Archive for the 'Education' Category

I Would Really Like to Know (Part 2)

They say the point
demons guard is
an ocean grave
for all the brave.
Was it you who said
How long?
How long?
How long
to the Point of Know Return?

We Have a Problem with Signs

“The Board of Directors wish to thank ______…”

I visited a newly dedicated memorial in Honolulu, an appropriately sober tribute in a nicely-chosen location. Separate but among the name-bearing placards is a little monument honoring a person whose effort over several years made the memorial a reality. It’s a fitting honor, of course, but the final paragraph on this separate monument opens with the sentence I’ve quoted here.

In some places, collective nouns such as “board,” “committee,” and “team” are treated as plural, as in “the team HAVE agreed to proceed with the plan.” In America, it’s standard to treat these nouns as singular: “The committee HAS recommended a new location for the proposed park.”

Continue reading ‘We Have a Problem with Signs’

The Error of Neil Postman’s Ways

The thread title is a play on an Education Week article, The Error of Our Ways written by Neil Postman. I like Postman’s style and the article contains ideas for improving education that I once enthusiastically supported. It’s not that I no longer support these ideas, but I’ve lost some enthusiasm for them, for more practical reasons. It’s those reasons that I want to discuss in this thread, specifically the idea of having students look for errors in books or teachers’ statements. I like the way Postman describes the idea to students:

During this term, I will be doing a great deal of talking. I will be giving lectures, answering questions, and conducting discussions. Since I am an imperfect scholar and, even more certainly, a fallible human being, I will inevitably be making factual errors, drawing some unjustifiable conclusions, and perhaps passing along my opinions as facts. I should be very unhappy if you were unaware of these mistakes. To minimize that possibility, I am going to make you all honorary members of Accuracy in Academia. Your task is to make sure that none of my errors goes by unnoticed. At the beginning of each class, I will, in fact, ask you to reveal whatever errors I made in the previous session. You must, of course, say why these are errors, indicate the source of your authority, and, if possible, suggest a truer or more useful or less biased way of formulating what I said. Your grade in this course will be based to some extent on the rigor with which you pursue my mistakes. And to ensure that you do not fall into the torpor that is so common among students, I will, from time to time, deliberately include some patently untrue statements and some outrageous opinions.
There is no need for you to do this alone. You should consult with your classmates, perhaps even form a study group that can collectively review the things I have said. Nothing would please me more than for one or several of you to ask for class time in which to present a corrected or alternative version of one of my lectures.

I love this idea! and I would love if my kids went to a school that adopted such an approach. However, my gut reaction is that such an approach would never be broadly adopted. I haven’t given much thought as to the reasons for this belief, but, off the top of my head, I think the reasons involve Continue reading ‘The Error of Neil Postman’s Ways’

Digital Natives’ Ignorance of the Internet

I recently read an Atlantic article, Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web, which raises the point that students need guidance and a richer understanding of the internet, despite growing up with it. Reuben Lowey, one of the educators featured in the article, has been developing a high school curriculum to address this issue. I liked the topics in his curriculum–topics relating to the notion of identity, privacy, algorithms, differences between virtual and actual reality. These topics are more philosophical rather than practical, and I don’t think this type of understanding occurs just because someone grows up on the internet. Whether Loewy is aware of this or not, his curriculum suggests that a person’s way of knowing, socializing and even being differ dramatically on the internet versus the real world. I think this kind of distinction and awareness is really important, not just for students, but for anyone who uses technology.

Having said that, the idea of a curriculum to teach these topics gives me pause. Actually, if I were an educator, I’d probably groan and roll my eyes. As the article mentions, teachers already have a lot on their plate. Some have to fight to teach subjects like social studies and the arts.

How do you you get around this problem? Here are some thoughts: Continue reading ‘Digital Natives’ Ignorance of the Internet’

An Idea to Replace Colleges

I read a recent Atlantic article about a new for-profit college. Part of the process they used in designing the college involved analyzing the essential components of a college or university–the idea being that they would reduce costs by keeping only the essential components of a college, while eliminating the extraneous stuff. Of course that raises the question: what are the essential components of a college? In addition to thinking about this question, I also started wondering about the reasons and benefits of going to college. This question has particular relevance for me because colleges are so expensive now and with two young children I’m starting to wonder if the cost is worth it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve started to wonder about alternatives to colleges. If the college tuition is high and no sign of decreasing, is there any viable alternatives to college? Some ideas have popped into my head–ideas that may not have any merit–so I’d like to explore them in this thread. Continue reading ‘An Idea to Replace Colleges’

Obstacles to Developing Good Teachers

I read a New York Times article on a new book coming out called, Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Everyone) by Elizabeth Green. You know certain passages in an article immediately elicit a certain thought, question or response? That happened in this article, and in the interests of time (read: I’m lazy), I’m going to quote those passages and then write my response. Continue reading ‘Obstacles to Developing Good Teachers’

Why Leaders of an Organization Need a Well-Articulated Philosophy

As some of you know, I recently finished reading Pete Carroll’s book, Win Forever, which essentially explains Carroll’s philosophy as head football coach (although, he believes the philosophy has much broader application). I haven’t completely digested all of Carroll’s ideas, and I want to use this thread as a way to facilitate that process. While I’m writing about Carroll’s ideas, I’ll also include some of my own ideas in the process. Some of you familiar with psychology may remember Piaget’s concept of assimilating and accommodating ideas into one’s cognitive framework. Think of my writing as a physical manifestation of that process.

