic grammar and spelling. No wonder a lot of people can't distinguish between "its" and "it's", "your" and "you're", "there", "they're" and "their". The organization in question is NCTE, a part of the interlocking complex of ed organizations and ed schools that dominate pre-collegiate education.

Here, Diane Ravitch reviews two books on the subject.

David Mulroy’s book did not reach the best-seller list. In fact, when I checked, the book was ranked 471,437. Yet The War Against Grammar is a far more consequential and far more interesting book than Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The latter has verve and sass, but Mulroy’s book has important things to say to American teachers and parents. In 1996, Mulroy, a classics scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, attended a public hearing about the state’s academic standards and innocently suggested that all high school seniors should be required to identify the eight parts of speech in a selection of normal prose. He thought it a “modest and reasonable suggestion.” To his surprise, he was plunged into controversy, supported by parents, but strongly opposed by pedagogical experts, who informed him that the NCTE disparaged the value of any grammar instruction.

After this disturbing discovery, Mulroy began to research the reasons why English teachers have become opponents of grammar, a proposition that he would previously have thought to be an oxymoron. He repeatedly encountered the view in NCTE publications that “decades of research” or “many studies” have shown that formal grammar is not only useless but also harmful to students’ self-esteem and even their mental health! Those who were hostile to grammar instruction cast themselves as progressives and saw proponents of instruction in grammar as rigid traditionalists. These negative views toward grammar, Mulroy writes, became dogma in the nation’s schools of education.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Of percentiles and outliers

The recent controversy over Harvard President Larry Summer's comments about possible sex-based scientific ability revealed an astonishing ignorance of basic statistics (bell curves, variability and all that) among many of the indignant and aroused. I heard one of the indignant proclaim that Marie Curie refuted Summer's tentative thesis once and for all.

It is therefore gratifying that Number 2 Pencil is engaged in a terrific project: elucidating a statistics term of the day in -- what else? -- a lucid manner.

I look forward to many more such days.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Guide to Eduspeak

A book that has had a great influence on my thinking about education is E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s The Schools We Need & Why We Don’t Have Them (Available used for a pittance at Amazon. It goes to show you that good things need not cost much).

The book contains a helpful guide to frequently encountered ed phrases and slogans that roll off the tongue with ease but collapse upon further examination. Most of these phrases and slogans harbor the anti-knowledge Thoughtworld of progressive/constructivist educationists.

This site has helpfully assembled this guide to edspeak.

Here is Hirsch's analysis of one favorite educationist slogan:

facts are soon outdated

Phrased in various ways, this is one of the most frequently stated anti-fact propositions of the American educational community. From being so often repeated, it has achieved axiomatic status. Its ultimate originator may not have been William Heard Kilpatrick, but in the 1920s he was certainly the doctrine’s chief promulgator and popularizer. He taught and spellbound some thirty-five thousand potential professors of education during his brilliant teaching career at Teachers College, Columbia University. He made it a central theme of his book Education for a Changing Civilization (1926). The facts-are-always-changing idea gains what modest plausibility it has from the observation that history and technology are indeed constantly changing. But the truism would seem to be a good argument for teaching the central facts (for instance, the elements of the periodic table), which do not change rapidly, if at all, and which are useful for understanding and coping with the changes that do occur. Facts that quickly lose their educative utility should indeed be cast out of the curriculum in favor of those having a longer shelf life. But a careful case has not yet been made for the transitoriness of significant factual knowledge. Facts are central to “higher-order skills,” and therefore need to be strongly emphasized even (or especially) when the goal of education is seen to be the development of “understanding” and of “thinking skills.”

It would make for a real good discussion to determine what bodies of academic knowledge are supposedly so quickly outdated. I believe Newton's laws and the periodic table will be around for quite a while, to pick just two items.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Postmodern eruptions

Prof. Plum points me to a concern of ed schools. Could it have something to do with teaching how to read and do math? Perhaps how to make sure pupils know some science and history?


