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April 14, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Henry Giroux has written a compelling article about teachers and their importance to our country.
posted by HuronBob (59 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obviously this man does not understand that students get smarter the more you test them.
posted by GuyZero at 5:14 PM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


One nation undereducated.

Teachers have a responsibility to engage critical pedagogy as a an ethical referent and a call to action for educators, parents, students and others to reclaim public education as a democratic public sphere, a place where teaching is not reduced to learning how to master either tests or acquire low level jobs skills, but a safe space where reason, understanding, dialogue and critical engagement are available to all faculty and students. Education, if not teaching itself, in this reading, becomes the site of ongoing struggles to preserve and extend the conditions in which autonomy of judgment and freedom of action are informed by the democratic imperatives of equality, liberty and justice, while ratifying and legitimating the role of teachers as critical and public intellectuals

Excellent article.

To all the teachers: thank you, and I am so sorry we treat you like shit, pay you shit, and make you do all sorts of counterproductive shit. You know how valuable you are. One day the rest of us will wake up and realize that there's only one actual solution to the mess we've gotten ourselves in.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:14 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


For a guy who strives to present himself as critical of the way information is presented in many contexts, he's certainly developed a knack for self-promotion.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:16 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


People hate teachers because they're easy scapegoats for larger societal failings.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:17 PM on April 14, 2010


People hate teachers?
posted by DU at 5:19 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's too bad teachers have to work in schools run by politicians.
posted by yoyoceramic at 5:19 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, they certainly hate the unionized ones. Google "teachers" and "overpaid."
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:23 PM on April 14, 2010


Teaching is important, but learning is better. A good teacher can only do so much with a student who won't learn.
posted by scrowdid at 5:29 PM on April 14, 2010


It doesn't help that (good) teaching is complicated and hard, yet it seems (to the outsider) that it's easy. It also doesn't help that public schools are so often tied to property taxes, which is something that a great many people have a great deal of anxiety over. It's easier to resent the teachers than the politicians (who are often trying to balance (at least in the US) the desires of the constituents versus their willingness to pay for those desires).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:32 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Idiotic) people hate unions. But I don't think they hate teachers.
posted by DU at 5:33 PM on April 14, 2010


I don't think they hate teachers.

You never had Mr. Capps did you?
posted by anti social order at 5:36 PM on April 14, 2010


People ask me how I can handle teaching 12 yr olds all day. I tell them the kids are great - it's the adults that suck.
posted by Fuka at 5:38 PM on April 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sadly, a knack for self-promotion seems to be an indicator of success in many fields. Viz all those impostors who promoted themselves into positions as doctors etc. It's certainly the defining characteristic of many of the middle managers in our organization. Not only do they lack any other recognizable talents, but they lack a lot of what passes for human to human skills as well.

My experience with teachers as a group is that they try to deliver something, and I think many of the self-promoters get weeded out sooner or later.
posted by sneebler at 5:41 PM on April 14, 2010


A good teacher can only do so much with a student who won't learn hasn't been given the time or support to discover which of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (or any other number of approaches that can be taken with students who "won't learn") will help him or her want to learn, at which point he or she will learn.

Because every minute of every class, and most of the teacher's and students' energy, is devoted to prep for standardized, high-stakes testing, there's no time for teachers to support or help a student who "won't" learn by gently shepherding that student through various methods of acquiring and processing information until, together, the student and teacher find the key to change "won't" to "want."

That's why we need to change our awful, broken public education system, and that's why teachers are so important.
posted by tzikeh at 5:45 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Teachers are no longer asked to think critically and be creative in the classroom. On the contrary, they are now forced to simply implement predetermined instructional procedures and standardized content, at best; and, at worst, put their imaginative powers on hold while using precious classroom time to teach students how to master the skill of test taking.

This!

I recently did my student teaching and it completely turned me off to teaching. I made this worksheet and was given a dressing down for not using one out of an approved manual and told to never, ever make my own worksheets. I was working with 5th graders but my fellow student-teachers experience was the same, most of us were bitched at for not using "state-approved, test-oriented" materials, even though we were teaching topics pre-assigned to us. The state of Kansas takes their tests way to seriously.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 6:06 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


For a guy who strives to present himself as critical of the way information is presented in many contexts, he's certainly developed a knack for self-promotion.

For a site where thoughtful discussion is encouraged, MetaFilter certainly has developed a knack for knee-jerk anti-intellectualism. Every single time we talk about the ideas of some prominent academic who's participating in some public debate, somebody trots out this canard about how they're just in it to sell more books or see their name in print or whatever, as if university-press publication served exactly the same social function as reality TV. Sure, this title is sometimes abused, but Henry Giroux is a legitimate public intellectual, and he deserves his prominence because his publications are important to people who think critically about the politics of education and the public sphere. If you don't like his writing or his arguments or his politics, address them directly; otherwise STFU with this kind of claim about his supposed fame-seeking.
posted by RogerB at 6:14 PM on April 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Ugh. This article and I are at odds. I feel like I am standing with the author, surveying the same shadowy terrain, and inferring from the shapes of the shadows a completely different picture than he is. I see the same outlines but I am drawing different conclusions.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, so bear with me.

