Saturday, May 21, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance » Education as Commodity

Cognitive Dissonance » Education as Commodity

Education is a toaster that is being tuned to produce more and more toast of a uniform color, density, and texture. We take a variety of breads, feed them in, and require that we get exactly the same toast out. We take bagels and make toast. We take filet mignon and we make toast. We put every flavor, variety, and possibility into this toaster and we damn well expect to get toast — and nothing more — out.                                                            

Nathan Lowell

Amen to this, but make sure you read Jim Ellsworth’s cogent reply.  To their discussion I added my comments:

 It all comes down to not what’s worth teaching, but rather what’s worth learning. The whole metaphor of schools as delivery systems (makes them sound like either UPS or a saline driP) has failed. The two million words is classis post-hoc logic. I saw programs like this in middle schools where I taught eighth grade only it was called Accelerated Reader. Students would read books, take tests over the books (always multiple choice, T/F, matching) and then earn points. More points was always better. Kids who already loved to read (and there were never very many of these in my school) uniformly hated the things. It reduced a joyous act into a numbered one. The kids who didn’t love to read (for whatever reason and there are many) just said, “Screw this.” and opted out–failed. The vast middle of “strategic” students simply figured out how to game the system and did so. Those who succeeded were the extrinsically motivated “achievers” who learned that the purpose of reading is to pull out facts for a test. That’s really what most of what we do in school amounts to–showing students how to prepare themselves to be the perfect piece of toast.

And I believe that search for a set of standards is a chimera. I think that the process of helping students become ready for the future cannot come from the top down except in the most generic fashion. Look at the dinosaur we call schools and tell me with a straight face that they can move as quickly as the world around them. That’s why my kids were homeschooled. I never trusted any expert (admin, legislative, or otherwise) or any other expert to be on top when it came to defining what my kids should know. Which isn’t to say that I might not agree with 90% of what Ellsworth might come up with as a standard for geometry, for example. Nathan, your point, I think, is that it is a systemic problem: it is not possible under our current system to do what Jim Ellsworth suggest that we do. What we should be teaching students is how to come up with their own learning standards. School then becomes a very different game then. I am not even sure how to imagine such an institution except to say it would be centered on the student as a learner. This is the classic battle between the perennialists who believe there are ideal forms in the world and the constructivists who believe that what you see is what you get and that ideals change with circumstances. Nobody likes a fence straddler, but that’s what I am.



No comments: