Monday, August 26, 2013

Retread of a retread.

Yet another article about how traditional classroom suck, and how we should be encouraging kids to learn through self-study.

This is just the same repackaging that's been going on for over a century. Dewey railed against the classroom structure at the end of the 19th Century--and he was hardly the first. "Gradgrindian" is often the word used for traditional classrooms, and that comes from Dickens in 1854.

I'm always amazed that these types of stories pop up every *#$%^* year and are treated like a great breakthrough in educational thinking, when they are actually retreads of over a century of commentary. This has been the standard theory of education, taught at ed schools, since the 1960's. Nearly everyone educated today is being educated on the theory 1) that kids learn best when they learn through self-discovery, 2) teachers shouldn't be in front of the classroom giving lectures (these things even have cute nick names: "sage on the stage" is this one), but should be allowing kids to find things out on their own ("guide on the side".)

Every generation rails against the educational system of the day, yet the reforms always seem to result in degenerating results; with fewer competent, educated adults who can read, write, and cypher adequately.

I remember an old episode of either "Leave It To Beaver" or "Andy Griffith" where the kid was in a class and they were discussing some odd event in American history that no one today has ever heard of. That isn't really a problem, we emphasize different historical events differently as time passes. What really stood out was the level of knowledge 3rd graders were expected to master and be able to discuss. There is no where near that level of learning today, as teachers have been taught for decades to teach kids "how to learn" instead of actually teaching them facts, skills, writing, grammar, spelling, etc. Those kids were learning things that would allow them to think critically later in life.

Basic modern neuroscience is showing that we need information to be able to think about something and analyze it properly. Here's an simple-stupid example: a baseball manager pulls his pitcher even though he's still doing really well. If you don't know that the pitcher's arm was still sore from straining it at practice, or that the manager was worried about damaging it further, you might scream from the stands at the manager's stupidity. You can not analyze the manager's decision without the facts.

The same goes for history, economics, science, politics, etc. Uninformed people can not think critically, yet schools are doing little to inform students.

There is little doubt that kids do actually learn better when they learn through self-motivated self-discovery, but how many second graders walk into the classroom really, really turned on by learning about past participles. Or eighth graders taking a gee-whiz-this-is-fun! attitude toward working to master factoring polynomials. And yet we need just about everyone to learn how to write at a basic competence level, and we need a substantial number of people to excel at factoring polynomials. I'm sure teachers live for the moment, the eureka moment, when a kid figures it all out and finally understands something they've been working on for weeks, and excitement gets kindled--they take ownership of their learning; but I wouldn't want to develop a curriculum based on those moments. The idea that all kids can, or are going to be self-motivated and propel themselves into becoming educated adults is silly, and the fact that it has been the dominating philosophy in ed schools is at least partly to blame for the lack of educational progress in recent decades.

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