I teach sixth grade in Chicago, what some call "the inner city." I have taught in an unimaginably bad school, and now, in a pretty good one.

First, are teachers undervalued? Yes. Is their work complex and nuanced in its intellectual and emotional demands? Yes. Should teachers be mere clerks or robots? No. Do we strive to inculcate joy and awe in our students? I hope so.

But this article falls prey to a number of progressive tropes that I am having a hard time understanding because I haven't heard them reasoned out in a dispassionate or logical way.

First, the idea that testing or measuring student learning is automatically a bad thing. This aversion to data-collection comes up a lot in progressive education circles - maybe humanities people fear that quantifying anything is inherently dehumanizing. The author worries that knowledge that "can't be measured" will become irrelevant. From where I am standing, there is little knowledge that can't be measured if you find a nuanced way to measure it. No Child Left Behind has introduced a series of standardized tests that are often poor measures, but they have at least illuminated the sorry state of affairs in many schools that serve our poorest students, especially children of color.

I think in as much as we as a society seek to ensure a quality education for everyone, we need at least some standardized testing so that schools are publicly accountable. That testing needs to be light years better than what is currently taking place and we need a different approach to remedying the situation of failing schools than our current one, which is just to ignore them for awhile and then fire everyone.

My students take quizzes frequently on the books they read, and then I look in the computer database at the results of this quizzes. I have just collected and measured data. Is that so bad? I find it immensely helpful and not in the least dehumanizing. It's not as thought by asking students a series of factual questions I have eliminated room for a more poetic appreciation for the text - the two can go hand in hand.

The second failing of this article is the way it seems to harken back to a time, who knows when, when civic education, creativity, etc., were valued in public schooling. It is true that those things are particularly under attack now, in some places, but for my students and students like them, the ideals of progressive education have never been successfully implemented in a way that led to actual learning. The school where I currently work, which is in many ways very focused on testing and data and results, is also a place that takes very seriously the idea that we are instilling values in our students.

Third, there is the assertion that teacher unions are sacrosanct, that somehow they are necessary for teachers to maintain the level of respect and compensation they deserve, has never been proven in my eyes. If the alternative is that teachers will be overworked, underpaid, and fired capriciously, then that's bad. But the current situation is that teachers are underpaid, overworked, and often kept on the job when they don't deserve to be.

I think merit pay is pretty ridiculous - would we suggest merit pay for congressional representatives? Firefighters? But that doesn't mean any reform to the system of teacher tenure is a bad thing.

Okay I could go on but that's probably enough for now.
posted by mai at 6:19 PM on April 14, 2010 [17 favorites]


Apologies for the many typos.
posted by mai at 6:22 PM on April 14, 2010


Mai...nicely said...

There are a number of viewpoints that need to be expressed regarding this issue... thanks for sharing that.... this is the type of comment that makes me return again and again to MetaFilter.

It's a complex issue, but it seems clear we're moving in the wrong direction.

As the director of an alternative education program that serves a number of public school districts, I've been meeting this past week with Superintendents regarding the use of our program for next year. They are all dealing with huge budget issues and the mandates of NCLB... the kids we serve for them are those most likely to fall through the cracks... and are the most expensive to serve...

But...they all care, and they all are baffled by the political/legislative mess that is being created..

The point of posting this FPP was to encourage a public awareness of the issues, and a dialog to find the RIGHT solution...
posted by HuronBob at 6:27 PM on April 14, 2010


When I was in 5th grade I would occasionally see my teacher when I went with my parents to the grocery store on the weekend. That's because he would be bagging groceries. I was young and thoughtless at the time, but one day my father pointed out that it wasn't really fair that a good teacher (which he was, and it was a pretty good school district in general) should be working a second job, and I thought "Yeah."
I still think "Yeah."
posted by uosuaq at 6:35 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


My wife made it through the teaching prep classes, student teaching, and is in her second year of teaching high school math at a public school. Through the teacher classes, and now in her first years of being a teacher, there are a lot of mandatory forms and bulls**t, but she keeps going back for the kids.

I made this worksheet and was given a dressing down for not using one out of an approved manual and told to never, ever make my own worksheets.

From Mrs. filthy light thief: this varies by district, school programs, and master teachers. She has some co-workers who rely on the work of other teachers, lean heavily on programs to create tests and things of that sort.

