Thursday, October 08, 2009

Motivation, American hegemony, and other random thoughts

Well, well, well. I can hardly believe it but I am caught up - even though we spent a week longer than I had planned on assessment issues. I am hoping that the SCLA assignment will reflect that attention - I'm confident that everyone can do an excellent job [and fervently hope you do, as that makes grading so much easier and faster!].

I am reading research with my doctoral level class that has been niggling at my conscience for a few days now. I have rehersed this posting in my head, and it's time to actually record my thoughts. The research is on motivation, and one of the statements, loosely paraphrased, is a lament that we teachers focus on teaching strategies to students but don't pay sufficient attention to the will to use them. That is, we ignore the essential element in motivation: valuing the task assigned. I wonder if I have been guilty of focusing so much time on conveying a variety of strategies to my students that they will come away from class thinking that disciplinary literacy is just a bunch of strategies that have to be chosen carefully. Sort of like science students who leave a biology class thinking that biology [or any science] is just a bunch of facts that have to be memorized. Without the will to learn no strategy is going to produce students who are self-reliant, resilient, and life-long learners. Likewise, no collection of teaching strategies will produce self-reliant, resilient teachers who view themselves as students and their students as teachers. So, I need to carve out some time to explore these issues in class - to think deeply with my students about the valuing aspect of motivation and how to engender this in their own students.

On another note, morbid I'm afraid, I noticed the press getting focused on education again - and of course, laying the problem at the feet of teachers - because of the heart breaking death of an honors student in Chicago, which was caught on video as he was beaten to death. Americans in general don't value education [at least that's my impression] and any geek who has survived the painful experience we call high school can attest to this. Girls in particular learn early on not to appear too smart, but boys are also victims of this cultural aversion to the educated. We don't value education, but we want to be #1 in the world on all the international tests. That we are not first [actually, we are near the top in the fourth grade comparisons, but in the middle at the 8th grade and second from last at the high school level] rankles those with power - and they lay all that at the feet of teachers and expect them to solve the problem by themselves [by imposing lots of punitive measures]; but they don't consider that the countries that are tops in the international comparisons have a culture that values education and families - and are very socialistic.

For a long time, America has maintained scientific and technological superiority because of all the immigrants who were educated here and chose to stay in the States. Now, however, there are positions for them in their own countries, and the brain drain we are experiencing will only get worse. Just attend a university graduation - how many Americans, male or female, are majoring in science, math, or engineering? As the government wakes up to this coming crisis, they will probably focus on classrooms and teachers [blame first, then impose a remedy they come up with] but won't consider the sociocultural aspects that mediate this situation. And nothing they come up with will make the slightest difference, at least not in the way they think it should. NCLB was supposed to have every child in America on level in reading and math by third grade, but the unintended consequences of that ill-conceived program is that we have prepared a generation of children for the world of 1950. Unfortunately for them and us, that world is long gone, and the "basic skills" so important in all the assessments forced on children these days will do them little good. Barbara Tuchman, in what has been described as the best written non-fiction paragraph ever [The Guns of August] when describing the funeral of King Edward VII of England, said, ". . .but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again." I feel that way exactly - on history's clock, it is sunset for the American century.

OK, not sure where all that came from - but I can't bring myself to take any of it back.

1 comment:

Nickie Callahan said...

I was so glad to read your post and see you implement the importance of motivation in the classroom. Like I discussed in my final reflective post, I feel like this is a major issue and is what leads to student learning and understanding. It also enables students to active in their own learning, so they become "life-long learners" like you say. Additionally, I liked the point you made regarding teaching strategies so that teachers become self-reliant and resilient. I think too often teachers and educational foundations focus on strategies to help students and disregard how to help the teachers themselves. I, too, feel like more needs to be done to motivate teachers. However, I am like you and am absolutely sick and tired of hearing the negativity in our culture regarding education. As a motivated student myself, it is a struggle everyday to see young people who are not engaged in their own education because it is not perceived as "cool." Personally, I feel like the media should do more to highlight education since it has such an impact on adolescents today instead of so often tearing it down. I also feel like the government should do more to highlight education as well. Education is why our leaders are where they are today, so they should throw "shout outs" to their teachers so students see what it takes to become successful in life.