Saturday, January 19, 2008

Deconstructing constructivism

Most prospective teachers seeking certification must go through education schools where they get bombarded with the rhetoric of progressive/constructivist education, the dominant ed school ideology. Here is an antidote to this mind-numbing assault written by Martin Kozloff (a/k/a Prof. Plum), an education professor who is in a distinct minority. In his inimitable way, Prof. Plum deconstructs ed school piffle point by point in Fads and Flapdoodle vs. Serious Instruction.

Here a few excerpts:

Fads and Flapdoodle

The nonsense below has for about 100 years been foisted on gullible education students and public schools by the dominant education establishment, run by so-called “progressive” educators in ed schools, state departments of public instruction, curriculum organizations (such as International Reading Association, National Council for Teachers of English), organizations that certify ed schools (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education), and unions (National Education Association).

No Fads. Serious Instruction.

The tested, true, and effective ideas, below, are the minority position in the field of education, and are advocated by the so-called anti-establishment, which supports traditional forms of instruction guided by scientific research.

If you believe and act on the following tested and valid ideas, you’ll be on the road to Master Teacher; and you’ll be a blessing to your students.

2. “Education theorists---Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey, Gardner---provide useful information on how to teach.”

2. Education theorists---Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey, Gardner---provide next to NOTHING useful on how to teach.

Their ideas are vague (it’s not clear what you’re supposed to do), over-generalized (don’t apply to your students), plain wrong, or totally insane.

“What would Dewey do?”

Who cares?

3. “Be guided by the following ideas: child-centered and student-centered, holistic, natural, authentic, learning styles, multiple intelligence, brain-based instruction, developmentally appropriate practices, best practices, etc.”

3. DO NOT be guided by these ideas. These ideas are LOONEY. They’re one step away from psychotic. In any other field they’d be considered fraud.

[See number 2 at the end.]

• There is NO scientific research to support them.
• They will be NO help at all to you.
• These ideas reflect the preferences of education professors---not science, not reality.
• The more you use these terms, the dumber and you get and the less effectively you teach.

b. “Instruction should be holistic. For example, you should teach spelling, reading, and writing at the same time.”

b. The word “holistic” is new-age mind slop. Like “holistic healing.”

• Complex skills DO consist of simpler skill elements. It’s essential that students learn these first.
• You can’t solve math word problems if you don’t know the basic math operations, such as addition and multiplication.
• You can’t write or spell if you can’t read words. So, what should you teach first?

g. “You can’t transmit knowledge. Students must construct knowledge. Therefore, most learning and instruction should be in the form of inquiry and discovery.”

g. “The battles at Lexington and Concord were on April 18, 1775.”

• I believe I just transmitted knowledge.

• Persons who talk about students constructing knowledge have no idea what this even means. Are they mind readers?

• The SANE way to look at learning is this: Teachers present examples and students induce (figure out) the general idea (concept, rule, routine) that is revealed by the examples. Teachers can also TELL students a concept, rule, or routine, and then substantiate this with examples.

• There’s a lot of research showing that students learn MORE and learn faster when the teacher teaches in an explicit and direct way, rather than when students try to discover knowledge.

• What does it even mean---discover knowledge?

“Hey, guys, I discovered reading!!”

• Discovery and inquiry are the worst possible ways to teach essential skills (reading, math) to disadvantaged students.


montgorp said...


Who are you? What is your name? I can't find it on your blog.

If you are going to start unpacking a mainstream educational ideology then you need to do more than this. This is just a bunch of throw away lines.

Good on you for taking an oppositional view. That's an important role. it's why I subscribe to your blog, even though I don't agree with you.


Russel Montgomery

Russel's blog for reflection/provocation:
Hub for my professional work online:

Instructivist said...

Mr. Mont,

It's very common for teachers to remain anonymous. It's done to protect their charges and to protect themselves. Especially sharp critics of the dominant ed ideology like me can fear repercussions. The ideology is not tolerant of dissidents. So regard this blog as samizdat. Other than that, I am a middle grades math teacher in the Chicago public schools.

I saw at your site that you are a social constructivist (I could have misread this and someone else is actually an SC). If you are an SC, perhaps you could say a few words about how SC affects the teaching of the various disciplines. I am a solipsist and have trouble understanding anything having to do with "social". (Just kidding).

montgorp said...

Hi samizdat

I handle the privacy of my students by separating myself from them. I keep the online work I do with them separate and distinct and take the usual precautions about names etc.
However, I am the same person and if someone chose to track me down and misuse my own personal openness.... well. It freaks my principal out. He would like me to use pseudonyms for all my online work. But I refuse. I own what I say, what I do and who I am. Period.

Great to know that you are a middle school maths teacher. So am I. I teach years 7/8 and love my job. This age has such energy, is so vibrant and full of potential. Of course it has its down sides.

Yes I am a social constructivist. This means that my priority is to build robust and effective learning communities, thus providing my students with maximum potential to develop valid and stable knowledge structures.

I believe that cognition is socially distributed, that knowledge, language and culture are all intimately connected.

As for mathematics... it is a thought form, a language, an art form that is created by cultures to enable them to manage the experience of their environments.

All ideologies and theories are just that. Ideologies and theories. They have no substance other than the people who hold them and apply them.

However, who we are, how we love our neighbours, how we respond to the mystery of the universe... these things are substantial.

So, samizdat, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. I will label your feed as samizdat. I look forward to reading your posts as you develop your instructivist theories.


Russel Montgomery

Russel's blog for reflection/provocation:
Hub for my professional work online:

Instructivist said...

watMr. Mont,

Thank you for your response.

SC is obviously a big topic as your brief description hints at. I can only hope details and specific examples can make it more accessible to the uninitiated. I am already stuck understanding what "cognition is socially distributed" means. Is "cognition" some collective entity, a sort of cosmic mind, or is it carried by individuals?

Regarding math for middle graders, is there a body of knowledge that these grades are expected to possess or is that knowledge wholly relative to culture or even language?

You say: "I look forward to reading your posts as you develop your instructivist theories."

I have written a number of posts over time that implicitly or explicitly touch upon my preferred forms of curriculum and instruction.

I am appending some of them here for your convenience (but most likely inconvenience due to the length of the appendage).

Thursday, January 17, 2008
Constructing misconceptions

A core tenet of the progressive/constructivist education creed is that students must construct their own knowledge. For this reason, according to the creed, teachers should not impart knowledge or provide explicit instruction. A teacher should merely be a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage, as the rhyming slogans of the creed have it.

I was recently watching a video called A Private Universe produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics two decades ago that casts doubt on the wisdom of the knowledge construction dogma. The video shows students who were asked to explain what causes the seasons and the phases of the moon. From Harvard graduates to bright freshman, the explanations were all wrong. In other words, all these students were laboring under misconceptions.

The lesson here is that constructing one's own knowledge in areas like science has a great potential of leading to false beliefs. Many of these students probably had received explicit instruction from knowledgeable teachers and yet tenaciously persisted in constructing their own false knowledge. The way to correct these misconceptions cannot possibly be more construction of one's own knowledge as mandated by the creed, but teacher-centered ongoing diagnoses of the many misconceptions and heavy doses of explicit instruction with constant student feedback.