Being a new teacher (or worse, a student teacher) and trying to get things changed can be really hard. Having supportive administration or other teachers to get your back helps this, and my wife has been lucky in that respect this year. Her school hired a former math teacher into an administrative role to focus on improving the school's math scores, and she supports positive changes.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:41 PM on April 14, 2010


made this worksheet and was given a dressing down for not using one out of an approved manual and told to never, ever make my own worksheets. I was working with 5th graders but my fellow student-teachers experience was the same, most of us were bitched at for not using "state-approved, test-oriented" materials

I think this gets more at the heart of why our educational system is unproductive than the "throw more money at teachers" solution. That's not to say teachers aren't underpaid so much as the ones I know didn't get into it with any illusions about the lifestyle it would afford, so it's not like they're withholding their best efforts in lieu of a pay raise... they're already doing what they can with what their given. Unfortunately, too often what they're given is safe, non-challenging material that seems designed more for preventing failures than ensuring successes.
posted by squeakyfromme at 7:07 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you don't like his writing or his arguments or his politics, address them directly; otherwise STFU with this kind of claim about his supposed fame-seeking.

I'm not interested in tearing him down for selling books or anything. I find it amusing that his Wikipedia entry is so overtly promotional when his specialty is poking holes in what he and others argue is similarly spun text.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:14 PM on April 14, 2010


I remember spending a lot of time making my own vocabulary tests based on word lists that we built together as a class (with some specific seeds by yours truly) using the Greek and Roman roots as jumping-off points. I did get a fair amount of praise for that.

In the end, though, I got a lot of flak for not hewing closely enough to the standards. Like, I didn't write Today's Standard on the board and have them recite it like the Pledge at the beginning and end of class.

There is a reason I miss teaching the kids, but not being a teacher...
posted by Scattercat at 7:16 PM on April 14, 2010


A good teacher can only do so much with a student who won't learnhasn't been given the time or support to discover which of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (or any other number of approaches that can be taken with students who "won't learn") will help him or her want to learn, at which point he or she will learn. is stuck for >6 hours a day in a school system required to double as daycare for parents who have to work all the time to make a small number of other people rich so they can afford the property taxes to fund the school that will educate their kids to grow up and do the same thing to their grandkids but for less reward.

I happen to love teaching, but even the best school is still just a really groovy prison, and I go in with that understanding. Public schools as we've conceived them traditionally involve little or no autonomy for students, and it's something of a miracle that any learning ever happens in them at all.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:29 PM on April 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


One current example of the unprecedented attack being waged against teachers, meaningful knowledge and critical pedagogy can be found in Senate Bill 6, which is being pushed by Florida legislators. Under this bill, the quality of teaching and the worth of a teacher are solely determined by student test scores on standardized tests.

The problem is, the skills you really want students to learn - synthesis, analysis, critical thinking - don't show up on fact-recalling standardized tests, even though these are the metrics that will be used to judge our merit.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:34 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ah, I came across Giroux many years ago through his work in film studies. I have to say, much like that work, this article is built on an unquestioned, large, base of assertions and assumptions. They may be true - they may not be - but if the assertions fall down his subsequent arguments all do as well, and he simply doesn't see the need to reference his arguments with facts or figures.

Teaching is tough. Education is perceived to be an important issue in most countries. Magic bullets are hard to come by - especially as our goals for and attitudes towards education change faster than curricula and policies can keep pace with. Nonetheless, not a fan.
posted by smoke at 7:36 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


toodleydoodley: The problem is, the skills you really want students to learn - synthesis, analysis, critical thinking - don't show up on fact-recalling standardized tests, even though these are the metrics that will be used to judge our merit.

Bingo. The fact based tests that currently exist tend to lead teachers to focus on rote memorization and test taking skills.

One would almost think that the people behind NCLB actually want public schools to fail.
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]




I thought this part was quite interesting:
America will become a society in which a highly trained, largely white elite will continue to command the techno-information revolution, while a vast, low-skilled majority of poor and minority workers will be relegated to filling the McJobs proliferating in the service sector.
What's strange is that knowledge workers and the corporations that employ them make use of all the skills that critical pedagogy wants to teach: creativity, innovation, thinking critically, thinking outside of the box, overturning received dogmas, flexibility, non-conformity etc. So critical pedagogy hasn't noticed that it's in the odd position of saying that the practices of the largest global corporations are anti-capitalist. If that kind of thinking is so revolutionary, why have the capitalists embraced it so completely? Isn't critical pedagogy's revolutionary project indistinguishable from capitalism's creative destruction?

A white-collar employee of an investment bank invents new and more creative and subversive ways of undermining the conformity and control of government regulation. Somehow, critical pedagogy has concluded that the problem here is that minorities do not also get to enjoy the same exploitative freedoms.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:07 PM on April 14, 2010


Dear Lord, will you apple-polishers ever stop nosying your way up brownsville? I HATE teachers, and I'm pretty sure the majority of Americans agree with me. Try this "standardized test," you poindexters (note that all questions are worth 10 marks and you have 15 minutes reading time):

(a) Who gave us detention for pulling a false fire alarm? TEACHERS.
(b) Who puinished us for a minor altercation with a fellow student, resulting in our taping his asscheeks together? TEACHERS.
(c) Who bored us into a comatose state in chemistry class, practically forcing us to skip class in order to go to the mall? TEACHERS - that's who.
(d) Who gave us an F for a goddamn shop class project? How is SHOP even a real CLASS anyway? TEACHERS. (Although the answer to the second part of that question is "IT ISN'T" and is worth one bonus mark).

