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An educated mind is an opened mind. An opened mind is a liberal mind. Teachers don't have to intend to create liberals, it happens naturally.
On the inside:

  • Reducing knowledge
  • Links to other education stories.
  • As always, the topics will be whatever you want to discuss.
  • Door's Open...

    Reducing knowledge
    I got into a discussion on Thursday over at Cheers and Jeers, which is not usually the place for such things.  I didn't really have time to do that, but I just couldn't leave it alone.  The comment I responded to challenged the notion of "critical thinking" which gave me some pause, but really wasn't what twisted my knickers.  The commentator also seemed to be in favor of high-stakes standardized testing and the concommitant standardized curriculum.  My question was then, and still is:  Why is it necessary that every student learn exactly the same material?  

    From the author's response, I am apparently either too wrapped up in my teacher's ways or simply too dumb or oblivious to understand any answer to this question, so s/he didn't supply one.  Perhaps someone else can help me out?  I mean, I understand the notion of people working together in modern society, but isn't it really a waste if everyone on the team has exactly the same knowledge?  Wouldn't it be beteer if the members of the team had complementary skills with some overlap rather than identical skills?  What is the point of standardization?

    Wouldn't the standardization of curriculum have the overall effect of reducing the sum total of human knowledge?  Is that the point of all this?  If Worker A and Worker B have exactly the same knowledge, why do I need two workers?  Can somebody help me out?

    Education Round-up:
  • On Wednesday bonddad wrote a diary about financing of college educations, entitled College Tuition Crisis Continues; Debt Crushing Graduates.
  • vtrob77 submitted Another Bad Idea: Houston to tie teachers' pay to test scores on Thursday.
  • Continuing in the vein of last week, pegstander wrote Attention America: Your children are dumb yesterday.
  • From CNN, this piece is about online instruction.
  • I'll be hanging around most of the day, actively waiting for your comments (actually, I'll be working on my tenure file), so at least one person will be here to discuss whatever anyone wants to discuss.

    The Not-so-many Rules
  • No general bashing of administrators, politicians, etc, just on general principles.  If you want to bash them, have a point and a plan.
  • No bitching about students unless your talking about what you are going to do to alleviate the problems you think the students have.
  • Introductions are encouraged, but not essential.
  • I have no investment in hosting the Teacher's Lounge. If someone else thinks they can and wants to do it better, cool.  I just want the space. And not for teachers only, but respecting the general theme of teaching and learning.
  • Teacher's Lounge can be "slow blogging" if you want it to be.  You don't get quality writing if you demand velocity.  It doesn't have to be the case that something posted today is dead by tomorrow.  I would like it to eventually be up and active 24/7, but that may have to wait until I have developed an independent blog site.

  • Every Saturday I'll post a clean slate, between 10am and 11am EST.

    Originally posted to Robyn's Perch on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 07:25 AM PST.


    Should every student learn the exact same stuff?

    3%2 votes
    60%32 votes
    1%1 votes
    33%18 votes

    | 53 votes | Vote | Results

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    Comment Preferences

    •  I'm bummed... (4.00)
      ...spring semester starts on Thursday.  I'm not ready.


      Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

      by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 07:28:40 AM PST

      •  Not until a week from Wednesday (none)
        but I am still bummed.  I saw your discussion with Goldberry about Critical Thinking and standardized testing.  I have gotten into similar discussions with him/her.  My bet is that Goldberry is a chemist or a physicist, these discussions take place at every college/university I know of and the chemists/physicists are last to change.  I agree with AuBe that Critical Thinking has become a buzzword- throw it around to get attention/grants, but it also refers to a necessary skill. We need to train our students to analyze data and the source of data or they will forever believe the crap that is spouted in the MSM.  It would be ideal if our students acquired this skill with no work on our parts, but we are currently suffering through an administration that was elected in large part because of the poor critical analysis skills of the majority of the population.  Can't stick around today, but I am sure this will be an interesting conversation.

        Massachusetts: 1st in Baseball, 1st in Football, 47th in Support for Public Higher Education

        by mcinma on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 07:57:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  By default... (none)
          ...because nobody else was going to do it...I have become the Assessment coordinator of my division, which is leading me to become one of (if not the only) assessment "expert" on campus.  All this because I dared to put together a couple of 13 question assessment of critical skills instruments.  

          The idea is to have students in our division (Business, Accounting, Economics, Materials Management and Computer Information Systems (I'm in the latter)) take the assessment in their Introduction to Business course and then in whatever senior-level capstone course they take in their major, comparing the results to assess improvement and hence using it to assess our programs.

          My conclusion on the basic subject of "critical thinking" is that it is an ill-defined but vital concept and it is the job of every teacher, every parent, and every citizen to insure that the critical skills are developed by every child.


          Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

          by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:37:06 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Oh, God. (4.00)
            Right after receiving tenure I was appointed my department's "Assessment Liaison." It happened to be the year we had an interim director of assessment, a psychology prof who made the liaisons attend bi-weekly 8:30 am meetings for almost her entire year. Man, was I pissed.