Here is how the producers describe the video:

With its famous opening scene at a Harvard graduation, this classic of education research brings into sharp focus the dilemma facing all educators: Why don’t even the brightest students truly grasp basic science concepts? This award-winning program traces the problem through interviews with Harvard graduates and their professors, as well as with a bright ninth-grader who has some confused ideas about the orbits of the planets. Equally useful for education methods classes, teacher workshops, and presentations to the public, A Private Universe is an essential resource for science and methodology teachers.

Posted by Instructivist at 10:50 PM 3 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Soliciting ed guru advice

I need advice from constructivist ed gurus.

Over and over, I run into this bit of "insight" from constructivists: "Knowledge is constructed by the learner from experience." First, I was beaten over the head with this "insight" in ed school. Now I see it at constructivist sites like this one.

What does it mean? How does it work in practice?

I tried to put it to the test. I decided I want to know something about Tang and Song China. According to constructivists, I need to construct that knowledge from experience. What should I do? I don't have any experience with Tang and Song China. I live now, not in the era of Tang and Song China. Then I hit on a brilliant idea: time travel. I tried cranking up that rusty, old time machine. It didn't work. Now I am trying to construct without experience but with the help of a hat. I am trying to pull the knowledge out of a hat. Ain't working either. I guess I'll just settle for a book and ignore the constructivist piffle.

My conclusion is that either constructivists keep repeating the same nonsense (probably due to a lack of critical thinking ability), or there is something I am not getting. I suspect the former.

Ed guru advice welcome.

On the same site I find this gem:

Radical constructivists do not advocate goals, sequential instruction, aids to learning, or restrictions on content for learners because each learner is unique and educators do not know what the learners need or want to learn.
I've got news for these "educators": In my experience, a lot of "learners" don't know what they need either. As for wanting to learn: Forget it!

Posted by Instructivist at 8:06 AM 17 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism, critical thinking, humor, Teaching history

Saturday, April 28, 2007
Making connections

In IF You Liked Whole-Word Reading, Open Classrooms & Fuzzy Math
You Will Love Inquiry-Based Science Charles Ormsby makes connections between modern fads dreamed up by ed gurus. What loony idea will come next? Suggestions welcome.

Teaching different achievement levels simultaneously is particularly obnoxious. It violates a basic law of physics that says that a body cannot be in different places at the same time. Consequently, teacher input is fragmented and rendered ineffective. But what are laws of physics to ed gurus who don't believe in a stable body of knowledge and instead conceive of knowledge only as "information" that keeps changing so rapidly that it need not be learned?

Guru advice that there is no need to learn anything because one can always look up the "information" somewhere is also fallacious. A lot of things we might know require extensive struggle to achieve understanding. I teach middle grades math and see daily that achieving an understanding of topics like ratios, proportions, percentages, unit rates, operations with integers, geometry, even ordering fractions, doesn't come easily. It's not a matter of looking it up when needed and grasping it instantly. It requires time and effort. What is true for math is also true for science and other subjects. Imagine trying to "look up" and understand topics in organic chemistry without a laboriously acquired firm grounding in chemistry. Or making sense of all the difficult terms in biology that were never memorized and understood if guru advice is followed.

See this hilarious video and see how handy "looking it up when needed" is.

[Note: There is certainly no dearth of grossly ignorant people. However, this video appears to be rigged by means of selectiveness to promote a biased point of view. The selection of people being interviewed is hardly representative. One could easily do the opposite: Interview a sizable number of people at random and then select only the knowledgeable ones to "prove" that the public is highly sophisticated.]

Here Ormsby:

As if deciding that we shouldn’t teach the magic code was not enough, professional educators decided to re-engineer the learning environment in the classroom. Again, we have thousands of years of experience in the design of learning environments. Past experience underlined the need for mental focus and concentration … a condition that is seriously hampered by distractions. Even parents who are not trained as educators seem to realize that children should turn off the TV and rap music while trying to absorb a history or math lesson.

But our education gurus had a deeper insight than the rest of us mere mortals could possibly appreciate. They figured that if you put classrooms together, without walls between them, the students would benefit from all the noise. It made sense to them, apparently, that understanding algebra or trigonometry would be enhanced by students reciting Shakespeare in the adjacent classroom! What were they thinking?

To make matters worse – is it even possible? – educators decided to give the teachers an extra challenge. Instead of having teachers teach a subject to a set of students who are roughly at the same achievement level in a subject, they decided to force them to teach to multiple levels simultaneously.

In a fourth-grade math class, teachers are required to teach simple addition and multiplication to some students while teaching division to others, and fractions to their most advanced students.

When it comes time for English Language Arts (read’n & write’n), they must simultaneously teach basic reading skills to some while discussing the classics with others.

Of course, they can’t actually do these things simultaneously, so they have to break up the class into more homogeneous groups and then split their time among the groups. Now students who could have had the teacher’s attention for the whole class, can only get it for a portion of the class time.


Since the teacher splits the class up to make the sub-groups more similar in achievement level, one might ask, “WHY DIDN’T THEY DO THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE?” What were they thinking?

Last week I had occasion to witness a classroom in the inner city run by an admittedly incompetent substitute that was completely thrashed by pupils running wild like atoms flying around in a heated substance. It brought to mind the stark contrast between guru preachings about "inquiry," "discovery," "constructing knowledge and meaning," natural curiosity, and the reality of this classroom.

UPDATE: rightwingprof left a comment pointing out that we have a demonstration here of a student-centered classroom. Student centered indeed!

Posted by Instructivist at 11:23 PM 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Saturday, April 07, 2007
What I learned in PD today

From a professional development day inspired by an ASCD presentation by Dr. Jan Jones called Building Millennial Minds: Preparing Today's Students for Tomorrow's World I learned that:

Change is exponential. Gates says technology capacity doubles every nine months. Photonics leads to unimaginable data transmission rates. Semantic Web will be our new global brain.

The world is changing four times faster than schools (Dr. William Daggers).* Actually, the doctor is a bit fuzzy with the number. The exact number is 4.2651.

[The vision I have is of a globe spinning so rapidly that it'll throw everyone into space, including educationists].

Kids are immersed in fancy new technology (digital natives).

People will not earn a living, they'll learn a living.

21th century skills redefine core skills. What are those new core skills? Deep conceptual knowledge, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving, innovation, imagination.

[I am afraid the mindless repetition of the critical thinking mantra will dull the senses and stop all thinking in its track. What's needed is critical thinking about "critical thinking."]

What are the implications for teaching of all this? I quote: "Learning can no longer be full, frontal lecturing or recall of data/facts, content."

[This is a spectacular non sequitur. Doubling technology capacity (whatever that is), faster data transmission rates and kids running around with iPods have no bearing on what content should be learned and how it should be taught. If it isn't dizzying technological change but the call for "deep conceptual knowledge" that necessitates the abandonment of content recall, then there is trouble, too. How is one supposed to have "deep conceptual knowledge" without engagement with content, i.e. assimilating or learning the content? Recall is another way of saying that content has been learned. A conceptualization is an abstraction from facts, a way to bring order to otherwise disparate facts. Conceptual knowledge, deep or otherwise, is impossible without that basis. So once again, educationists are blowing smoke, apparently enamored of the high-falutin' sound of these phrases without applying some critical thinking.]