Now that you people have got your high-school diplomas, you are conveniently forgetting that we were once a student body UNITED by our hatred of teachers.

But I remember when we all met in Saturday detention - the nerd, the rebel, the jock, the princess and that mentally retarded girl. And you said: "Don't you forget about me, no no no no, don't you forget about me". We formed a bond that day, a bond that I thought no teacher could ever break. Shame on you.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:09 PM on April 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I think this gets more at the heart of why our educational system is unproductive than the "throw more money at teachers" solution.

Clearly. Because we've tried that and failed.

What teachers make

That was beautiful, PBZM.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:12 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, so a couple of years ago this former student says to me, as we're putting on our cleats to run a soccer practice (he'd agreed to help me coach, because he loved the game and had spent a year or so in England - Lampard!): You know Mr. kneecapped, he says. I should have worked so much harder when I was in school. I'm really sorry.

Yeah, I say, I'd have been embarrassed by that 63% too.

He laughs, rubs his new-stubbled chin and says, Right. Yeah. Thanks indeed, eh. Pauses. Ties. Looks up again. But seriously. I don't know why we didn't work harder. I'd like to do it all again, and do the stuff you told us to do when you told us to do it. Because I think I could done better. I think I might not have wasted that year right out of school at that job at the local radio station. I might have ...

Hey, I say, laughing and standing up in my cleats. It's okay. We're here now all right. You're doing okay. High school is a shitty time. You were young. You had your health. What did you want with a job.

Great show, he says.

Yeah, it is. I say, standing up. You made it through, you know, I say. You had a few laughs, and now things look pretty good, eh?! So next time you think you want to talk about this shit, spare me. Okay? Please?!

Yeah. Well still. I'm sorry.

Sure, whatever, I say. Let's go make these boys run and kick some balls.
posted by kneecapped at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no general agreement about what we are trying to do with education. What is our point? What are we hoping for? How will we know when we've done it? We not only don't agree, we hold diametrically opposite opinions. We have dozens of kinds of shareholders in the act of education, and they don't agree.

In such a vacuum, people fall back on immediate needs. These kids have to learn their times tables. These kids have to pass that test. I have the get the kids to read Huckleberry Finn. But why? Forget it, just do it and know, as a consolation that it's all good and edifying in some way. Which it isn't, not automatically.

It's a bizarre job. The good days are stupendous, the bad days are terrible. In the right schools and settings it can be a deeply creative job. But the final product, taken in aggregate, is unsatisfying. School can be bureaucratic, heavy and stupid. It also doesn't know that it's about and won't even entertain the question in any meaningful way.
posted by argybarg at 8:25 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem is, the skills you really want students to learn - synthesis, analysis, critical thinking - don't show up on fact-recalling standardized tests, even though these are the metrics that will be used to judge our merit.

Funny story. When I was in grad school, I took an elective physiology course called Quantitative Mammalian Biology taught by the inimitable Professor Jack Johnson. As a maths geek, it was a perfect way to study physiology, because it looked at everything from a mathematical modeling viewpoint. Neurotransmission is perfectly modeled by a Poisson distribution. (No shit.) And the limits on proportions for mammalian bodies are completely determined by physics, and you can compute them. Fluid dynamics explain the behavior of circulation and respiration. It was all very cool. I aced the course and learned a lot.

I liked it so much I decided to take more. In the second quarter continuation of the same class, cross listed as Physiology for Premedicine, were a lot of premed students. At the end of every class after a test was handed out, you could see them all at the front lobbying the professor for an extra point or two to help them get into Med School. I thought I was doing pretty well, with a 96%, even though I knew the course was graded on a curve, and the only time I've ever gone to a professor about a test score was to point out an error that was missed by the grader. But the tests were not as much fun, because rather than asking me to explain the afferent and efferent nervous system and how it worked, they just asked for me to name the parts. All quarter long. With the premed students up front begging for another point or two. I found out at the end that my 96% gained from my imperfect and indifferent recall garnered me a C(!), the only grade less than an A I ever received in grad school. I didn't know that the game was memorization of precise nomenclature. So, these are your physicians.
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:25 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great discussion. I'm not a teacher nor do I have an education in education, but I work as a grant writer for a progressive public charter elementary school. The school is a Reggio Emelia elementary school. Now, I don't know the ins and outs of the fundamental pedagogy, or whatever, of this approach, but I do know that the school is pretty darn neat-o. It's located at and affiliated with a children's museum, a museum which also has an entire wing devoted to documenting and discussing how children learn through creative, child-driven learning programs. It's a public school, K-5, admittance through lottery. The kids run the gamut of the socioeconomic spectrum (but you'd never know it). As I understand it, the idea behind how the teachers approach children's learning is that by developing a curriculum that takes the immense creativity of the student as a given and not this other thing that needs a teacher and a period devoted to it as if it were an isolated event children learn how to learn and why it's awesome. Teachers try and use creativity to guide students to discover the ideas behind all those objectives you must meet for the state. This way students learn to think critically and synthesize and analyze and solve problems; ultimately, these are the sorts of deep intelligences that we're gonna need our kids to have if we want civilization to have any sort of future at all.