            By and by, I got by my justifiable anger and learned to compensate for her nearly constant dislike for the male gender. She was also warm (at times), funny (almost all of the time), and did a spectacular job of convincing us that proper assessment could make a very big difference at every level. Which meant, of course, that she didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of landing the job permanently.

            I resigned my prestigious post as departmental "Assessment Liaison" and wrote a pissed off letter to the provost. Her replacement is a mealy mouthed old goofball who can't even (I kid you not) sign her own name on one of the tons of pointless and unread documents her office has churned out over the years unless someone draws her a line with a ruler first.

            Drink to me, drink to my health:
            You know I can't drink any more!

            by gp39m on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:09:22 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  We all have our crosses to bear ;-) (none)
              I have been "chosen" for this job precisely because of my distaste for it, I think.  Anyone who really wants to do it should probably be declared ineligible.  

              Not unlike people who want to be politicians?


              Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

              by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:25:38 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

      •  Started this week (none)
        But I'm a bitch this semester so maybe it won't be so bad.
    •  I am an academic and teacher (4.00)
      and my viewof our task as educators is to teach people to be humane and to be critical of what they know.  I make a lot of references to current events, and make my positions clear, but let people know how to challenge me.

      But I do think that liberalism is more open minded, though I meet a lot of knee-jerk liberals who are jerks.  They are usually not thinking clearly but this is not due to their ideas.

      "It is a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety." Woodrow Wilson

      by Percheronwoman on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 08:07:56 AM PST

      •  Glad to see a new participant :-) (none)
        What do you teach, if I may ask?  


        Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

        by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 08:21:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I've had much the same experience (none)
        although I tend not to bring my personal opinions into the classroom: I respect those teachers who can do it without intimidating their students, but I've way too many experiences with domineering teachers who've ridiculed students with different opinions.  If you're pulling it off, I'm sure you students appreciate it: they get exacerbated when they feel they're being trampled over.  It sounds like you have the right approach.

        Some semesters, I've let them spend the last day of class prying me apart: the grades are already in, so they have nothing to fear, plus it's often enlightening for them to find that I'm not at all what they've expected (or sometimes exactly what they've expected, depending).  

    •  Reframe the question... (4.00)
      How much of the educational thrust should be towards socializing students for and towards a culture of shared values, expectations, ethics and experience, and how much should be geared towards developing individual talents, skills, and interests?

      I'd say start big at the primary level on the former, and slowly increase the latter to 100% by junior year of High School.


      "Strange and beautiful are the stars tonight / That dance around your head"

      by deepfish on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 08:09:25 AM PST

    •  Bah humbug (none)
      Okay, so, I think the commenter linked to in your diary is kind of full of it ...

      ... however, I am a strong advcate of the Fight Club philosophy of life, which is this: We Are Not All Unique Little Snowflakes. And I think we've done an injustice to several generations now by teaching them that heir very existence is reason enough for acclaim.

      I also think it's a good idea that certain skills be somewhat standardized --- that is, it would be good if pretty much everyone graduated from high school with the ability to do basic multiplication.

      And I think group work should be banned. It. Really. Sucks. I can't figure out who came up with that stupid idea --- all hat ends up happening is one poor kid does all the work whileall her little groupmates talk and joke.

      Otherwise, though, goldberry is --- well, he/she just sounds like they're pissed about something which has nothing to do with education.

      •  Oh and ... (none)
        goldberry might be right about critical thinking. I try to avoid talking about it as much as possible in my classes. :=D
        •  I don't think it's so much... (none)
          ...a matter of talking about it as much as the importance of pointing out when it has been used and how it was applied.  How do we determine whether or not we have enough information to answer a question, whether or not the information we do have is relevant, what information is more or less important than other information, what the difference is between fact and belief, and what the correct form of an argument is, besides just the parts about analyzing syllogisms and drawing conclusions from graphs and tables of data (which is what many people seem to think is the entirety of what it means).

          Deciding if a question even has an answer is just as important as deciding what that answer might be, in my opinion.  But then, I'm a mathematician and I've studied Gödel. ;-)


          Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

          by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:51:33 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think rserven (none)
        was saying that anyone should graduate high-school without knowing basic multiplication.

        5x6=28, right?

        "In the beginning the universe was created. This has been widely criticized and generally regarded as a bad move." -- Douglas Adams

        by LithiumCola on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 08:50:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I was sitting in on a Grade 7 Math class yesterday (4.00)
          The teacher was giving a test on ordering and reducing and transforming proper and improper fractions.

          The kids asked if they coud use calculators.

          The factors for these fractions were no greater than single digit (i.e. compare 1/2 with 15/16), but kids still needed the calculators.

          You see, these kids needed to memorize multiplication facts back in grade 3 and grade 4, but some didn't, because the grade 3 and grade 4 teachers were too busy trying to get some of the kids caught up on addition and subtraction facts.