What takes its place:

Big ideas

21th century learnings [note the plural]

Melding disciplines

Unique connections

Meta-cognitive options

Focusing instruction on relevance (don't fixate on minutiae, high-stakes testing)

Digital age literacies, e.g. health & wellness literacy, visual/performing arts literacy, information literacy, multicultural literacy... [Another example of educationist corruption of a good word that is now rendered meaningless].

So just go ahead, do the critical thinking and creating. No need to know anything.

*Educationists are delirious about change. The change that has them in a tizzy and whips them into a frenzy is mostly of a superficial nature, like faster data transmission rates and higher flash card storage capacity, kids adept at playing with new electronic gadgets and so on. From this they draw illogical conclusions about what and how things should be taught.

To calm them down from this frenzy and to rehearse critical thinking skills, I recommend that educationists be required to write a rigorous, lenghty and critical essay before Ed. D.'s are handed out. This essay could be called Change and Continuity. The objective of this essay is to examine what changes are occurring, whether these changes are profound or superficial and what, if any, effect they should have on the academic curriculum.

Educationists should then compare and contrast these changes to what stays the same in the various subject areas, 21th century or not. Educationists could ask themselves a long list of questions pertaining to the various disciplines. For example, do faster data transmission rates and high-capacity flash cards alter the laws of gravity and motion, planetary orbits and atom bonding, or the electromagnetic spectrum and Fraunhofer lines? Do these technological changes impinge on photosynthesis and animal cell structure? Or refraction and the Doppler effect? Do they make 2 + 2 = 4 untrue? Is pi no longer the ratio of circumference to diameter because of dizzying 21th century changes and yet-unheard of electronic gadgets? Did Caesar suddenly not cross the Rubicon because Gates predicts a doubling of technological capacity every nine months?

Requiring educationists to pose and answer these questions could have a sobering effect. But I wouldn't count on it.

Posted by Instructivist at 1:16 PM 6 comments Links to this post

Labels: Anti-intellectualism, Constructivism, creativity, critical thinking

So that's what it is!

Maybe one day I'll pin down what this "constructivism" is. Is it a theory of knowing as some claim? Or is it an approach to teaching as the influential Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development claims:

The Definition of Constructivism

Constructivism is an approach to teaching based on research about how people learn. Many researchers say that each individual constructs knowledge rather than receiving it from others.

Although people disagree about how to achieve constructive learning, constructive teaching is based on the belief that students learn best when they gain knowledge through exploration and active learning. Hands-on materials are used instead of textbooks, and students are encouraged to think and explain their reasoning instead of memorizing and reciting facts. Education is centered on themes and concepts and the connections between them, rather than isolated information.

Source: From The Language of Learning: A Guide to Education Terms, by J. L. McBrien and R. S. Brandt, 1997, Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
So, many researchers say that each individual constructs knowledge rather than receiving it from others. Ain't that grand. How did these researchers figure this out? Did they research how each individual constructs the periodic table, how atoms bond, how the sun produces energy? How individuals construct knowledge about the Renaissance period? Ah, I forgot. Through hands-on materials instead of textbooks.

Posted by Instructivist at 12:39 PM 1 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Sunday, March 04, 2007
Educationist misconceptions

Good discussion at KTM II on constructivism. ("Constructivism attacks the immune system that saves us from silliness")

I even managed to deliver myself of an opinion that then accidentally turned into a brief statement of my teaching philosophy:

I cannot understand for the life of me how construction and discovery can be compatible. If knowledge is just lying around the kitchen table or on the floor to be discovered, then why does it need to be constructed? If it is to be constructed, why does it need to be discovered?

I can understand construction in the banal sense that we must somehow integrate external input (from observations, books, sage on the stage, etc.) into our knowledge apparatus, but the external input must still be there. This type of integration is necessarily always active, contrary to educationist palaver. So-called "constructivists" militate against this external input and disparage textbooks, explicit and expository instruction, etc. [All based on a misconception of constructivism. See below.]

My own favored teaching/learning model is one I dubbed the Optimal Electrode Gap model [spark gap might be better], or OEG model (somehow I feel I must turn this into an acronym. Acronyms lend legitimacy even to screwball ideas. Not that I consider the OEG model to be a screwball idea).

The analogy is taken from physics. When relatively high voltage is applied to electrodes, three things can occur depending on the electrode gap:

a) no sparks fly if the electrodes are too far apart

b) a short-circuit is created if the electrodes touch each other

and c) sparks begin flying if the gap is just right.

This technical bit lends itself beautifully as an analogy and even metaphor for education where it has major implications for teaching and learning. The flying sparks are a metaphor for true learning and understanding. The electrode gap stands for the kind of pupil/teacher interaction. Finding the right gap is at the heart of a teacher's teaching ability and skill.

If a teacher talks above the head of the pupil without connecting with the pupil's prior knowledge, then the gap is set too wide and no sparks fly. If the teacher tells the student (who may not be paying attention as is most often the case) everything without allowing for creative tension and some student struggle, then we have a short-circuit (the electrodes touch each other) and the voltage is for nought.

On the other hand, finding the right gap prevents pupil frustration on the one hand and wasted energy on the other, and can lead to student excitement and enthusiasm, and a real sense of accomplishment. [I presume Vygotsky's zone of proximal development is something along those lines, but note below how educationists manage to turn a good idea into an absurdity].

This is my teaching philosophy in a nutshell. I am not sure how all of this ties in with prevailing theories, but I suspect it incorporates elements from a variety of philosophies.
In the Comments section of the post, Barry Garelick cites a quote that addresses one of the major misconceptions under which educationists are laboring, namely that the constructing pupil needs no external input:

I was referring to a paper by Anderson, Reder and Simon called "Radical Constructivism and Cognitive Psychology" which appeared in a collection published by Brookings Institute in 1998. In the paper, they state:

“A consensus exists within cognitive psychology that people do not record experience passively but interpret new information with the help of prior knowledge and experience. The term “constructivism” is used in this sense in psychology, and we have been appropriately referred to as constructivists (in this sense) by mathematics educators. However, (AND THIS IS A BIG ‘HOWEVER’ FOLKS) denying that information is recorded passively does not imply that students must discover their knowledge by themselves without explicit instruction, as claimed by radical constructivists. In modern cognitive theories, all acquisition of knowledge, whether by instruction or discover, requires active interpretation by the learner. The processing of instruction can be elaborate, its extent growing with the amount of relevant knowledge the learner brings to the task.”
Catherine Johnson of KTM I and KTM II fame contributes a terrific quote that further elaborates on this enormously damaging and widespread educationist misconception:

A common misconception regarding 'constructivist' theories of knowing (that existing knowledge is used to build new knowledge) is that teachers should never tell students anything directly but, instead, should always allow them to construct knowledge for themselves. This perspective confuses a theory of pedagogy (teaching) with a theory of knowing. Constructivists assume that all knowledge is constructed from previous knowledge, irrespective of how one is taught (e.g., Cobb, 1940)--even listening to a lecture involves active attempts to construct new knowledge.
Barry Garelick points out that my spark gap analogy fits in nicely with Vygotsky's ZPD:

Yes, the spark gap analogy is quite good. It fits in with the Vygotsky theory of Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD. You want to teach children in that zone (i.e., the spark gap is not too wide) and provide the scaffolding or guidance to help bridge that gap.
BeckyC cautions that constructivists go off the deep end when it comes to defining the pivotal term "scaffolding". Scaffolds are usually high up next to a building and I am speculating that educationists begin to suffer from a case of vertigo when they are on a scaffold and fall off. How else to explain this educationist fall into the abyss of absurdity?

