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Posts Tagged ‘education policy

How Do We Reintroduce Uncertainty?

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The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

Erich Fromm

We need to reintroduce uncertainty to the education of our students. From scripted curricula to mindless worksheets, our education policies have created classrooms where knowledge is gushing water, and struggling children are leaky buckets. Instead of examining why this theory of education is inadequate to describe how children learn and grow, we open the floodgates wider. A recent study found students in schools with high concentrations of minorities have more homework than schools with lower minority concentrations. Our education leaders opt for charter school models that keep students in schools longer hours – KIPP has a nine and a half hour school day with required Saturdays and at least two hours of homework. Scripted curricula and test-prep driven practices (try to) distill skills and knowledge into recited textbooks and worksheets.

Educating a child is not like filling a leaky bucket. Children learn when challenging situations force them to be more flexible, generalize skills and knowledge to new domains, investigate, construct understandings with peers, update old understandings, and use new sources of information in innovative ways. Our policies have taken investigation, inquiry, and social construction of knowledge out of the classrooms of students who need these opportunities the most. We treat science, social studies, and math like they are static bodies of knowledge rather than dynamic systems of inquiry. Writing follows a five paragraph or fill-in-the-blank format rather than an ongoing process of immersion in texts, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing for authentic audiences. Students find the answers to teacher-generated questions in while they read instead of generating their own authentic inquiry. Students are taught to see adults as the sole source of information in a top-down hierarchy rather than a learning web where students and the teacher construct knowledge together.

Uncertainty is scary. Teachers have to trust in a learning process that cannot be documented in regular intervals on standardized tests and worksheets. We have to sacrifice coverage for critical thinking – this takes time and innovation on the part of students, administrators, and teachers. Students have to trust their teachers and classmates enough to take on intellectual and social risks.

Uncertainty is the foundation of wonder, courage, and learning. How do you introduce uncertainty into your classroom (especially if your school has mandated scripts)?


Written by TeacherC

31 March 2009 at 9:28 pm

Scripted Curriculum, Part 1: WWPD? (What would Pavlov do?)

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I observed 8 students in a reading intervention (special education) class. The instructor carried around a clipboard and patrolled the aisles. She would read a passage from her book, snap her fingers, and point to a student. Students reacted to the finger-snap and read their answer aloud. Students who answered on cue were given small pieces of candy. If students asked questions, gave more intelligent answers than the book offered, or tried to question the importance of the lesson, they were disciplined. At the end of the session, points were added up and king-sized candy bars were doled out for students who answered cues the most. There was no student work on the walls – posters featured dogs dressed in basketball jerseys barking: “1. Stay quiet…2. Answer on cue”. When my observations were over, the instructor told me that she had spent the first half of the school year “conditioning the behavior” of her students.

I have many questions about this experience:

– Is this what Pavlov, school and district personnel, the California Board of Education, and/or the Federal Government had in mind?

– Was this a typical or an atypical scripted classroom?

– What are the social justice issues?

– What are the chances that I will have to teach in a scripted classroom?

– Doesn’t this go against common sense?

– What does the research say?

– Did I observe a bad teacher in a manageable curriculum/situation, a bad teacher and a bad curriculum, or an average/good teacher and a bad curriculum?

I can’t tackle these issues in one post. Stay tuned for post 2: “Scripted Curriculum, Part 2: It’s the economy, stupid”.

Relevant/Cheesy Classroom Posters (I will NEVER use these sorts of posters in my classroom):