          In middle school, for some kids, the educational experience is a looming avalanche of missed chances threatening to overcome them.

          The root cause?

          Simply put: try calling the parents and see if you can get them on the phone. I dareya.


          "Strange and beautiful are the stars tonight / That dance around your head"

          by deepfish on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:10:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Upper class HS math students (4.00)
            can't subtract or divide mixed fractions at all.  They are totally clueless.

            Unfortunately, our calculator society has taken away a lot of common sense math knowledge.

            I taught Algebra for six weeks this last fall and tried to tell my students to do the least amount of math possible.  If you can reduce fractions, do it first, don't multiply 6*8 then divide by 4*2.  I think they are so used to using their calculators that the process of looking at a problem and figuring out the best way to solve it is moot.

            America works best in spreading democracy when people over the world see something they want to emulate. Richard

            by Mlle L on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:11:57 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Having taught college math... (none)
              ...and being an algebraist, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that working with mixed numbers is the skill that is least important of all the skills learned in mathematics.  In my ideal world, they would be banished.  In particular, learning to do division of mixed numbers in elementary or middle school is counterproductive to learning algebra.  If one wants to divide 3 1/3 by 1 3/4, one should begin by multiplying each by 12, using the distributive law to get 36 + 4 = 40 for the first number and 12 + 9 = 21 for the second.  The answer is 40/21.  Reduce if necessary, but leave it as a fraction, damnit. ;-)


              Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

              by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:22:02 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  But in the "real world" it is important (4.00)
                Carpenters and people on the shop floor work in mixed fractions all the time.  I work part time at my brothers shop and he sells parts that are in measured in fractions of inches.  It becomes very important in these applications to be able to do basic math with mixed fractions.

                Upper level mathematicians will write 3 1/2 as 7/2, but that doesn't happen in catalogs for the manufacturing industry.  There is a disconnect between what algebraists use for math and what the carpenter needs.  He needs to know if he has a piece of lumber that is 8 feet 3 1/2 inches long and he needs a piece that is 2 feet 4 3/4 inches long, how many pieces can he get.  He will NEVER leave results in an improper fraction form.

                Yes, as someone who loves algebra and actually likes doing these types of problems, I understand the 'offical' way, but having grown up in manufacturing world, I also know there is a need for understanding the requirements of the person in the world outside of academia.

                America works best in spreading democracy when people over the world see something they want to emulate. Richard

                by Mlle L on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:37:59 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I actually expected this response... (4.00)
                  ...since my dad was an electrician. ;-)

                  I recognize the fact that since they are used in so many instances, that they can't be ignored.  I just rue the day they were invented.  If you track back students to where they started having troubles in mathematics, you generally find one of two places:  long division or mixed numbers.  Lack of success handling these leads to disinterest, which gets reinforced by the fact that it's perfectly fine in this society to say, "I was never any good at math."


                  Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

                  by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:50:38 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I hate that it's ok to be bad in math (4.00)
                    but unacceptable to be illiterate.

                    I actually think that students would be much better in fractions if they did more of home economics tpe activities in school again.  If you cook or build something and have to up or down scale it, you learn the skill pretty fast.  If you read a useless story problem in a book that the student doesn't care about, they won't bother to worry about learning, because they will assume that it won't impact their lives.

                    "Life is a story problem"

                    America works best in spreading democracy when people over the world see something they want to emulate. Richard

                    by Mlle L on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:11:46 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  aligned basic skills vs aligned complete skills (none)
          I am certain there is limited advocacy for aligning a basic skill set for all students, just an argument that beyond that basic set, diversity results in a far stronger emergent group than compelling all learners into identical little boxes of "thou shalt know this".

          If we require all students to know and do all of the same things, it won't just be the "unwilling to change teachers" who are bent out of shape by it - communities will be losing football teams and marching bands, choirs and community service clubs. When will the student ever have time to commit to one of these things if it is entirely removed from the school schedule and calendar? Or alternatively, who is going to watch a football game with 2000 players per team, all required to get equal minutes distributed over every skill set (Johnny must punt, pass, kick, be able to cut back on a blown sweep, play both ways as a down lineman, and master a nickle coverage)? On it's face a ludicrous proposition - some folk just can't catch, say...

          Well some folks have marginal talent and minimal drive for higher order maths, but I want the ones WHO do have such skill and curiosity to get it.

          BUT at the same time, there does need to be a set of agreed upon basic skills that all schools strive to imbue in their learners by a particular time. In the scheduled incoming class of freshman at my school, nearly half of 476 are reading below grade level, forcing or assignment and scheduling administrator to set up a de facto two track system for at least SOME course sections to deal with these discrepancies - so that the reading specialists and other support personnel aren[t scattered to the four winds chasing 2 gross of students around campus each day.