As a midwestern native who attended the most traditional of rural elementary schools, I am in awe of this school. There are no desks, the kids eat hummus for a snack, and there's lots of talking about feelings and caring and expressing. Yeah, it sounds like a total hippy school - and don't get me wrong, it totally is - but it works incredibly well. It's subject to all the same testing and benchmark requirements as any public school in the state in terms of skills and such.

But how do we evaluate something esoteric like creativity or imagination? Well, we can't. At least not in the quantitative way we want. It's a round hole and square peg situation. Instead of trying to subject every aspect of education to a certain idea of evaluation and accountability, perhaps it would be better to rethink our methods of evaluation and notions of results. This is something the institution I work for is experimenting with. We don't have it right or anything, and like I said this is my layman opinion, but it does seem at least like the right idea. What they do is they train all the teachers to do extensive, intentional documentation of their classrooms. The teachers keep extensive journals, take vast amounts of photos, do audio recordings - and the kids of course love it - and through all of this subjective, non-scientific data they try to build evaluation models that aren't all spreadsheet.

Now, I'm not familiar enough with the students to know how well they score on tests, but I'll be damned if I've ever run into a group of such sweet, thoughtful, creative kids who really loved to learn.

Of course quantitative, scientific, standard curriculum-based testing is also necessary. Math still needs to be taught, spelling and grammar still need to be learned. How do you try and merge this need for kids to be creative and their need to learn mentally technical skills? I haven't got a damned clue, but I think working on that problem is a step in the right direction.
posted by The Pantless Wonder at 8:54 PM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


The teachers in this thread have had a lot of good things to say. As someone going to school in an attempt to fix what's wrong with teaching, I can tell you that it's a really difficult needle to thread, and comes with a lot of seeming catch-22s. In order for teaching to be taken as a more professional career, you've got to pay teachers more, but you've also got to hold them more accountable for what goes on in their classrooms, while alleviating some of their more clerical duties, while giving them more power over the administrative and curriculum process. This also comes with a lot of bad blood, both sides accusing the other of not caring about kids - and worse!

The best thing we can do is go back to empirical research about how kids learn the best - and do a lot, a lot more of it. Unfortunately, this article leans on some of the tired tropes that the Education System is just an attempt by whites to silence and pacify minority kids, when in reality many of the strongest proponents of accountability-based testing and school transformation are doing it because it pains them almost physically that poor and minority kids in this country are often left with the worst schools and the worst teachers. How to fix that is a difficult and complex question. But it's also an interesting and important one, perhaps the most lively in public policy today.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:12 PM on April 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


One would almost think that the people behind NCLB actually want public schools to fail.

Making tests is really, really freaking hard. And though I didn't believe it beforehand, having met academics in the commercial test-making industry, they care about how they can do it better and they work at it every single day.

Here's the thing though: without a test, of some kind, we will have absolutely no idea which schools are doing well and which aren't, which teachers are doing well and which aren't. And under that system, unfortunately, the worst teachers end up teaching the kids hurting the most, which leaves those kids not only without their creativity cultivated, but without the prospects of ever getting the kind of job that will lift them out of poverty and end that cycle for their own kids.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:16 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


without a test, of some kind, we will have absolutely no idea which schools are doing well and which aren't, which teachers are doing well and which aren't.

The operative phrase here is "of some kind." That "kind" is always a standardized test, never a portfolio or performance-based assessment or anything else that resembles real life more than a bubble sheet does. Standardized tests are convenient for the givers. I think authentic assessment is much, much harder.

(I should note that I'm a close-to-burnt-out-after-seven-years English teacher.)
posted by HeroZero at 9:57 PM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


mai:

First, schools shouldn't be in the position of teaching knowledge. They should be primarily teaching kids how to think, and lots of skills that they'll need, and a love for learning.

Second, the obsession with testing is destroying American schools. There is no time to be teaching anything that's not on the tests, and what's on the tests is useless knowledge that is memorized by rote and regurgitated.