To start things off, I want to look at what Carroll means when he talks about a “philosophy.” Continue reading ‘Why Leaders of an Organization Need a Well-Articulated Philosophy’

Can Everyone Have a Profound Encounter with Art (Popular Art Included)?

I came across an NPR article that recounts a first encounter (at age eight) with a Cezanne painting–a painting which stopped the author in his tracks and spoke to him in a deep and mysterious way. The article title says it all: “Boy Meets Painting, Painting Speaks to Boy, Boy Mystified. Has that happened to anyone? Has an art work, not just with a painting, but any kind of art work–e.g., a novel, piece of music, poem, dance performance, architecture–ever moved you so deeply that you felt as if the art work was “speaking” to you or touching you in a very profound way? I don’t mean to sound hokey, but I’m partly trying to distinguish this experience from experiencing an art work you just happen to really like. For example, there are many movies that I really, really like that don’t affect me in the way I’m describing.

A question occurred to me while reading the article, and it’s one I’d like to explore in this thread: can everyone experience art–and I’m also including popular art like TV shows, Hollywood movies, etc.–in this way? If so, how many people actually have an experience like this? And if a lot of people don’t have an experience like this, why is that (assuming that most people are capable of it)? (I’ll try to offer my own theories later.)

Skills That Should be Taught in School But Aren’t

Did you ever have a moment when you realized that a certain type of skill or knowledge was important, but was never really taught in schools? I’m thinking specifically of skills that would be appropriate to teach in an academic setting, but somehow fall under the radar, leaving students to acquire these skills on their own. That’s something that happened to me several times, and I’m wondering if it has happened to other people, including what knowledge and skills they had in mind.

The one that comes to mind for me is Continue reading ‘Skills That Should be Taught in School But Aren’t’

Is There Such a Thing as a Stupid Question?

There are no such thing as a stupid question is a refrain you often hear from teachers or lecturers. I suspect they’re primarily saying this because they want to encourage people to ask questions. If you asked these teachers to be more candid and precise, they might say something like, “95% of the time when you feel that the question you want to ask is stupid, it isn’t. Moreover, there’s a good chance that several other people in the class have the same question–so please ask the question.” In other words, there are stupid questions. Or are there? In this tread, I want to discuss if stupid questions exist and what constitutes a stupid question.

Help Teaching Subtraction to a Six Year Old Child

My son is having trouble with subtraction, and I wanted to get see if others could help me with strategies to help him with this. Let me give a specific problem he’s having trouble with:

Tommy has $7, but he needs $20 to buy the toy plane he wants. How many more dollars does Tommy need to buy the toy airplane?

There are several ways of explaining how to solve the problem. Continue reading ‘Help Teaching Subtraction to a Six Year Old Child’

Will Students Learn If The Educational System Just Gets Out of Their Way?

I’ve been listening to NPR’s TED Tabletalk, a “Reader’s Digest” of the TED talks, that takes several TED talks and groups them under a theme (e.g., creativity, beauty, etc.) Several of the ones I’ve heard touch on education, creativity, and innovation. I wanted to comment on several of the ones involving education–specifically, the segment on Sir Ken Robinson (speaker/writer/education consultant) and Sugata Mitra (academic on educational technology) Part I and Part II. (NOTE: These are NOT the complete TED talk, but a combination of commentary, excerpts from the TED talk and interviews with the speaker. The segments are twenty minute audio recordings.)

I’m going to try and summarize the general gist of both speakers, with two caveats–first, I listened to Robinson’s talk several weeks ago; second, the speakers talk about different topics, but I believe there’s enough in common that I can group them together. Essentially, both speakers make several points:

1. The education system was made for a different world that is obsolete–an industrial world (Robinson) and a bureaucratic one (Mitra). Therefore, we need a radically new educational system.

2. Both speakers seem to believe that students will learn on their own–if we don’t get in their way. The sense I get is that they both see current educational system as too instrusive and restrictive–which inevitably stifles creativity and learning.

3. I didn’t get to hear a lot of details of their vision for a school, but I got the sense that Robinson wanted a system that customizes learning for each individual student–doing away with organizing the school by age or even subject–while Mitra seemed to want learning to be primarily directed by the students themselves, with adults(?) offering encouragement from the sidelines. Continue reading ‘Will Students Learn If The Educational System Just Gets Out of Their Way?’