          Oregon adopted a conceptually decent (though clunkily implemented) program called CIM (certificate of initial mastery), which included benchmark testing at 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade, plus a certification exam in 10th. Of course, the main thing this has been used for (at least in terms of what gets publicity, and thus what is seen by voters in individual districts with funding levies or at statewide election time when selecting the Oregon <strike>State-wide School Board</strike> Legislature) is to build "school report cards" and identify "failing" schools.

          Since implementation came with no additional funding, instructors, administrators, and support personnel are putting huge hours into this program without having funds to staff the hours they used to give to other things (like teaching diverse curricula?...hrm...).

          Oregon has decided to bag it now - it will phase out shortly.  Of course, it was one of the model programs, dating from the early Clinton years, and conceived by two left-leaning legislators (Katz and Kitzhaber) that started this whole school accountability movement that culminated in NCLB... which should point to the idea that education reform done right is def in the interests of Democrats / Progressives - well educated, thoughtful, insightful people tend to vote our way more than those who aren't so described.

          Ah well...I babble. I am going down NOW to the school, prepping the stage and scene shop for the building of "The Tempest" (we open the final Friday of Feb).


        •  I know that (none)
          I am simply in an extremely bad mood today because classes started this week, meaning I spent the week with the little demons --- er, I mean, darlings --- and i am extremely burnt out.
          •  This is the deadliest time of the year (4.00)
            ...the long period between Xmas and March break. Try to explain to a non-teacher how tiring the first week back can be - they won't get it.

            90% of your job is getting the kids back in order so that yuo can shepherd the class to even the most minimal goals. I have a pretty good grasp of the class, but it is wearying in the extrenme.


            "Strange and beautiful are the stars tonight / That dance around your head"

            by deepfish on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:32:53 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Not picking a fight, but am differing (4.00)
        I will take issue with the 'group-work' comment.  I have been using a modified cooperative learning strategy in all of my courses for a dozen years, and I can tell you it is the single most-effective pedagogical technique I have ever seen or used.

        That said, it is terribly important how group tasks are structured.  You need "positive interdependence" as well as "individual accountability" and "turn taking with tasks".  I have found you actually have to teach the students how to build their group and people skills.  Many kids today don't have much for sibling relationships.

        But, let there be no doubt, and meta-studies on Cooperative Learning confirm this, that appropriately structured group-work enhances numerous skills within students, and also has important corollary benefits including reduced anonymity, reduced racial tensions, increased sensitivity to gender, ethnic and religious differences, increased relationship effectiveness, positive peer-pressure.

        Right down the line, group-work, effectively structured, has both individual and communal benefits for the school.  The fact is, students learn more from each other than they ever do from the teacher, if only because there are so many more of them.

        Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

        by Mi Corazon on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:36:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I am going by my own experience (none)
          I was the one in almost all the groups I was ever in who ended up doing most to all of the work.

          It sucked.

          That's why I don't use group learning.

          I've also found it's too difficult at the college level to herd off students simply taking other students' work wholesale. I had a number of problems with this last semester in particular.

          •  Keep trying (none)
            Sorry that your experience was poorly brought off by your teachers.

            I recommend Johnson and Johnson right here at the University of Minnesota.  Read their work, and particularly, how they recommend structuring group-work.  

            I am no expert at doing this at the college level, where competition often outruns cooperation, but at the secondary level, I can tell you that the results of using groups, correctly structured, were unbelievably positive in my case, and created relationships amongst students that transcended the class and even high school.

            Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

            by Mi Corazon on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:59:45 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  haven't had much online time recently (4.00)
      between preparing singers for our musical, fighting a very bad sinus infection, and working on the education panel for yearlykos  (I have very high hopes on that right now)

      but the question you pose is an important one.

      I would make a distinction  between a minimum common knowledge, which I think we should try to ensure that eeryone at least has the chance to learn, and a far broader trend that I think is wrong, such as the idea of preparing everyone for the same post-secondary education.

      I actually think the common learning is important  --  absent that, we will not have a common basis of communication.  And I think we are already seeing some problems with the lack of it --  I would include in this area some stuff others might not think important.   Thus I would, beyond basics on constitution, functioning of Ameircan form of government, functional English and math skills, include some basic economics - we are very much an economically illiterate society.   I wold, and this would certainly be controversial, include an intro to philosophy   --  patterns of thought, thought systems, development of value systems, perception  (yeah, I know that's psychology, but in fact psychology originally developed as an offshoot of philosophy) .. ultimately tghe idea of thinking about thinking could be very empowering.

      I have no time to develop all this right now.  But I start from a perspective that grants value to all kinds of work, that believes that all the kinds of jobs necessary for our society to work should offer their occupants a livable wage, and that recognizesthat people are different with respect to abilities, interests, etc.   I am not as gifte a mathematician as is my father-in-law, and certainly do not need the same instructional sequence as one of my students who will be following that kind of path.  I lack the craft and mechanical skills of some of my students who will make far morre as furtniture makers or auto repairment than I will ever make as a teacher.  