Some sort of testing is obviously needed; but you can't overestimate the negative effect that the No Child Left Behind program has had on elementary education.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:11 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


HeroZero: That "kind" is always a standardized test, never a portfolio or performance-based assessment or anything else that resembles real life more than a bubble sheet does

Don't underestimate how recent the notion of a feasible performance based test is. While computers have enabled this kind of testing, legal reforms and institutional adoption will always creep behind to a certain extent. Even then, assessing performance-based tests is another challenge. I totally agree that we should work on getting better kinds of tests. Still, it really does come down for me to the fact that too many kids can't read or do basic math and we've got to get the basics down before we start talking about a bigger conception of what education could be. Those basics are covered by our standard tests rather well and allow us to compare our performance to that of the rest of the world.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:15 PM on April 14, 2010


"our" country?
posted by salmacis at 2:03 AM on April 15, 2010


Yeah, lately there's been this whole "We need to fire the bad teachers!" thing going on. No doubt, there are plenty of problem teachers. But this seems to be mostly the result of free market ideologues propagandizing against unions and wanting to replace SOCIALIST public school system with charter schools and stuff. After all, if rich people are going to have to pay for stuff with their tax dollars, they should at least be able to "bid" on contracts to skim off the top.
posted by delmoi at 2:28 AM on April 15, 2010


I don't know. As a kid, I felt mostly oppressed by my public school teachers, most of whom were not only ignorant and barely literate (I was running circles around them by the 5th grade) but damn mean as well. Then as an adult I became a standard issue liberal on this issue -- teachers are underpaid, their union needs to be strong, etc. Then I had a kid. And once again I started to shift -- I've seen way too many of the same ignorant and mean people who made me miserable when I was her age. (Don't get me wrong - there were always good ones in the mix, just not enough of them.)

I suppose if we paid them more we'd get better people, or more motivated and less burned out people -- and crucially, more creative and less authoritarian people. Right now, I think teaching is like law enforcement -- it attracts the wrong kind of people for all the worst reasons and then works hard to make them as alienated and pissed off as possible in their dealings with the public they supposedly serve.

I am a teacher now, albeit at the college level. I know how hard it is with young adults, so I can only imagine the difficulties of teaching young kids. Maybe teaching 9 year olds in an inner city school doesn't provide the sheer joy I find in teaching 18-25 year olds at an elite university, and maybe that inner city teacher should be making twice what I make as a result. But living in New York City has soured me on the UFT and the supposed dedication and skill of the average K-12 teacher, and withered some of my liberal values on this subject. There are way too many teachers phoning it in, and way too many more who are just ignorant jerks who stopped liking the kids they teach a long time ago, if they ever did.

We're doing it wrong. NCLB was a disaster for kids and schools and teachers alike. The culture is inimical to learning. Technology distracts everyone from the basics. Budgets are ridiculously low. Parents are either so over-stressed or so self-centered or both that teachers have a much increased social dimension to their job. The arts, crucial to self development for kids, have been drummed out of the public schools in favor of standardized test prep. And pay and respect for teachers are both abominable.

But -- and here's where I have some conservative sympathies that are analogous to the most radical ones I hold -- I have to believe we could be getting better people into the profession and letting them innovate without so much bureaucracy on all levels. We should be paying those who teach our young children a high professional salary, and then treating them like professionals -- free to set the terms of their own work, but subject to accountability for real results. And we should stop telling them what they have to teach beyond broad guidelines. But they should stop hiding behind Randy Weingarten's skirts too.

We're a long way from that. Teachers are infantilized by the system, and the result is that they start to behave like children themselves.

When I was in grade school, I was constantly berated by my teachers for being messy, having bad handwriting, wanting to read my own books rather than the infantile junk they were making us read, all of it. I was told over and over again that I was going to fail in life if I didn't write more neatly. That I'd never go to college if I did not stop questioning what I was being taught (a lot of it was wrong enough that even as an 11 year old I saw through it). That I was undisciplined and my parents needed to do something about that. Most of all that I had to stop singing all the time (singing was the center of my imaginative life, still is) and shut the fuck up and be an obedient little mushroom who didn't make their lives harder by existing and being different and noisy and weird.

Now my kid hears the same things, constantly (including about the singing, just like dad, which fills me with pride).

Somehow, I ended up getting a PhD and becoming a tenured professor of music at an Ivy League university. Go fucking figure, Mrs. "Be Neater!" Shanahan and Mrs. "Stop Singing!" Ferguson. I never really listened to you folks anyway, which was what really pissed you off a lot more than the singing or the handwriting. I could tell you were unaware of the world I wanted to join even then. I could tell you became teachers because you weren't capable of doing much else. I never respected you, and you knew it. The few teachers I did respect (mostly my music teachers) were teaching because they loved kids and the subject they taught. But most did not.

Now I can sing when I want, including when I teach (and I do). In effect, I get paid for it. I always tell my kid that they tried to stop me from singing whenever I felt like it too, and berated me for being messy and disorganized, and that was the best thing that ever happened to me. Independent minds are, in the end, formed in opposition to banality and restriction up to a point. So maybe bad teachers aren't as much of a problem for smart kids with strong self-esteem and family support. But I shudder to think how the same pressures to conform and be silent might have affected me had I been less sure of myself or less well supported by my parents (who backed me up almost every time I got in trouble for things that should have been encouraged, like reading what I wanted or singing when I felt like it.)