It's in trying to define what constitutes scaffolding that the constructivist mischief begins again in earnest.

Constructivists deny the possibility of scaffolding by directly instructing or directly telling the child how to bridge the gap between what he knows and what we know he could know next. They allow indirect methods only, and they are even uncomfortable with presuming to know what the child should know next. They wait patiently, and they wait and wait. After all, it's not their child, and the child goes away at the end of the school year.
Let's hope that through repeated exposure one or the other educationist will come to recognize the terrible misconception under which they have been laboring.

Posted by Instructivist at 12:50 PM 4 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Sunday, February 25, 2007
Buzzword education

(Cross-posted at KTM II)

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on buzzwords. Buzzwords may sound impressive but have an unclear meaning. Wikipedia says: "Buzzwords are typically intended to impress one's audience with the pretense of knowledge. For this reason, they are often universal. They typically make sentences difficult to dispute, on account of their cloudy meaning."

Buzzwords should not be confused with jargon. For the most part, jargon has a well-defined technical meaning, at least to the initiated. On the other hand, buzzwords not only obscure meaning, but "can also function to control thought by being intentionally vague." As Wikipedia puts it: "In management, stating organizational goals by using words with unclear meanings prevents anybody from questioning the directions and intentions of these decisions..."

What is true for management is true for education to a high degree. Education presents a veritable cornucopia of buzzwords with vague meanings. They form the feeble corpus of the educationist Thoughtworld that would be a corpse in a more rational world. (Thoughtworld is a term coined by E. D. Hirsch to describe the nebulous educationist thought complex).

Ed schools are a rich generator of educationist fog, blasting prodigious quantities of fog into the air the way Mount Pinatubo might spew massive amounts of ash into the air until the sun is reduced to a faint glow.

And yet, astonishingly and improbably, we are asked to believe that the massive amounts of fog mixed with toxic fumes emitted by ed schools magically stop at the schoolhouse door.

It's been claimed by some, including Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews (see The Ed School Disease, Part Two) commenting on educational historian David F. Labaree's new book, "The Trouble With Ed Schools," that ed schools may be pitiful institutions and the butt of jokes, but there is no need to worry. They are not doing any harm: "Why worry about ed schools if they don't do any harm, or any good?" Mathews avers:

What I said in that column was that I had been in a lot of classrooms and had rarely seen much of this guide on the side stuff. I wasn't saying I was happy about it. We have never given the Deweyites a fair test of their theories, and I know of a few schools that have used child-centered learning to good effect. Labaree's insight is powerful and useful all the same: why worry about ed schools if they don't do any harm, or any good?
The blindness revealed in this statement is astonishing. Could armies of new teachers and educational leaders who go through the rigorous ed school indoctrination process really emerge unscathed? Not very likely.

When attempting to write about the harm done by ed school ideology, it is hard to know where to begin. One could start with relatively minor topics like the preachments about the unimportance of correct spelling and the alleged benefits of invented spelling. One could start with the promotion of disastrous creeds like constructivism that are reflected in curricula and teaching methods, and form the core of ed school ideology.

A perusal of mission and vision statements of schools show how deeply entrenched ed school ideology is in the thinking of educationists who run the schools. Take, for example, Chicago's so-called Renaissance schools. Classrooms need to be heterogeneous, disciplines must be integrated, collaborative groups must engage in peer teaching, math and science must be learned by inquiry and discovery without coherent textbooks and so on. Among my many favorites is the Al Raby school:

Educational Philosphy [sic]
The Al Raby School will embody a constructivist approach to learning. Learning will be an active process; our teachers will use lecture style instruction and worksheets sparingly. All teachers will stress collaborative groups as well as individual initiative, striving to make the classroom a model democratic community where students have choices and responsibilities. Based on a large body of research, we believe that for true comprehension and retention to occur the learning must be relevant, active and reflective.
Many of these new Chicago schools receive money from the Gates Foundation.

It is also wrong for Mathews to presume teacher autonomy. Teachers are not free agents. They must work under the contraints imposed from above. In many schools, this means having to work with fuzzy math textbooks like TERC, Trailblazers, Connected Math, CorePlus, all execrable fuzzy math programs. The CMP teacher manual tells teachers not to provide explicit instruction. Math teachers I've talked to either follow this dictum or are agonizing over it. Often it can mean working with no textbooks at all. Periodically, an ed school-indoctrinated leadership comes in and orders the removal of textbooks and workbooks from classrooms. These are then given away or end up in the trash.

Even if teachers manage to defy ed school indoctrination, the obstacles they face in actual practice are formidable. They face not only institutional constraints (e.g. constructivist materials and approaches mandated from above), but they are also facing a student body that has been conditioned to expect to be entertained and to be resistant to expository instruction.

One of the pernicious effects of ed school ideology is how it produces an indoctrinated cadre for top leadership positions which then has the power to impose constructivist texts and practices on schools, like Chicago's CMSI. This cadre could be anything from superintendents to board members to curriculum and instruction experts to principals and supervisory bodies.

The message from this cadre is that explicit instruction should be minimized or avoided altogether; that worksheets (one of the hands-on activities that make sense) should be avoided like the plague [one reason for the highly restricted photocopying allotment given to teachers here in Chicago]; that textbooks are evil incarnate and prevent teachers from being "creative". On top of everything, overworked and frazzled teachers are expected to reinvent the wheel every day. Since many elementary teachers are not well-educated to begin with (e.g. a pathetic knowledge of history, geography and science), the one source of knowledge (textbooks) that could be a corrective is foreclosed. So you have instances of textbook-free schools. Schools without basals (hated by educationists), history and science textbooks, except for science "inquiry" manuals.

Part of this hatred for textbooks is the belief -- a component of ed school ideology -- that "information" (this is how educationists view knowledge) is exploding like supernovae, and what is true today is hopelessly obsolete tomorrow. Another reason is plain educationist disdain for facts. It interferes with "critical thinking" and "creativity" and stunts the mind.

One can see the hand of ed school ideology everywhere in school. At least I see it everywhere. I see it when DEAR (Drop Everything and Read insipid, vacuous and vapid fiction) is the first thing on the agenda in the morning when students are most receptive for more substantial stuff. This reading then takes place silently for an hour without teacher feedback. I see it in block scheduling to provide ample opportunity for time-wasting activities. I see it in contrived interdisciplinary instruction and in coloring and more coloring. I see the hand of ed school ideology indirectly when new elementary teacher candidates are released from the citadels of anti-intellectualism with scant knowledge of math, science, history, geography, grammar and languages, and subsequently validated by laughable state "content" tests.