      What we should have is a system that provides some support for exploring the unique interests of each person, that rewards skill and expertise in all of those areas of work that serve us all.

      Sorry   -  this in disorganized, but that's all I have time for.


      Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

      by teacherken on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 08:22:32 AM PST

      •  Should everyone learn the same things... (none)
          Yes!  Everyone should be taught to be a self-directed learner.  And they should also be taught to take that information they have learned, and to apply it in ways valuable to them and to others.  But our current model--of having kids sit at desks doing meaningless paperwork--doesn't teach those subjects very well.
      •  A big topic (none)
        But it is always good to have TeacherKen on the scene.

        Some shared knowledge is good, even crucial, to the formation of a civil society.  But, let's face it, between the media and pop culture, there is plenty of common exposure to the same basic set of realities.

        What they (the standardizers) are proposing for public schools is more insidious than just a common curriculum or standard.  By forcing all kids down the same chute, they can simultaneously control the knowledge base, while ensuring that the real stories of people--which if allowed a public airing (witness NOLA)would radicalize many--are not given the light of day.

        Think of this:  right now teachers are not given the reign to work with students on their own interests and abilities, but rather are required to take those kids and force feed them what the larger society thinks is important.  Taken to its logical extent, this is a form of totalitarianism, because no one will be allowed to advance in society very far without coming through this standardized filter.

        More crucially, what students are really being taught is that what matters most is conformity to a valued end, not individual initiative or deeply held inspiration.  If such a system had prevailed throughout Western history, there would have been no Da Vinci, no Galileo, no Mozart, no philosophy, and not even much religiously inspired art or writing, and on and on.

        I would make the case that it is the process of education that is far more important than the product, for the simple reason that none of us, no one, is ever done or complete, but rather always evolving, learning and changing.  But right now, we are living in a product-oriented society, and children are being looked at as products, numbers really.

        Bully for us.

        Education? Teaching? NCLB? Read my book _Becoming Mr. Henry_

        by Mi Corazon on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:51:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This Friend speaks my mind... (none)
 they say in Quaker meeting (I'm not one, but my partner is, so sometimes I go).

          The duty of teachers is to teach students how to learn.  By teaching them a subject, we show them how learning the subject is accomplished, in the hopes that if we do this enough times, a general set of skills will be developed so that the student will become a self-learner and a self-teacher.

          Yes, there are fundamental skills that can (probably?) be agreed on (give or take a bit) to constitute what constitutes a basic education.  But beyond the basics requires me to have information that I do not have without knowledge of the individual students and their life circumstances.  

          What I learn about my students should ideally feed into what I decide needs to be taught.  For instance, there are many students we have here at Bloomfield (in northern Jersey) who come from inner-city circumstances that have resulted in them never having been to a museum or a zoo.  When I taught in Arkansas, we had students who had no idea that room 312 would be on the third floor and they would have to go upward from the first floor to get there.  In their rural towns, there were no multi-storey buildings.  Are these students dumb because they lack certain life experiences?  



          Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

          by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:11:50 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  and now read his book (none)
          if you've read this impassioned comment by Mi Corazon, you can explore his thoughts in more depth in his book Becoming Mr. Henry

          Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

          by teacherken on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:35:17 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Did anyone see 20/20 last night? (4.00)
      It was on public school problems.

      I'd have been more likely to take this hatchet job seriously if it weren't hosted by John Stossel, notorious fart catcher for reactionary causes.


      "Strange and beautiful are the stars tonight / That dance around your head"

      by deepfish on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 08:31:53 AM PST

      •  What a maroon (none)
        John Stossel is a weasel of the highest order.
      •  I do choose to defend... (none)
        ...the accomplishments of American elementary and secondary students to those of foreign countries, because we have different educational systems, different goals, different populations and different availability.  We have chosen to attempt to educate all our school-aged residents, not just the few who can afford it.  

        Since most of the countries we are compared to have poverty rates far lower than ours, are we surpised that we don't do as well?


        Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

        by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:20:50 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ack...I messed that up... (none)
          ..."I do not choose to compare" should have been the subject line.


          Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

          by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 09:22:06 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  My friend is teaching in Japan (none)
          Since honor is such a big thing there the 100 'random' schools that they take the scores from that they report internationally aren't really all that random.  All official data comes out 'massaged'.  The high stakes testing that occurs there irrevocably damages many students and there are a lot of suicide attempts due to the make it of break it system of getting into good high schools.  He says don't take too much stock in official numbers since they wouldn't report anything that didn't positively reflect on their students.

          Since in the US, we are less likely than most countries to segregate our lowest functioning students, we will always be in effect allowing ourselves to score lower than the countries where these students are separated out early in their academic careers.

          This is the great problem and success of ideal universal public education, that we give each student the potential to succeed to the best of his or her ability.

