Monday, September 14, 2015

Random thoughts

I have neglected this Blog since coming to UW. In part, because I no longer teach methods courses and a big purpose for this blog was to make my thinking public for my methods' students who I hoped would see how reflecting on one's own teaching looks.

I've been in education in one way or another since 1968, and in that time I've seen things come and go, have myself weathered the "newest programs" as they went rolling by, and have been changed by one: the idea that content determines process - that in order to truly learn a subject, you have to learn the content, but also how that content (that is the knowledge) was produced, and what counts as knowledge in the field. You have to learn about the history of the discipline in order to understand the nature of the discipline. I taught science for 20 years - and I can tell you, students need to learn the history of science in order to understand the nature of science every bit as much as they need to learn about arthropods, or photosynthesis, or friction. Maybe more.

It makes me wonder, as teachers feel ever more pressure to "produce higher test scores" on tests that assess knowledge and skills that would be most appropriate in the middle of the last century, but the aren't doing students much good in the 21st century, how we can continue on the current path. How will we keep the brightest and best in the classroom? How will we attract the next generation of teachers? I keep reading headlines that scream about the teacher shortage in so many states -- and it will only get worse. It makes me wonder whether we will ever be able to get politicians and businesses out of the decision making about public schools. Depressing. But here is the awful truth: today, America's children are simply an income stream for corporations that have taken over testing and publishing in this country.

Lions for Lambs

I watched a movie the other day – Lions for Lambs – a film by Robert Redford with three story lines that were connected, but in the beginning you couldn’t tell how. Essentially, the movie was about engagement. It was one of those movies that after it was over, you wanted to discuss it with someone – it left some many ideas swimming around in your head – the movie itself was engaging.
And I started thinking about what passes for education in so many of our classrooms today and the most common complaint I hear from teachers: apathetic students – students who are not engaged, who are physically present but mentally absent without leave. Students who complain about mindless “busy work” assignments that are unrelated to anything they know about [or so they think]. Students who are bored and restless. Teachers who are tired and frustrated. And who can blame either students or teachers? Teachers who feel they are at the mercy of the almighty End of Course tests, High School Assessment Program, and whatever state assessment is currently being used and the upcoming PARCC or Smarter Balance. Students served a steady diet of worksheets, “answer the questions as the end of the section,” or “look up the words and write a definition” – and the miracle is that anyone ever does any of that mind-scalding stuff.  Sometimes I wonder – if the tables were turned, and teachers had to complete the homework they assigned, would they?
How is it that we have so many interesting things going on in the world – and all those interesting things are at our fingertips via the Internet – and yet so little of it makes its way into a classroom?