The Writing Revolution: a Discussion About the Way Writing is Taught in Schools

The Writing Revolution is an article in the current issue of Atlantic that discusses a school that vastly improved test scores primarily (or so the article claims) by emphasizing writing in the school–specifically a writing curriculum that emphasizes mechanics over an approach that emphasized personal expression. I won’t go into all the details (I read the article a few days ago, and I don’t want to re-read the article before I post), but the school seems to have done at least two things: 1) place more emphasis on writing mechanics and expository writing over creative writing and personal expressive writing like journals or memoirs and; 2) require more expository writing in non-English classes. In the next few weeks, Atlantic Monthly will be having a debate about this issue–allowing prominent individuals to respond to the article (You can see the posts if you follow the link above.), and I thought we could follow along and discuss the issue here. Continue reading ‘The Writing Revolution: a Discussion About the Way Writing is Taught in Schools’

Email and Other Ways to Improving Writing Instruction

How Email Can Change the Way Professors Teach is an Atlantic blog post that suggests email as an the ideal tool for teaching writing–primarily by providing the instant and timely feedback students need in order to improve. While the author makes some valid points, I don’t think email will lead to the type of changes his post implies, primarily because he fails to understand a huge challenge English teachers and writing instructors face–namely, time. Email allows for quick feedback, while the writing occurs (or at least prior to turning in the assignment), but it also puts a greater burden on the instructor to provide this feedback.

In this post, I wanted to touch on ways educational institutions can effectively address this challenge, specifically, and improve writing, in general. Continue reading ‘Email and Other Ways to Improving Writing Instruction’

“…Not Failing Schools, But Failing Communities…”

That was a remark from Diane Ravitch, former assistant to the Secretary of Education under George Bush Sr., on an interview with Terry Gross after Terry commented about the violence in failing schools. The remark really hit home for me. Here are some thoughts the comment sparked: Continue reading ‘“…Not Failing Schools, But Failing Communities…”’

Waiting for Superman (2010)

Dir. Davis Guggenheim

Even though I don’t think this is a good film, I’d probably mildly recommend this to educators and those who are interested in public education–primarily because the film and the contents have gotten national attention.

This documentary explores public education in the US, mainly by focusing on low-income schools (although there is one from a middle class suburb) and the role teachers and charters play. Actually, while that description is basically true, it gives a little more credit to the film than it deserves. I say this because I think the film’s analysis (if you can call it that) is basically simplistic and superficial. While a part of me wants to recommend this to all the idiot, a part of me is reluctant because I fear the poor analysis will lead to bad conclusions about the education. Continue reading ‘Waiting for Superman (2010)’

Elected or Appointed School Board

One of the Constitutional amendments voters will decide on this election is the proposal to switch from an elected Board of Education (BOE) to an appointed one (presumably the Governor will appoint board members).

Here’s why I favor an appointed board: Continue reading ‘Elected or Appointed School Board’

Michelle Rhee, Controversial Educational Reformer

Michelle Rhee’s push to reform Washington D.C. schools as school chancellor may be coming to an end, which is sad, but not really surprising. I’m saddened because I don’t think I’ve seen a school superintendent (or any type of educational leader) whose behavior matched so well with her words. She really seemed to be acting as a person who believes poor performing schools are intolerable and that we are facing an educational crisis. Moreover, we’re talking about some of the inner city schools–schools that are often neglected by policymakers and administrators. A lot of policy makers and educational administrators say these words, but their actions don’t back them up. Rhee was different.

Two years ago, I wanted to start a thread on her. Here’s what I wrote: Continue reading ‘Michelle Rhee, Controversial Educational Reformer’

Links and General Discussion on Education

This thread serves as a repository for links to interesting websites/articles on education. (Of course, as always, if this leads to interesting discussions, that is welcomed.) Here are a few recent ones:

  1. “Needs Improvement: Where Teacher Report Cards Fall Short” is a WSJ article on the problem of assessing teachers based on value-added analysis of test scores. The author has a follow up post–Putting Teachers to the Test–that references relevant research to the issue.
  2. Finally, Atlantic’s “Why Michelle Rhee’s Education Reform ‘Brand’ Failed in D.C.” discusses the imminent ouster of D.C. School Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, after Mayor Fenty failed to be reelected. Washington D.C. is on the other side of the country and a totally different world from Hawai’i, but the situation, sentiments and perspectives seem strangely familiar to me. I like a lot of what Rhee tried to do, but I felt she took a really risky and maybe unwise approach. (On the other hand, I can sympathize, to some degree, with her reasons for doing so.)

What Makes a Great Teacher?

The Atlantic has an article, “What Makes a Great Teacher?” in their Jan/Feb issue that I thought others (mostly, Mitchell) might find interesting. There are a few interesting points (which I will comment on later), but I’m becoming disappointed in articles about education and teaching from these major publiciations, mainly because a lack of substance and/or I felt like I’ve read this stuff before.