          America works best in spreading democracy when people over the world see something they want to emulate. Richard

          by Mlle L on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:35:51 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  ASian model... (none)
            When I was in Korea it was the same way. Middle school kids knocking themselves out in order to score high enough on standardised tests to get into "good" High Schools, High School kids stressing themselves and their families to the point of collapse over University testing...

            And when they get to University? Three years of "parties" as my students put it. The cream that rises to the top is given a free ride in University.

            Its like the western system as seen through a warped prism.

            My wife looks at middle school texts that I bring home and finds the math and science laughably simple, yet she is amazeed that almost all our students have to pass these courses, and that teachers manage to teach and assess without the carrot and stick of standardised testing...

            Indeed, it is the creative aspect of our schools here - the fostering of critical thought and original approaches - that Korean parents thirst for. Which is why they send their kids for school in Canada and the States.


            "Strange and beautiful are the stars tonight / That dance around your head"

            by deepfish on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 02:47:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Two issues (none)

      I think some basic information that is taught to all is good, HOWEVER, the context and application of that information is different.

      For example, As a science and math teacher, I see an easy three way splitting of students.  Those who are going to work directly after high school, those going to college in the arts or humanities, and those who are likely to major in science and or math in college.  There are basic pieces of information that all need to know, but many applications are different.

      For the student going into the workforce, I would teach data collection and analysis.  How to use a computer to analyze that data (nobody uses a scientific calculator if they have a spreadsheet program at their disposal on their desktop) and how to talk about it.  I would teach them how to know if their information is good and how to communicate about it to their co-workers and bosses.  I would make sure they know how to do basic algebra and computation (builders and plumbers need to know math like the back of their hand)and can write their results properly.

      For college students going into non-science or math fields, I would make sure that they understand the history and importance of the results and advancements and how they relate to the rest of history.  These students would have to be able to do math and then write an essay or some other form which absolutely must be done on a word processor explaining the math and the significance of the solution.

      For college students going into math and science, I would expect to make them find the formulas or results on their own, to make graphs and analyze them, to write up comprehensive laboratory experiments with their conclusions.  These students would have to be able to trouble shoot experiments and be able to work with less 'hand holding' by the teacher.


      I have noticed that a lot of students these days don't really want to have to work hard or think about a problem before getting a solution.  They get exasperated when they ask a question and I ask a leading question back instead of just directly giving them the answer.  I see a lot of 'cheating' by asking the bright students for the answers when working on homework, which gives a student a great homework grade, but doesn't allow the student to understand the answer they have written and learn how to do the problem.  Hence, these students cheat themselves and test scores prove that they really don't understand the information.  My main goal in teaching is to show the students that it is possible to think and work through a problem, trying multiple methods until coming up with a correct solution.

      America works best in spreading democracy when people over the world see something they want to emulate. Richard

      by Mlle L on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:29:34 AM PST

    •  IMHO (none)
      There are some basic skills that everyone ought to learn.

      • reading and comprehension, grammar, basic rhetoric

      • arithmetic and basic math (algebra, probability)

      • history/social studies, both of one's own country/culture and basic world history (NOT AMERICAN CENTRIC!!!)

      • basic science, including the scientific method by hands-on doing the labs oneself

      • basic physical and health education, including nutrition and rudimentary anatomy for both sexes (dammit!)

      • practical arts (the two subjects once known as industrial arts and home economics)

      While I'd like to include mandatory art, music, foreign language and comparative religion classes, some folks have no ability with these.  And I've lived in the neighborhoods where this would cause the school to be burned down.

      After you've got the basics (what in Germany is usually taught by 6th grade/Abitur time), the rest really should be electives.

      I base my opinion purely on what I see to be missing in American society, and more present here in Massachusetts than where I grew up.

      Standardized testing tends to be pretty damn useless.  The cultural/economic/sociological biases are blatant on their good days.  Ask any statistician (like the ones at ETS who can't go on the record).

      •  Yikes! (none)
        Afraid I have to disagree with you on this.  On one hand, I'm totally fine with the idea of "basic skills," but why would you include, for example, "science labs" as a basic skill and reject foreign language, art, and music?  Most people who go into those fields have neither the interest nor the need for science labs.  That, and people who study foreign languages are better at their own language, period.  It's not an arbitrary or unneeded skill, by a long shot.

        I'm taking shots at specific examples, not to nitpick, but to highlight exactly what the problem is with any vision of standards: we always circle back to "whose standards, and why?"  My own vision has mandatory foreign language from the beginning, and science labs as an elective: as far as I see it, the scientific method is the key (that "critical thinking skill" discussed in the diary) while the rest is addition.

        •  Why I made some things optional... (none)
          Science labs -- are primarily valuable for the critical thinking aspect.  The idea that you're better off not just believing what someone tells you, but testing stuff for yourself.  And, done well, hands-on science teaches the limits of the scientific method -- what we can know and what we can't possibly test for.  