I guess this became a confession as much as a comment. I have many friends who are or were public school teachers, and I work with some wonderful ones in the context of my Native American community projects now. I don't mean this as a blanket indictment, but it's no more correct to treat all teachers as saints who are merely constrained by a bad system. There are a lot of bad teachers too. The system conspires to attract them, coddle them, and empower them.

At the expense of kids.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:31 AM on April 15, 2010 [9 favorites]


In my opinion, not enough people have read Giroux let alone have heard of him. Early in my Master's I stumbled upon Giroux and I am indebted to his research. Because of Giroux--and others--my research has been toward establishing school/programmatic curricula that are based on student-led, student-driven inquiry, as differentiated from teaching/learning to test.

Far from a "knack for self promotion," Giroux's theories are not promoted as widely as they should be.
posted by beelzbubba at 4:37 AM on April 15, 2010


Fourcheesemac uses the word "infantilization", which perfectly describes one of the big problems in this field. For examples of teaching infantilized, you need only look at, say, the College of William and Mary's pullquote description of elementary education:
Laughter - and the smell of finger paint and play dough
or the University of Pittsburg Bradford:
Were you the kid who always wanted to play school? You’d pretend to be the teacher while your friends were your students? You’re not alone. You’re one of the reasons why we offer an elementary education major.
or Northern Kentucky University:
"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

If you were sitting in class, listening as your teachers asked that question, and you thought one thing - "I'd like to be a teacher one day" - then we have the programs for you.
We would laugh - or be appalled - if a school of law or medicine marketed to their students by teling them that playing doctor as a kid was a qualification to become one. It's a small issue, but it's reflective of the bigger phenomenon: even (most) education schools treat teaching like it's work for people who want to keep their childhood going forever.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:58 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"our" country?

Apologies for the mis-placed pronoun: the article's context, and the discussion upthread about NCLB, all served to put this in a US context in my mind. While the issue's brought up, however, is there any other country that has as many reservations about standardized testing as the US does?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2010


accidentally omitted the Northern Kentucky link.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2010


I dunno, you hear whinges all the time from both politicians and teachers about it in the UK.
posted by salmacis at 7:04 AM on April 15, 2010


fourcheesemac:

There may be arrangements in which a "different and noisy and weird" kid can blossom. Perhaps give those kids some independence and alone time and a chance to be solo ecosystems. When you find that utopia, please give me directions. In the meantime...

I teach music in an elementary school. I'm going to risk you hating me here. I teach kids who clearly have a musical gift, or a gift of some kind, but their being "different and noisy and weird" means they shout over me, they clap and stomp their own beats while I'm trying to teach a song, they bang on the xylophones with random implements while I'm trying to listen to a piece of music another kid invented.

So you go ahead and talk to those kids and tell them I'm oppressive if you like. But my affinities are with everyone in the room, and in the opportunity that the many other students deserve: To concentrate and listen deeply to the music inside their heads. That does mean spending some time each day glued to a beat or working to find a pitch, or even sitting in silence and listening for a melody inside your head.

I don't think it's heartless or sadistic to ask a kid who spends the day singing to ask him to stop at some times — provided you sit him down, as I do, and explain that other people have music or words or ideas in their mind, and it can be hard for them to hear them if someone is singing, and provided that you work for the kid's consent in making this a goal.

Thinking of the experience of other people is a basic courtesy. If other kids are worn out and frazzled and unable to concentrate because they have to sit next to the always-singing kid, is that really a good thing?

For the record, I bounce my leg constantly, I hum and tap rhythms on my teeth, I have a messy desk. I teach my own ideas and invent what I do. But I don't wish other people would just get stuffed and let me do all this without sanction — I do have obligations to other people. I also have a son who hums and makes sound effects, which we sometimes ask him to turn off, like at the dinner table or in the classroom.

And I don't assume you don't agree with this in some sense. I just think that you're looking at teachers' motives in the worst way.
posted by argybarg at 7:54 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The worst teacher I experienced in elementary school by far was Ms. Jackson in 3rd grade. I clearly remember more than once being bored to tears in her class while working on busy work only to look up and see her sound asleep at her desk. I remember thinking at the time that she was a horrible, lazy, stupid teacher who was not terribly interested in her students or if they actually learned anything, and that impression was only confirmed as I moved along and experienced better teachers later. I remember her frequently using her paddle (not on me - I was always a good kid) but I don't remember her ever having a positive or inspirational word for any of us. She is forever in my mind as someone who had no business teacing.

Recently I found a facebook page for that school. Someone had posted on there that her all-time favorite teacher, Ms. Jackson, was the biggest reason she became a teacher herself and that she loved her so much she invited her to her wedding.