The list goes on and on. I haven't even adressed ed school staples like learning styles, multiple intelligences, developmentally appropriate injunctions that often slide into low expectations, project and activities mania, heterogeneous grouping, expanding horizons, the travesty form of Bloom's taxonomy, and the disdain for factual knowledge. Moreover, once out of ed school, teachers continue to be assaulted with ed school ideology in the form of professional development requirements.

Posted by Instructivist at 8:37 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Anti-intellectualism, Constructivism, Ed schools, Fuzzy math, Progressive education

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Fordham Institute has published a major review of state science standards. According to the study, a handful of states has managed to produce respectable standards. However, the vast majority of state standards is afflicted with numerous problems, most notably with the "constructivist" anti-knowledge plague:

Educational Constructivism
Constructivism is not new. It was evident in the first draft
(1992) of the National Science Education Standards, where
it took the form of a claimed postmodern philosophy of science. That, in turn, incorporates one kind of constructivism (“social” constructivism) about knowledge, including scientific knowledge.The adopted philosophy was an application to learning standards of the increasingly popular educational constructivism,whose main tenet is that learning happens only by an individual’s action, his or her making and doing things in the world, not as a result of any conveyance of knowledge (as in teaching).10 A revision of that early draft eliminated the praise of postmodernism but left in place the notion that a learner can do no more than to construct knowledge, which is therefore personal, from things and events in his or her sensed environment. It is supposed to follow from this that scientific knowledge cannot be transferred from one person—a teacher (or from a book)—to another. The learning expectations of standards should therefore focus much more on process, the “doing”of science by the student, and much less on its reputed facts.11
The California science framework has received top marks and can be read here.

Posted by Instructivist at 9:32 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Sunday, November 13, 2005
Alternative to fuzzy math denied

An illuminating story appeared in the NYT on how the fuzzy math plague plays out in a Rochester, NY, suburb:

LAST spring, when he was only a sophomore, Jim Munch received a plaque honoring him as top scorer on the high school math team here. He went on to earn the highest mark possible, a 5, on an Advanced Placement exam in calculus. His ambition is to become a theoretical mathematician.

So Jim might have seemed the veritable symbol for the new math curriculum installed over the last seven years in this ambitious, educated suburb of Rochester. Since seventh grade, he had been taking the "constructivist" or "inquiry" program, so named because it emphasizes pupils' constructing their own knowledge through a process of reasoning.

Jim, however, placed the credit elsewhere. His parents, an engineer and an educator, covertly tutored him in traditional math. Several teachers, in the privacy of their own classrooms, contravened the official curriculum to teach the problem-solving formulas that constructivist math denigrates as mindless memorization.

"My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program," Jim said recently. "Whatever I've achieved, I've achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There's a reason we go to school, which is that there's someone smarter than us with something to teach us."

After citing example after example of math cripples, the article has this gem that shows the arrogance of educationists:

By last spring, these parents had discovered one another and their common exasperation with constructivist math. Jim Munch's father, Bill, a software developer at Kodak, drew up a petition asking the Penfield schools to offer pupils the option of taking traditional math. Nearly 700 residents signed it. Last June, the Board of Education turned down the request.
The superintendent haughtily dismisses parent concerns. Many of the parents have extensive math backgrounds:

Susan Gray, the superintendent, attributed the criticism of the math program to "helicopter parents" who are accustomed to being deeply involved in all aspects of their children's lives. "Because the pedagogy has changed, the parents who knew the old ways didn't know how to help their children," she said. "They didn't have the knowledge and skills to support their children at home. There's a security in memorization of math facts, and that security is gone now."

YET many of the dissident parents have extensive math backgrounds and thus the ability to criticize the curriculum. It is also true that most of them tolerated the constructivist program for its first several years, until bitter experience drove them into rebellion.

Posted by Instructivist at 10:01 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism, Fuzzy math

Saturday, October 08, 2005
Arrested development

Constructivism reigns supreme in ed schools. It is the unquestioned doctrine that guides all aspects of teacher preparation. It should therefore be of some interest to find out what it is all about, if there is an empirical core that can be discerned from the thick fog that envelops hapless teacher candidates. The prospects are not good. Von Glaserfeld calls constructivism "a vast and woolly area in contemporary psychology, epistemology, and education."

Trying to pin down constructivism -- to see if it can be defined in a meaningful way and whether there is any sense that can be separated from nonsense -- is like searching for the unicorn.

At this point of my search, the best I can do is conclude that constructivists display a case of arrested development. Constructivists are stuck in the Piagetian sensorimotor or, at best, pre-operational stage. This infantilism that manifests itself in constructivists goes a long way in explaining educationist hostility to knowledge and educationist anti-intellectualism. But this infantilism is golden compared to the denial of objective reality by radical constructivist gurus like von Glaserfeld.

Let me elaborate a bit.

Constructivists cite Piaget and Vygotsky as their progenitors. Piaget did groundbreaking work on how toddlers develop intellectually and came up with different stages (really a continuum divided into stages to get a better handle on this development). For example, a toddler might recognize at some point that an object that is moved behind another object and disappears from sight does not cease to exist (permanence). Or a toddler might discover on his own that an object falls when released or that bumping into a wall is not a good idea or that a flame is hot.

The constructivists' fallacy is to carry this notion of discovery and individual experience to absurd lengths and apply it to later years -- to adolescence and even adulthood. Learning then becomes solely a matter of discovery and individual experience from which one constructs one's own knowledge and meaning. But you cannot "construct" broader knowledge ex nihilo and keep reinventing the wheel endlessly. You need external input. You need to benefit from the knowledge accumulated over thousands of years. This is where constructivism breaks down. Constructivism presents itself as a theory of learning based solely on experience. But personal experience is limited. Broader learning also needs to tap into an existing body of knowledge that constructivists disparage.

This otherwise imcomprehensible educationist hostility to knowledge and especially imparting knowledge becomes clearer when one considers the views of leading radical constructivist gurus like von Glaserfeld who seem to come straight out of the loony bin:

Von Glaserfeld is one of the leading apostles of radical constructivism. Radical constructivism rejects the traditional philosophical position of realism and adopts a relativist position. The traditional view of realism sees knowledge as a representation of an absolute reality - a world "out there" prior to having been experienced. The radical constructivists sees knowledge as "something that is personally constructed by individuals, in an active way, as they try to give meaning to socially accepted and shared notions." As von Glaserfeld himself says "knowledge is the result of an individual subject's constructive activity, not a commodity that somehow resides outside the knower and can be conveyed or distilled by diligent perception or linguistic communication"
This explains why educationists don't believe in an external body of academic knowledge that should be communicated to students. It explains why teachers are not allowed to teach, i.e. give explicit instruction.

On the other hand, how constructivists can claim Vygotsky as one of their own still remains a mystery to me. His notions of the zone of proximal development and scaffolding are sensible and don't rule out explicit instruction (despised by constructivists). His emphasis on socio-cultural factors doesn't fit in with "constructing one's own knowledge" either.

I wish someone could explain all these mysteries to me.

UPDATE #1: In the meantime, reader Rob has helpfully directed me to a scholarly article called Does No One Read Vygotsky’s Words? Commentary on Glassman that exposes attempts to Deweyize Vygotsky through omissions, distortions and inventions.