          For instance, as an adult you can comprehend what brain death is.  If you'd had both the science labs (say, including typing your own blood) and the anatomy class from phys ed (what the brain is, and how it works, and what types of damage cause what effects), you'd be able to make fairly informed decisions on how to avoid torturing your daughter's empty husk.

          Specific enough?

          Foreign language -- I said that I'd personally include foreign language study.  But the bitter truth is that in some areas of the US, this would NEVER be allowed.  In part because of political anti-spanish agendas, in part because of insane bigotry.  And the problem of WHICH language is a valid issue; at my HS they only offered Spanish (5 yrs starting in JHS), German (3 years) and French (2 years).  No Japanese or Russian or Hindi or Chinese, any of which would be helpful to society.  Recruiting capable foreign-language teachers seems to be really difficult.

          And a few people have really poor comprehension of foreign languages, perhaps especially when forced to learn them.  Their English comprehension doesn't seem to benefit from force-feeding.  But that's my experience (and I have a degree in a foreign language myself, and attempted to tutor some back in college; so I'm testifying from personal experience).

          Art:  a big problem because of some people (like, say, ME) have absolutely no eye or ability.  I am a decent draftsman with a ruler, but do not under any circumstances ask me to pick colors.  You'll regret it.  Same for pottery or wrapping presents.  I suck, and I declined to waste any school time with it at all.  

          Note:  my father and one of my sibs were incredible sketchers and caricaturists; it's not that I wasn't exposed to art (and Sundays at the Nelson Art Gallery were not tedious at all), but I'm a fine example of why capital-a-Art shouldn't be mandatory in school.

          Music:  Same problem as art; while I and every sibling had both school (band/orchestra) and private lessons, some folks have NO ear whatsoever.  My father loved listening to classical music, but he couldn't tune a radio, let alone sing or play a note.  I can't sing myself.  Why inflict music classes on someone who hates it?  And which music?  Singing?  Instrumental?  Which instrument?  Hell, which scale?

          •  Once again, I have to disagree (none)
            The examples you give to support science labs have to do with that vague thing we call "critical thinking," and while I don't disagree, I don't understand why you reject the same important critical thinking skills in the humanities.  Learning music is not about memorizing scales, and there's a reason music students score higher in math.  Learning art is more than just playing with color wheels.  

            Furthermore, some of the arguments you make against the humanities are equally applicable to the sciences: How is teaching a less-than-interested student a foreign language "force-feeding," while teaching the same student hard science is not?  How is having no ear for music any different than having no knack for math?  We don't cater to our students' weaknesses: we do our best to encourage their development to the best of their abilities.

            (Besides, the fact that the Right is notoriously lacking in artists and musicians [who always seem to lean Left] is proof enough that they're valuable.  ;)

            Other points are circular: we don't teach foreign languages because no one speaks foreign languages because no one teaches foreign languages.  My students who take foreign language seriously are always happy to discover that they're infinitely more competitive on the job market.  

            Again, this is not an attack on your system, but a more general question about universal curricula: who gets to pick, and why?  We in the humanities are constantly having to fight to justify our existence, but I think the combined notion of nuts-and-bolts education (that is, minus humanities) and the dismal state of our eductional system might lend credence to the fact that the dismissal of the humanities has not served us well.

    •  Yes, children should all learn the same thing. (none)
      Furthermore, I am a proponent of a national universal curriculum.  While a nationwide curriculum may seem outlandish, it would provide the benefit of having every kid in the country on the same page at the same grade level.  Why should children in wealthy suburban schools get a better curriculum than children in poor urban or rural schools?  Another additional benefit would be that families could move for parents' careers any time during the year.  They wouldn't be forced to wait until the end of a semester or school year because their offspring would be able to simply pick up where they left off at the old school without missing a beat.

      There should be a baseline of knowledge that everyone should possess.  Unfortunately, local school boards are the biggest hindrance to providing such a baseline.  If there are federal guidelines stating that children should be in a school until the age of sixteen, then there should be federal guidelines as to what children are being taught.  As it is now, your level of education depends solely upon geography:  where you live, the school district's tax base and the politics of the local school board.  We have seen the crazy depths to which school boards have sunk with the jettisoning of evolution in favor of "intelligent design" in some areas of the country.  Those decisions unfairly affect children who would otherwise clamor for a quality education.

      Children need to have comprehensive general skills before venturing into specialization as young adults.  Do not underestimate the value of post puberty passions that young adults can have.  Those paths can take them where they need to go in life and without more general knowledge, how are they to find those paths that incite their passions?

      New Orleans WILL rebuild because she is more than the sum of her architecture.

      by NOLAWitch on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:36:54 AM PST

      •  I appreciate your response... (none)
        ...though of course I disagree.  I want to thinking about a longer response for awhile, in the interest of actually having a better response.  

        One question that arises immediately however, is the place of location-specific content in your curriculum.  I refer explicitly to the learning of state and local history/social studies, state/regional-specific geographical studies, civics lessons that of necessity are going to vary by locale (i.e. Louisiana using the Napoleonic code upon which to base their legal system, for example and states have differing governmental structures).  

