Thursday, September 15, 2005

Tales out of ed school

While going through ed school I had the dubious pleasure of encountering postmodernism and "critical pedagogy" on several occasions. One such occasion was a course required for middle grades endorsement. The only book used in the course was called Affirming Middle Grades Education edited by Carl W. Walley and W. Gregory Gerrick (Allyn and Bacon).

A nebulous title like that does not bode well and indeed the book is about all kinds of things except academic achievement. You'll find chapter headings and topics like Middle Grades Teacher Advisory System (this is big), Interdisciplinary and Interthematic Curriculum Designs (educationists are obsessed with interdisciplinary and thematic units, more often than not contrived), Morally Responsive Teaching, Team Teaching, Community Building...

The weirdest chapter was The Excluded Middle: Postmodern Conceptions of the Middle School. It's couched in thick postmodern jargon and obsessed with "power arrangements". It argues for a "fundamental shift away from the status quo power arrangements. The survival of the planet is at stake." Education must no longer serve "social structures" (whatever that is) and "unjust power arrangements" and embrace a "postmodern vision." The author urges that "society must be the function of education," as John Dewey and George Counts are said to have "insisted". Apparently this means that "the primary focus of education" must be the improvement of society and the creation of a "just, caring and ecologically sustainable community." Middle schools must adopt this vision or students and teachers will never be "empowered".

Schools must move away from "linear organization of curriculum on scope and sequence charts...mastering proficiency in discrete skills...memorizing officially sanctioned information (could the author mean academic subjects?)...accountability...written tests..." The author proclaims that we "have now entered a postmodern era" despite those who cling to "hegemonic schooling structures." Postmodern education "promotes diversity, understanding and a new social imagination with 'multiple points of consent.'"

What should education be about? Condemning "modern power structures." What will be "the hallmark of postmodern learning environments?" You guessed it! "Multiculturalism; eclecticism; cooperative practices; interdisciplinary experiences; community based projects; racial and gender inclusiveness; ecological and spiritual sensibilities; shared power arrangements; just economic structures that support health, nutrition and psychological well-being of all citizens..."

So education is all about welcoming some "structures" and condemning other "structures". The "structures" that education "must be prophetic" in condeming turn out to be, once again, "modern power structures."

I would have liked to learn some specifics about these nefarious "modern power structures," but apparently the author feels they are self-evident and that repeating the phrase endlessly is sufficient. This is odd since these "modern power structures" that education must not serve (how is education serving them now?) are evil incarnate and "have resulted in holocausts, genocide, starvation, ecological destruction, massive poverty, slavery, patriarchal domination, colonization, environmental degradation and other horrors of the twentieth century." They surely deserve to be described in great detail so we can recognize them and stare them in the face en masse.

The author issues this dire warning: "If education does not focus on these issues, then it is complicit in the continuing modern holocausts."

Adopt the ill-defined postmodern stew or you are a criminal!

This is some of the crap prospective teachers must endure to become "certified."

BTW, the author of this chapter is Patrick Slattery, Associate Professor of Education at Texas A&M University where he teaches "curriculum theory" and "foundations in education" among other things.


Quincy said...

I've always been a believer that language reflects thinking, and that the thinking reflected by postmodernist language is some of the muddiest, insane thinking I've ever encountered. I see nothing but incoherent paranoia reflected in this linguistic mirror.

The fact that we let these maniacs pollute the minds of future teachers bodes ill for the futures of our children.

Instructivist said...

Gee, Quince, you are firing on all cylinders. I agree one hundred percent.

W.R. Chandler said...

I am currently in a masters program (curriculum and instruction), and if I hear the term "ecological sustainability" one more time I am going to reenact the Rain-Man-in-the-airport scene. If I have to hear one more time about the importance of "democratic" education according to Amy Gutmann and John Dewey (even though they never fully explain what they mean), I am going to... well, watch Rain Man and see what Dustin Hoffman does when Tom Cruise tries to get him on the airplane.

Thanks. I feel better now.

Anonymous said...

Good morning -- I highly recommend a report called Mayhem in the Middle recently released (the link is below). It talk about the history of middle schools and what does not happen academically in those grades. Here is the link --

Also please read Jenny D's and Chris Corea's columns.
Thanks --


TangoMan said...

Usually I'm not at a loss for words, but there's really little to add - you did a fine job in describing this insanity.

Along these lines though, you may enjoy my foray into the PoMo Feminist critique of science in which Newton's laws are described as Newton's Rape Manual or someone's description of New Orleans:

That is why I find myself in the uncomfortable position of mourning the loss of crack-addicts, poverty pockets and the like. They made a poignant and effective buffer against the blanc-mange gentrification of everything with soul.

You know it's one thing to read PoMo idiocy in textbooks and realize the crime they commit against the minds of the young, but it becomes much more real when someone spouts this stuff to you in a blog conversation, like the above. It's hard to believe that people think the horrible crime inflicted on poor people in New Orleans was worth it because their suffering from that crime produced soulful music for people to listen to in their homes and on vacations to New Orleans.

Oh, darn, I found a way to write more than I wanted :)

Anonymous said...

I honestly don't know how any teachers make it through ed school without going completely shriekingly insane.

Thank you for being willing to go through ed school, making it through, and retaining your sanity.

Instructivist said...

"I honestly don't know how any teachers make it through ed school without going completely shriekingly insane."

Your are raising a fascinating question.

Ed school is a gruesome experience for any thinking person. I mean how many times can you listen to rote recitations of "critical thinking" and "constructing one's own knowledge", "authentic", "reflective" (unaccompanied by any examples or analysis or discussions) without crawling up the wall?

I had strong views on educational nonsense before I entered ed school. I had been reading Gross, Sykes, Hirsch, Mac Donald, Ravitch, Rita Kramer (Ed School Follies) and others years before I embarked on this enterprise.

The trick was how to navigate the system without becoming an outcast. That takes some skill. I kept my sanity by writng papers bordering on satire without being found out.

SkiTheStars said...

Ed school does seem to have changed since the early 70's when I went through.

I remember two things:

Children who are read to from 0 - 5 by parents who read regular in front of them excel in school.

The greatest gains on achievement tests with respect to age occur when the tests are offered just after summer, as school is starting.

The first one seems to be true for my kids, one with an MA in Journalism from Berkeley, the other just entering med school. The second concept always sort of depressed me when in the middle of the year. Like, why am I contributing to the slow down in mental development ?

I loved the Summerhill concept, and with the Internet, it is far more reasonable teaching environment for today.

Well, after 30 years of teaching, and now retirement, I've finally designed my ultimate gradebook, a tandem paper and computer based system I call "The Rolling GradeBook." My wife still teaches, so I built it for her. It's at, if you'd like to take a peek.



Anonymous said...

Are your sure the book wasn't called Averting Middle Grades Education?

File this one under Classroom Reality Avoidance Prolixity syndrome.

It sounds like the usual, utterly unhelpful, non-educational tomes I've stopped reading - big words, few facts, less sense.

Kiwi Dave

Jenny D. said...


My head hurts.