From the abstract:

In the May 2001 issue of Educational Researcher, Michael Glassman proposed several commonalities in the thinking of John Dewey and Lev Vygotsky. However, in addition to general problems in the article (misstatements about scholars’ writings and a reliance on unsupported inferences), the discussion misconstrues major concepts and topics addressed by Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development—psychological tools, the role of the cross-cultural study, the zone of proximal development, and the nature of conceptual thinking. In addition, Glassman attempted to force Vygotsky’s goals into a Deweyan framework. The result is a misportrayal of Vygotsky’s work.
UPDATE #2: I dug out my ed psych text (Anita Woolfolk) we used in grad school to see what it says about Piaget and constructivism. From it I learn that knowledge is "constructed by transforming, organizing, and reorganizing previous knowledge. Knowledge is not a mirror of the external world, even though experience influences thinking and thinking influences knowledge. Exploration and discovery are more important than teaching." The quote is Woolfolk speaking and giving a summary of Piaget's purported views under the heading "Assumptions about Learning and Knowledge."

Woolfolk goes on to helpfully explain how knowledge is constructed citing Moshman (1982). Knowledge construction is directed by internal processes like Piaget's organization, assimilation and accommodation. This means that new knowledge is "abstracted from old knowledge." It turns out that "[k]nowledge is not a mirror of reality, but rather an abstraction that grows and develops with cognitivie activity. Knowledge is not true or false; it just grows more internally consistent and organized with development."

Talk about being self-referential. Where is the external input?

I don't know what to make of this. I can understand that we might have to readjust our thinking when we learn new things that might conflict with or supplement our previous knowledge. But apparently there is no input of new knowledge from an external source. Saying that knowledge is constructed by transforming, organizing, and reorganizing previous knowledge is purely self-referential. Previous knowledge is simply remixed and stirred the way you might mix the ingredients of a cake. Nothing new is added. How relevant is all this to teaching reading and writing skills, math, science, history, geography, literature or languages?

Neither relevant nor helpful. It's all nonsense -- nonsense on stilts that has managed to become the dominant creed of the ed establishment. Constructivism is to education what creationism is to science. Both lack an empirical basis and rely on some unfathomable, ineffable, magical, supernatural thing said to "construct" something out of nothing.

How refreshing, then, to have someone like Prof. Plum rip the mask off this pretentious drivel:

What is Constructivism?

Constructivism is big word that makes education perfessers think they are intelligent.

Constructivism is an invention that makes education perfessers think they know something that everyone else doesn't.

Constructivism is a set of statements about learning that are quite simpleminded and generally false.

"Knowledge can't be transmitted from one person to another. 'Learners' have to construct knowledge." [This very statement shows that constructivists don't believe what they say. Isn't the statement an effort to transmit knowledge?]

"Therefore, teachers should not teach directly by telling or showing (e.g., how to solve math problems). Instead, they should guide students as STUDENTS figure out concepts (what granite is) and strategies (how to sound out words, how to solve math problems)." [Constructing knowledge means NOTHING more than comparing and contrasting, identifying sameness and difference, making inductions and deductions. This is all OLD news. There is NO reason why teachers can't teach in a direct and focused fashion. In fact, students "construct knowledge" (figure things out) better--faster and with fewer errors--when they ARE taught directly, rather than expected to "discover" knowledge--which makes no sense, anyway. If knowledge is constructed, what IS there to discover?]

"How each person constructs knowledge is unique. Therefore, teachers should not arrange instruction in sequences. Instead, students should select learning tasks. Don't worry. They will select what they are ready for." [Unique in the DETAILS but not in the general logical operations by which human beings learn. If each person is unique, I guess physicians should not take their blood pressure.]

"Drill (distributed practice) is bad. It is boring. It is not needed." [Baloney!]

"Tasks should be 'authentic.' Holistic. Teach the fundamentals of chemistry in the CONTEXT of chemistry experiments. Teach phonics skills in the context of reading." [This is the prescription for keeping kids ignorant and unskilled and for leaving them demoralized.]

"Since each student's learning is unique and INTERNAL, you cannot use quantitative and standardized methods of assessment. It should be qualitative--how students feel and think about what they are learning." [This makes no sense. Body temperature is also "internal," but you can measure it quantitatively and with a standard instrument. Likewise, you can easily count how many math problems kids do correctly. This is a cop-out to protect constructivists from data that would ruin them.]

And from this set of sophomoric beliefs, you get whole language, fuzziest math, inquiry science, literature without literacy, and history without moral and political lessons.


Constructivist "theory" is a mishmash of overlapping platitudes and absurdities--"empty words and poetic metaphors" (Aristotle, Metaphysics). Taken separately, constructivist "propositions" are merely simpleminded. Taken together, they are indistinguishable from the verbal behavior of a person suffering from chronic schizophrenia.

"Reality is a construction."
"Knowledge is a construction."
"Experience is a construction."
"Experience is constructed with constructs."
"Constructs are constructed out of experience."
"Reality is knowledge."
"Knowledge is reality."
"Experience is reality."
"There is no knowable reality external to the knowing subject (the constructor)."
"Individuals and groups construct meaning as they interact with environments."
"Therefore, no statement can be more than relatively true."
"A current body of knowledge ('reality') is a context that shapes the construction of knowledge."
"Therefore, environment, knowledge, experience, meaning and reality are the same thing."
What does progressive/constructivist education actually look like in practice. Here we have a smartly written account from someone who is experiencing it first hand:

In my lesson during the first block, we read a lot of the primary source documents out loud together, and then I led a discussion about them and we took notes together. This was roundly condemned as the wrong approach, and so the next period I had to let them read and interpret in groups. As usual, they wasted a lot of time and I don't really think they understood it. Not that I'm sure they had totally understood it in the first block, since they didn't have the proper historical background and I can't give them quizzes, but at least I got some reasonable answers out of the class discussion. In the second block, everyone got something different, depending on their group. It was so frustrating. I don't want to learn to teach like this because I don't think it's right. But I can't contradict the teacher. But I need the practice. It's an education grad school moral dilemma. The best kind.
This is just the last paragraph of a fairly long post. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE #3: Here are more sources on constructivism:

What is Constructivism?

"Students need to construct their own understanding of each mathematical concept, so that the primary role of teaching is not to lecture, explain, or otherwise attempt to 'transfer' mathematical knowledge, but to create situations for students that will foster their making the necessary mental constructions. A critical aspect of the approach is a decomposition of each mathematical concept into developmental steps following a Piagetian theory of knowledge based on observation of, and interviews with, students as they attempt to learn a concept." [Emphasis added].
- Calculus, Concepts, Computers, and Cooperative Learning (C4L)
These prescriptions would explain the surfeit of math cripples. I know from my own experience teaching math that students thrive when having things explained to them combined with guided practice and independent homework in the form of distributed practice and overlearning.

Posted by Instructivist at 9:42 AM 14 comments Links to this post

Labels: Anti-intellectualism, Constructivism

Sunday, October 02, 2005
Non-instruction (rev.)

Of all the educational lunacies dreamed up by educationists, non-instruction must be among the looniest.