So was she really a bad teacher? Or was she just the wrong teacher for me? Kids are so different and learn in so many different ways. I always did well on standardized tests regardless of my teacher, so I don't know how much of a difference teacher quality really makes on test results, but if students in the classroom can have such wildly different impressions of a single teacher, I don't know how else an administrator outside of the classroom could tell the good ones from the bad ones without testing.
posted by Dojie at 8:20 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


"even (most) education schools treat teaching like it's work for people who want to keep their childhood going forever." Example/citation?

I have a close working relationship with the school of education at Eastern Michigan University, they send us students as interns, they consult on programmatic issues/curriculum development. They are intelligent, hard working and dedicated to creating well trained teachers.

Your statement baffles me...
posted by HuronBob at 9:00 AM on April 15, 2010


We are luckier than most states, HB, to have so many fine departments of education in Michigan state schools. I've had several great exchanges with MSU education students, and working currently with some U-M folks to extend Bob Moses's Algebra Project into afterschool settings with The Young Peoples' Project's math literacy work.

I don't know what 133tpolicywonk was getting at, except perhaps making a leap from colleges' marketing literature to the actual hard work of learning to be a teacher. But I can agree with 133t's POV that this is how becoming-a-teacher is sold to matriculating college students.
posted by beelzbubba at 9:56 AM on April 15, 2010


I went to private schools for most of my K-12 years, with the exception of 3 years in junior high school (7-9). In first grade, I was sent as one of three boys to integrate a formerly all-girl Episcopal day school (that's a story in itself). I went to a military boarding school 9-12 (some other stories there). By and large, I had excellent, motivated teachers, though some seemed mean to me and I sometimes butted heads with them over the content. My experience in junior high was nearly as good, although I had a 7th-grade home room teacher (they taught social studies and did some general stuff) who was dumb as a post and the highlight of the year for him was the one time he was able to correct me in class. In 8th grade, I had a science teacher who put three large jars of transparent liquids in front of the class asked what the first contained. "Water." "Water." "Water."came the shouts from all corners of the room. How about the second? "Water." "Water." "Water." Young Mental rolls his eyes. And in the third...? "Gin," the Wimp shouts out, to deafening silence. Glare from the head of the room. Trip to the principal, who could barely contain his laughter when I told him why I was sent. I was told not to do that again, but without any reason why I shouldn't. I did not mend my evil ways.

These were the only two bad teachers I had. The rest were sincerely trying to help me learn and seemed delighted that I wanted to. Even the ones that were assholes responded to a desire to learn. I think it's just so damn hard to teach day in and out when most of the kids don't have their heart into it, because they have other interests or they need a different teaching style, or because they don't think it's cool, or because their parents taught them not to care. Day in and out. It's a damn hard job and we, as a society, constantly make it more difficult. I admire people willing to go into the profession and I forgive their sins as long as they are backed by a true commitment to teaching.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:32 AM on April 15, 2010


Oh man, another education thread.

The only thing these types of articles and comments have taught me is that lots and lots of us have passionate feelings about education (ours, our children's, everyone's), and none of us can agree on the best way to go about fixing it.
posted by emjaybee at 11:57 AM on April 15, 2010


For instance, the idea that teachers should like their students.

I have students I dislike, and doubt a change in my estimation of them would make me a better teacher. I used to feel very differently.
posted by Paddle to Sea at 1:38 PM on April 15, 2010


beelzbubba: I don't know what 133tpolicywonk was getting at, except perhaps making a leap from colleges' marketing literature to the actual hard work of learning to be a teacher. But I can agree with 133t's POV that this is how becoming-a-teacher is sold to matriculating college students.

My argument is that the marketing literature is the first of several signs of the attitude most teacher prep institutions have towards the nature and practice of teaching, particularly regarding mathematics and phonics. Both the University of Michigan and Michigan State under Deborah Ball and others are obvious exceptions - the latter may be the best public teacher prep program in the country.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:42 PM on April 15, 2010


The one consistent factor among countries with the highest-performing education systems in the world is that they pay teachers well. That's not the only thing that makes them successful. It's the foundational thing.

This is something that conservative education historian Diane Ravitch apparently realized on her tour of global educational systems, causing her to re-evaluate her support for charter schools and standardized testing.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/03/education/03ravitch.html?pagewanted=1&em

There may be no silver bullet for quality education, but we don't need to wait to raise teacher pay until we find one. And we also don't need a silver bullet to realize that "accountability" will never replace knowledge, motivation, and creativity.
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:47 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


The one consistent factor among countries with the highest-performing education systems in the world is that they pay teachers well. That's not the only thing that makes them successful. It's the foundational thing.

This is something that conservative education historian Diane Ravitch apparently realized on her tour of global educational systems, causing her to re-evaluate her support for charter schools and standardized testing.


These are not mutually exclusive. Charter schools are premised on the idea that some schools should be able to experiment beyond the bounds of existing school regulations - this includes district-wide or state-wide pay schedules. There are charters that pay more - a lot more - than traditional public schools.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:45 AM on April 16, 2010


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