The big issue at the premier ed school -- hold on to your seat -- is: Ocularcentrism, Phonocentrism and the Counter Enlightenment Problematic: Clarifying Contested Terrain in our Schools of Education

Critical thinking mania

"Critical thinking" (most frequently known by the endlessly repeated phrase "higher-order thinking skills" or HOTS) is a particular conceit of the pretentious constructivist crowd -- a crowd averse to thinking and analysis. This crowd wallows in false dichotomies. It establishes a false dichotomy between learning subject matter and "thinking" to justify its profound hostility to knowledge. It's either one or the other. According to this crowd, "thinking" somehow can take place in a vacuum.

The saprozoic crowd's obsession with so-called higher order thinking skills has its basis in a misunderstanding of Bloom's fabled taxonomy. Bloom's taxonomy -- a scheme bandied about endlessly in ed schools -- attempts to classify levels of intellectual behavior important in learning. The scheme is viewed as a hierarchy consisting of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This hierarchy supposedly proceeds from lower-order to higher-order thinking skills.

In this scheme, as interpreted by the constructivist crowd, knowledge and comprehension have a lowly, contemptible amoeba-like existence and may be disregarded because of their lowness in the hierarchy. This suits the anti-intellectual constructivist crowd just fine. However, I doubt that Bloom ever envisioned such an interpretation. Most likely he viewed each category as being inextricably intertwined with each other. In other words, you cannot think in a vacuum. You need something to think about. This commonsensical and pedestrian insight is beyond the grasp of the mindless, but pretentious progressive/constructivist education herd.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Combating anti-intellectualism in schools

This fascinating article from the American School Board Journal argues that schools by and large fail to be a counterbalance to society's distaste for intellectual pursuits and what can be done about it.

A brief excerpt:

The idea that children must be entertained and feel good while they learn has been embraced by many well-meaning educators. In many classrooms, as a result, students are watching movies, working on multimedia presentations, surfing the Internet, putting on plays, and dissecting popular song lyrics. The idea is to motivate students, but the emphasis on enjoyment as a facile substitute for engagement creates a culture in which students are not likely to challenge themselves or stretch their abilities. After all, if students are not shown the intrinsic rewards that come from working hard to understand a concept, they won't do it on their own. The probable result? A life spent shying away from books, poetry, art, music, public policy discussions -- anything that takes an effort to understand or appreciate and has no immediate or obvious payoff.

Project-based learning always has the potential to be based on fun rather than content, says former teacher and administrator Elaine McEwan, who wrote Angry Parents, Failing Schools: What's Wrong with Public Schools and What You Can Do About It. She uses the example of a class of academically struggling elementary school students in Arizona that spent 37 hours -- more than a school week -- building a papier-mache dinosaur. The local newspaper even ran a photo of the students and their handiwork. "Those kids couldn't read well, and they spent all that time messing with chicken wire and wheat paste," says McEwan.

History teachers need not know history

Sam Wineburg, a professor in Stanford's School of Education laments that nationwide less than a fifth of high school history teachers majored (or even minored) in history.

Whatever happened to NCLB's highly qualified requirement?

Imagine this: Nearly a third of the students who apply to Stanford's master's in teaching program to become history teachers have never taken a single college course in history. Outrageous? Yes, but it's part of a well-established national pattern. Among high school history teachers across the country, only 18% have majored (or even minored) in the subject they now teach.

Ignorant teachers are boring.

History courses made up of all facts and no interpretation are guaranteed to put kids to sleep. And that's exactly what seems to be happening. In a national survey some years ago, 1,500 Americans were asked to "pick one word or phrase to describe your experience with history classes in elementary or high school." "Boring" was the most frequent answer.
Ignorant teachers fall prey to ideological dogmas.

Lack of knowledge encourages another bad habit among history teachers: a tendency to disparage "facts," an eagerness to unshackle students from the "dominant discourse" — and to teach them, instead, what the teacher views as "the Truth." What's scary is the certainty with which this "Truth" is often held. Rather than debating why the United States entered Vietnam or signed the North American Free Trade Agreement or brokered a Camp David accord, all roads lead to the same point: our government's desire to oppress the less powerful. It is a version of history that conjures up a North Korean reeducation camp rather than a democratic classroom.