Here is an account from the frontlines of what is not happening in a high school math class. The account relates the experiences of a student in a math class in which the teacher won't teach. It was posted at Kitchen Table Math, a lively math site that has been called "the hippest online math ed community in the known universe."

Hello, my name is Colin Johnston and in this post I will describe the horrors of high school algebra.

On the first day of my junior year, I stepped into my math class. I will leave names out so as not to offend anyone. I had heard mixed reviews about the math teacher that I would have this year, but people generally said he was a pretty good teahcer. As the bell rang, the class sat down and waited patiently for him to enter the room. He slowly stepped into the classroom. He looked like a smart enough guy. He then passed out the textbooks and walked to the front of the classroom. He began talking about the curriculum we would cover this year, his grading scale, etc. He then said something, however, that didn't go down as easily as the other things he had mentioned. He said "You kids have been told how to do everything in your math careers. That is, up until now. This year, you are going to learn how to teach yourselves."

What? Then why don't we just take this class at home, over the internet? What is the point of having a teacher that doesn't teach? I made these same arguments to my friend after class, but he just shruged it off. "It will probably get better as the year goes on." He said. I guess I would give it a shot.

But as this year has gone on, things have gotten worse if anything. Now, the norm for the class is come in, sit down, spend an hour correcting last nights assignment (it takes so long because everyone has so many questions), get the new assignment, and puzzle over it for 10 minutes until you finally give up due to complete lack of understanding. Such is life in the new new math, Constructivism.
As Colin says, why not just take this class at home, over the internet? Maybe constructivists are on to something and this is the wave of the future. It would help save hundreds of billions spent on "education."

Posted by Instructivist at 1:13 PM 13 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Force-fed constructivism

In the latest issue of Education Next, Sol Stern describes the tyrannical reign of the B&K regime in NYC. Teachers are being indoctrinated at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to become mindless robots forced to implement whacko educational theories:

As the video opens, Klein announces, “This CD will walk you through the research upon which we based our decisions regarding our program choices.” The implication is that the city’s search for the “best practices” was intellectually serious. Not so. Otherwise, this instructional guide would not be dominated by the pedagogical principles of a radical education guru from Australia named Brian Cambourne, who believes that teachers ought to encourage their students to achieve a “literacy for social equity and social justice.”

Professor Cambourne says he came to his theories when he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated competence at challenging tasks in the real adult world, including poker. This led to the brainstorm that children learn better in natural settings with a minimum amount of adult help. So important does Joel Klein’s education department deem Cambourne’s theories to be that it instructs all city teachers to go through a checklist to make sure their classroom practices meet the down-under education professor’s “Conditions for Learning.” Which of four scenarios most accurately describes how your classroom is set up? teachers are asked. If the teacher can claim “a variety of center-based activities, for purposeful learning using different strategies, and for students to flow as needed,” she can pat herself on the back. But if her classroom is set up “for lecture with rows facing forward,” she must immediately change her practice.

You might ask whether there’s any evidence for such pedagogy. It’s “weak to nonexistent,” according to Reid Lyon, former head of all reading research at the National Institutes of Health. “The philosophical and romantic notion that children learn to read naturally and through incidental exposure to print and literature has no scientific merit whatsoever.”

That hasn’t deterred Chancellor Klein in the least. Constructivist pedagogical guidelines are forced on classroom teachers in weekly “professional development” sessions that are closer to a military boot camp than any serious inquiry into the best classroom practices. No dissent is allowed. Teachers are given lists of “nonnegotiables,” a strange and embarrassing concept for any education enterprise. Thus students must not be sitting in rows. Teachers are forbidden to stand at the head of the class and do “chalk and talk” at the blackboard. There must be a “workshop” (students working in groups) in every single reading period. Teachers are also provided with classroom maps indicating the exact location of the teacher’s desk, the students’ writing stations, and exactly how much of the wall space should be set aside for posting student work. Also nonnegotiable is that every elementary school classroom must have a rug.
Educationists pay lip service to "critical thinking" but any critical thought gets you denounced:

Is it surprising then that Chancellor Klein is facing a revolt from teachers like 13-year veteran Jackie Bennett, from a Staten Island high school? Ms. Bennett’s problem is that she believes it’s not a sin to bring her knowledge of great literature to her students, even if she occasionally lectures. After all, Bennett has a master’s in English literature from Columbia University, exactly the kind of academic attainment we supposedly want more of from our teachers.

“DOE administrators talk about balance,” Ms. Bennett recently wrote in an unpublished letter to the New York Times.

"What they really want is all-group, all the time. What’s more, the message is clear: when we visit your classes and the kids are not in groups, you have one strike against you.

My recent experience at staff development is illustrative of just how clear that message is intended to be. After spending the morning working with my colleagues on a small group activity that entailed busywork that did nothing to further our development as teachers, we returned to a whole-class discussion to briefly assess what we had learned. I raised my hand and asked if there was any research tying group work to better test scores. The answer was no.

My behavior was reported to the Local Instructional Superintendent, and two days later, my assistant principal asked me to forgo attendance at the remaining meetings. I had, it seems, been kicked out of staff development. Had I made a ruckus? No. But I had asked uncomfortable questions. I had thought critically. Though the City’s Department of Education gives lip service to teaching kids to think critically, it is clear they want those critical thinking skills taught by drones."

Posted by Instructivist at 1:38 PM 5 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism, sol stern

Friday, April 01, 2005
Fuzzy math keeps spreading

This writer is making a nice analogy between reading and math. Just because technology is available, should we stop teaching kids how to read? Fuzzy math promoters seem to believe something similar by encouraging the use of calculators at an early age and by displaying hostility to memorization. The result is another generation of math cripples. Memory is one of those great gifts. It is therefore incomprehensible why educationists would wage war against memory.

To put this into perspective, consider the following analogy: Your first-grader comes home from school and tells you about the new Everyday Reading curriculum. Since there's such a prevalence of "books on tape," and with the latest technology known as text-to-speech, allowing computers to speak any text, the schools have implemented this great new program. It removes the emphasis on memorizing the alphabet and the tedium of learning to read. No more wasting time on the trivial, tedious basic mechanics of reading. No more hours spent on phonics or spelling. The new curriculum spends much more time teaching the children to analyze complex literature from a young age, since they're now freed up from the tedium of actually READING it!

Posted by Instructivist at 10:26 AM 1 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism, Fuzzy math

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.

Posted by Instructivist at 12:11 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism, Fuzzy math

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

Posted by Instructivist at 10:43 PM 2 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism, Fuzzy math

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.

Posted by Instructivist at 2:04 PM 6 comments Links to this post

Labels: Constructivism

Anonymous said...

Hi Samizdat

Thankyou so much for your very detailed reply. What I meant when I said I was looking forward to "the unfolding of your constructivist theories in further posts" was simply that I would follow your future posts via my reader.

I'm sorry that I do not have time to engage you at the level that you deserve and that you clearly desire. For good or bad, I follow hundreds of blogs and can not afford to engage each of them on such an individual basis. A shame, but there it is.

Three very brief responses to your very long reply.

1. I would refer you to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for the notion of cosmic mind. See as a starting point.

