Monday, September 20, 2010

Better Students? Then Big Bird Must Die

"All learning requires pain, but the least able academically must necessarily suffer the greatest distress. Properly reading even a comic book versus just looking at the pictures requires decoding novel words and keeping the plot straight -- not easy for the barely literate. For those lacking English fluency -- a phenomenon increasingly common in American schools -- the pain of school learning is especially intense.
The Sesame Street approach has become the pedagogical orthodoxy so students can supposedly learn and feel good about their modest accomplishments. Consider one authoritative, typical example: Merrill Marmin's Inspiring Active Learning: A Handbook for Teachers (1994). Here's how teachers are taught to motivate students: Move lessons quickly to prevent boredom, even if students fall behind; include varied material in lectures (but not so diverse as to confuse students) so something will always be attention-getting material; shift topics when sensing growing boredom; do not wait until students are attentive to begin talking since they will catch up; and avoid repetition to keep it exciting (but return to the subject later if necessary).
Conspicuously absent from this approach (and many similar ones) is teaching children to persevere when confronting initially confusing or boring material. This is light-years from George Orwell's observation that classical education is impossible without corporal punishment. It is a recipe for promoting attention deficit disorder and building self-confidence apart from any demonstrable accomplishment. Semi-literates will never know the truth. Teachers are further told to post anxiety-reducing classroom posters like "Everyone makes mistakes" or "It's okay to make mistakes" or "Hunting for right answers is more important than right answers." It is no wonder that educational professions hate testing -- it contravenes their core beliefs about how to teach."
Mr. Weissberg dismisses a certain elephant in the room, the one happy with portraying America as a ghetto country replete with garbage strewn streets and unintelligible actors whose accents are thick enough to ride a homemade skateboard on. 
The fall from grace of our public school system can be traced directly to the Sesame Street factor. Learning from a book or listening to a good teacher stimulates different areas of the brain then does cavorting cartoon characters, and actually LEARNING is what education is supposed to be all about. Not making the little darlin's happy. Not making the teachers happy.

Bring me the head of Big Bird. 

(Headline and picture are mine and not entirely of Mr. Weissberg's intent or design.) 


TJP said...

The described method is valid for grades K through 2. After that....well I should hope that the core of every lesson is reading. I can't think of an alternative. Magic? Memory implants?

I'm not a fan of the distracting classroom. The posters, TV sets, computers, iPhones, "educational" toys, tolerance of yelling and cussing--smothering parents that insist on barging into a classroom mid-lesson because little Jimmy forgot to clean his ears--all that rubbish ruins learning for young folks who have not yet learned the skill of keeping attention. Plus there are enough parents (even of the non-skate-ramp-thick-accent variety) that aren't teaching their children basics like the alphabet, numbers and even some easy reading before they show up on the front steps of a school. (I wonder how much fetus-to-3 state-run education will cost?) Stick a bunch of these ignorant human pupae in a regular classroom and give them the power to continually disrupt the lesson to ask questions that were already answered, and watch the test scores plummet.

I was fortunate enough to have some of the teachers that were part of the old guard. I remember one teacher in particular. His classroom was so quiet you could hear pens scrawling on paper. No posters, no TV/VCR, no computers. He never called anyone by a first name: it was either mister or miss. We never spoke unless first raising a hand and waiting for permission. No hippie drum circle desks--every desk faced forward, stayed where he put it, with no slouching allowed. No bathroom breaks during class. From the front of the room, he was able to see that everyone was open to the right page in the book, and whether or not we were doodling or taking notes. And our notes were inspected, because if we weren't writing down the correct information, we weren't paying attention. (How about that? What a novel way to preemptively spot the children that will fail the next quiz. No additional "intervention specialists" needed on the payroll.)

I'm not a fan of state-run education, but if I'm paying I know something with an authoritarian slant works a lot better than whatever horseshit Moonbeam and Bongmeister dream up.

fits said...

Being a graduate of a Jesuit education all of this puzzles me beyond comprehension.