        As I said, I will give this more thought.


        Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

        by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 10:59:57 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Those region- or state-specific courses... (none)
          ...would be on top of the core curriculum.  There are school districts that do not mandate any government courses whatsoever.   Without the broader scope of knowing how the federal government works within the Constitution, how are local civics to be understood properly?  Using your example, a person who didn't know that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land wouldn't know in what important ways the Napoleonic code differed and how the Constitution supersedes it.

          The most ludicrous thing I feel teachers have to put up with is dealing with students from other school systems who don't have even remotely similar educational experiences to the existing students.  Either they aren't as proficient as the other students or they went to excellent schools and are advanced beyond the other students.  Both scenarios spell trouble for the teachers trying to accelerate the transfer students who are behind and trying to keep those who are advanced from losing interest.  A national standard curriculum would solve that problem.

          New Orleans WILL rebuild because she is more than the sum of her architecture.

          by NOLAWitch on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:21:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I'd like to agree with you (none)
        in many respects, but my fear of a national standardized curriculum is based largely in the assumption that said curriculum is bound to be unsatisfactory for everyone, for a few reasons: 1) it will be developed by politicians, not teachers; 2) it will attempt a compromise of different visions of what "should" be taught, and as everyone knows, the only type of compromise is the one in which everyone's equally unhappy, and 3) standardizations always seem to have the unfortunate effect of limiting rather than liberating: what starts as a guideline becomes a restriction, thanks to the endless tightening of bureaucracy.

        I'm totally in favor of a set of minimum national standards - at least X portions of English, science, foreign language, etc. - but given how difficult it is to set standards even within an institution (I currently sit on the board of a curriculum committee at my university), I can't imagine any realistic way of doing it nationally.  I see endless lawsuits, bickering, reforms, etc.  

        I do agree with you, however, that the lack of a national curriculum is a huge disadvantage to those in districts with less resources - I have perfect faith, however, that wealthier districts will still find ways to subvert a national system, and keep the others at the bottom.

        •  That's our challenge as progressives: (none)
          To find ways to accomplish these goals to the betterment of society as a whole.  There is an extremely good germ of an idea over at Since Sliced Bread dealing with Public Education Reform.  Someone proposed funneling taxes to a general state fund to be reallocated to local schools on a per-student basis.  That would take the wind out of the sails of some of the wealthy school districts and provide influxes of money into poor districts where funds are desperately needed.  It's not right that kids in impoverished areas also get impoverished educations when there is money being flung willy-nilly in wealthy areas.

          New Orleans WILL rebuild because she is more than the sum of her architecture.

          by NOLAWitch on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:29:55 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  This was tried in Arkansas... (none)
            ...and failed.  Small school districts (especially in rural areas) couldn't even afford the faculty that they had prior to its adoption, let alone any faculty to teach anything "extra" like art, music, foreign languages, advanced math and science, etc.  And guess what...the larger urban schools managed to get short-changed as well, because they ended up with increased administrative costs mandated by the state.  Every level of administration takes a slice of the pie.

            Should there be reorganization of expenditure for educational purposes?  Of course there should be.  But simplistic solutions are not the answer.  In places where parents want to spend money for their chiildren's educations, how are you going to stop them from doing so because it's unfair to someone else's children?


            Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

            by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:50:50 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  consider the following (none)
        to have everyone on the same page at the same time would (a) bore the hell out of those who could learn far more quickly and (b) be far too fast for those who struggle in that domain.

        And also note - a child can fall in both categories in different domains.

        I believe the focus should be on the individual child.  Whatever "common" knowledge we believe that child should learn should be at a pace that makes sense for that child.

        By your logic, there would be neither gifted classes or special education.  The latter is required by law, for good reason - so those kids are not simply ignored and not given a chance to make more of their lives.

        Sorry   -- I strongly disagree.   I have taught every level from mildly retarded to outright scarily brilliant.  From my experience, albeit limited to that of one person, from widing reading in the literature, and from extensive discussion with others dedciated to education, the idea of everyone on the same page at the same time is about the least productive idea from the standpoint of student learning that I have ever encountered.  It may seem "efficient" from an administrative standpoint, but it is not conducive to real learning.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:41:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thank you, Ken... (none)
          ...the gist of my "longer response" was going to concern the fact that different students learn at differing rates and no standardized curriculum can force students to keep up.  Additionally, we would end up with No Child Gets Ahead, as I've said before.


          Teacher's Lounge opens each Saturday, sometime between 10am and 11am EST

          by rserven on Sat Jan 14, 2006 at 11:55:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  My mother had to endure (none)
            the "packet system" of education in her day.  No teaching, no interaction: everyone got a giant packet of worksheets, of which they had to complete a certain percentage in order to pass the class.  She doesn't read well, she doesn't know math well, and she credits this ingenious system.  

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