2. Science is not a body of knowledge. Science is a process.

3. The individual human mind is not a data-base. It is an organ for social interaction.

I do not have time for more. Brief interactions, I can manage. I engaged you because I wanted a human face to the blog I was following. I am following it because it provides a counterpoint to my own views. For which I am grateful.

All the best with your work. The world is a richer place for it. I am sure that you must be a great teacher, since you have such passion for it.

Now I must go. I am late for a morning appointment.


Russel Montgomery

Russel's blog for reflection/provocation:
Hub for my professional work online:

Instructivist said...

I am reposting Tracy's post in slightly truncated form since Mr. Mont is using his real name and any suggestion of violence, even if meant figuratively, is not allowed here.

Tracy said...
3. The individual human mind is not a data-base. It is an organ for social interaction.

Unsupported assertion in complete conflict with available evidence (for example, a brain injury can result in a person excellent at social interaction but with no knowledge of the left-hand side of the world. The brain is far more than a social organ, one of the things it does is a database. Another thing is regulate your breathing).

I do not have time for more.

Runs away when confronted with conflicting evidence.

I am sure that you must be a great teacher, since you have such passion for it.

Assumes results based on insufficient evidence (no insult intended, Mr Instructivist).

Anonymous said...

A couple of great posts - Thanks. Check out this nauseating interview with a Social Studies teacher who has clearly drank the Kool-aid. Its from the recent Frontline special on the internet.

Check this out:

Anonymous said...

This website is incredible, I'm a grad student in an education program and it is every bit as absurd as you portray it, Mr. Instructivist. What a scandal! Mr. Mont purports to be courageous in using his real name, however there is no risk to him in this as he has the politically correct outlook on education. Somehow this has become the dominant viewpoint, I know not how, but I suspect because it makes everyone feel good and it is easy for students, in place of having them actually learn tangible subjects, which is difficult. Mr. Instructivisit, I have spent about an hour reading your blog, so perhaps you may have answered this already, but is there anything to do about this state of affairs?

montgorp said...

Excuse me, My Anonymous

I am not purporting myself to be courageous. I just want people to own their opinions.

And.. That is just what I want. I want to see how you point of view works out in practice in the 21st Century classroom. That is: what are you going to do about it?

I have offered you people a place in the sun. But instead you want to remain anonymous and throw rocks at the so called hegemony.

Get real people. Leave your conspiracy theories in the dark cupboard where they belong. Come and play in the light with the rest of us and show us what your theory looks like in practice, in the real world of the classroom.

The oh so courageous (ROFL)

Russel Montgomery

Russel's blog for reflection/provocation:
Hub for my professional work online:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Mont, unfortunately your interest in hearing alternate opinions on education does not reign in the actual teacher-preparation programs, that is the cause for my anonymity—I would not want to compromise my position by flatly contradicting the stated philosophy of the institution I attend. I imagine Mr. Instructivist has similar motivations. Hence, our anonymity is more of a reflection of the philosophical intolerance that reigns in this area…in your curiosity I consider you the exception. It was a relief for me to have my abhorrence of the educationist psychobabble validated in Mr. Instructionist’s blog. He has articulated my visceral aversion to “constructivism” far better than I ever could, and I am simply expressing my gratitude in that regard. Please reference his blog for the most persuasive logic behind this.

Instructivist said...

Mr. Mont,

Feel free to quote from this site at your blog since you and presumably your readers are interested in other views. Or just reference it.

[I have offered you people a place in the sun.]

This site is accessible to anybody so I don't quite get why you think you are in a unique position to parcel out the sun. The sun shines whereever access is open.

montgorp said...


Touche! Obviously I am in no position to parcel out the sun. I guess I was just trying to draw you out. Well played!

Thank you for the encouragement to share your thoughts. That's helpful. I was looking more for the sharing of the on the ground playing out of theory in the class room or least conversation about what that looks like.

But sure, if you write a particularly erudite post that I think warrants sharing, I will take up your offer.

Have you considered starting up an instructivist group on one of the many educational social networks on the web these days. You could use pseudonyms. No one needs to know who you are.

Can I suggest that you adopt a more realistic online identity. If you choose a name that sounds "real" and use a cartoon avatar (for example) people like me would have no reason to think the on-line identity wasn't real. Just a thought.

Russel Montgomery

montgorp said...

Dear enduring edubable

Fair enough. I have been fortunate enough in my tertiary experience to be encouraged by my teachers to unpack dominant positions and openly challenge them. Its hard for me to imagine a university environment that is not like that.

Any theory that hardens into an ideology is a nasty thing, no matter how good it is when first conceived. If "constructivism" has hardened into an ideology in your area then you are right to challenge it. You are right to challenge it anyway. Every theory, methodology, philosophy etc needs to be constantly challenged.

And, by the way, "constructivism" is old hat. The new kid on the block is "connectivism" which I think has some valuable insights. I suspect that you and others in this conversation would find reason to oppose it. Like all theories it needs challengers.

Actual real teaching requires an amalgam of theories that need to be reflected upon, challenged, reviewed, constantly. It is one of the things that make teaching so rewarding, and so tiring. I think that if you have settled into a rigid point of view, it is time to get out.

That's one of the reasons I seek dialogue (as do many good educators that I know) with alternate points of view. its stops us setting in in our ways.

I appreciate your point about the logic of this blog. But as I have written earlier, I am looking for conversation and the sharing of on the ground experience, not an exchange of detailed positions. I can get that from books. What I can't get from books is the interaction with real teachers working out their points of view in dialogue with other educators.

And "eduring edubable" would you mind choosing a on-line identity that might pass as a real person. This one is not believable and is just inflammatory. Its like you want to have your cake and eat it too. You want to sling mud at the opposition but you want to do it without the risk of being exposed yourself... to be blunt... its rather infantile.

Anyway... keep working out your own point of view. And when you feel able starting engaging the vibrant community of educators out here waiting for folks who can clearly articulate alternative points of view in the context of real teaching.

All the best

Russel Montgomery

Instructivist said...

[I look forward to reading your posts as you develop your instructivist theories.]

Instructivism is the simple and age-old idea that teachers should possess knowledge and skills that they pass on to students. What is radically new (relatively speaking) is that that shouldn't be the case. What we are witnessing is an inversion, whereby the normal becomes outlandish and the absurd becomes the norm.

montgorp said...

Mr Instructivist

Ok fair enough. You hold the high morale ground of ancient wisdom. Good for you.

But what I want to see is that age old wisdom practised and applied in a 21st Century classroom.

What does you adherence to this age old wisdom mean for you and a bunch of kids in a classroom today.

One last try. I do not doubt your integrity not that you have good personal reasons for holding the views and opinions that you do. But views and opinions are meaningless unless they are contextualised in a contemporary learning environment. What do you do when you walk into a classroom? How do the kids respond?

And I am not interested in an essay about that. I wanted to engage educator to educator among other educators in the context of real life.

Anyway, Mr Instructivist, my school year is starting and I will no longer have the luxury of this ivory tower discussion.

If you start posting about your real life experiences, I am sure that I will enjoy them.

Otherwise... good luck to you. I hope that you have a very satisfying career.

Russel Montgomery.