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One of my periodic reads is Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  A periodic read is a book into which I dip from time to time, digesting (appropriate in this case!) it slowly over a prolonged period, reading a few to several dozen pages at a time.  What I read yesterday struck me as perhaps helpful in understanding the nature of teaching, for in many ways it has or should have more in common with the most appropriate ways of raising food.

Or perhaps I can approach this slightly differently -  we can learn much about what not to in education by examining what is so often wrong in how our food is raised, because our current model of education has much in common  with the destructive approaches used in much of the production of what we eat.

I began to understand this connection when reading what Pollan had to offer when writing about Polyface Farms near Staunton, Va.

Consider these words from p. 212:

Industrial processes follow a clear, linear, hierarchical logic that is fairly easy to put into words, probably because words follow a similar logic:  First this, then that, put this in here, and then out comes that.  But the relationship between cows and chickens on this farm (leaving aside for the moment the other creatures and relationships present here) takes the form of a loop rather than a line, and that maes it hard to know where to start, or how to distinguish between causes and effects, subjects and objects.

People knowledgeable about and critical towards our approach to education often remark on how much we have attempted to turn our schools into an industrial model.  It is not just that the physical layout and the traditional school day with fixed periods beginning and ending with bells is a product of the thinking of those like Frederick Taylor, the guru of systematic organization of industrial and business processes.  It is also that we encounter those who will, believe it or not, describe the students who pass through the schools as the product we produce.  

Or perhaps I can back up to the chapter entitled "Bio Organic."  Pollan writes about the mentality driven by the work of Baron Justus von Liebig, who in an 1840 monograph identified the use of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) as the key ingredients necessary to plant growth.  It was this identification that led to the focus on commercial fertilization, because the use of these three chemicals undoubtedly contributes to plant growth, but one is thereby treating the soil as a machine, which while it does in the short term lead to increased production of grains like wheat and corn, but it ignores the complexity of things like humus and earthworms, the natural way of maintaining the fertility of soil.  Let me pick up at the end of the description Pollan offers of the functioning of humus, starting on p. 146:

But providing a buffet of nutrients to plants is not the only thing humus does:  It also serves as the glee that binds the minute material particles in soil together into airy crumbs and holds water in suspension so that rainfall remains available to plant roots instead of instantly seeping away.
    To reduce such a vast biological complexity to NPK represented the scientific method at its reductionist worst.  Complex qualities are reduced to simple quantities; biology gives way to chemistry.  As Howard was not the first to point out, that method can only deal with one or two variables at a time.  The problem is that once science has a reduced a complex phenomenon to a couple of variables, however important they may be, the natural tendency is to overlook everything else, to assume that what you can measure is all there is, or at least all that really matters.  When we mistake what we can know for all there is to know, a healthy appreciation of one's ignorance in the face of a mystery like soil fertility gives way to the hubris that we can treat nature as a machine.  One that leap has been made, one input follows another, so that when the synthetic nitrogen fed to plants makes them more attractive to insects and vulnerable to disease, as we have discovered, the farmer turns to chemical pesticides to fix his broken machine.

The parallels with schools, learning and assessment will not be exact, but start with this:  our students are biological creatures living in a biological world with many complex interrelationships. While some skills can be broken down into components, overly focusing on the components while ignoring the complex system in which those components are applied can interfere substantially, even as our measurements seem to assure us of the progress we are making.  Here I have in mind something known as DIBELS, which takes the approach that reading is improving when students can more fluently pronounce a series of nonsense syllables.  If this sounds like focusing on phonetics to the exclusion of all else, and you intimate that I am comparing that to NPK fertilizer, you grasp at least part of my intent in offering this passage from Pollan.

Part of it, but not all.  Remember, the passage also talks about how what we can measure becomes all upon which we focus, we begin to assume that we we can know thereby is all that is worth knowing.  In the case of grains, all we measure is the increase of output in the short term.  Similarly we test what is easy - and cheap - to test, by using multiple choice items for which there is only one correct answer out of four or five, where there is no credit for a second best answer, where the skill that is developed is not natural, existing only in the artificial environment of the multiple choice question for which there is (supposedly) always exactly one correct answer and no more or no less.  But the real world application of knowledge and skill requires one to recognize that when one examines the choices before one there may be more than one correct answer in isolation, that one must think further, perhaps of consequences, in selecting among several otherwise seemingly equally correct choices.  And sometimes the real skill needed is to recognize when the choices one has so far identified contains no truly correct choice because one's knowledge is incomplete, or one's perspective too limited.  Such a situation is not unlike heavy application of chemical fertilizers to increase output without regard to the long-term consequences - loss of natural fertility of the soil, susceptibility to plant diseases easily spread among monocultures, vulnerability to insect pests, etc.

Learning is a natural phenomenon.  To be sure, there are domains that require one to change one's way of thinking, to expand one's perspective.  Some things work in ways that are counter-intuitive to how our minds seem to work.  Or rather, how some minds seem to work, because were mankind not capable of thinking beyond the linear, things like understanding of the non-sequential reality that exists, for example, in the subatomic world of quarks and leptons would (a) never have been recognized, and (b) would remain beyond the comprehension of the vast number of people who now not only understand but can apply that knowledge in new and productive ways.

Pollan tries to present us with an understanding of systems, in this case biological systems.  Here, before I examine the last selection from the book I will explore in this diary, allow me to make a discursus, but one relevant to my thinking on this.  I spent 20+ years in data processing, much of that as a systems analyst.  Nowadays we encounter a lot of discussion about systems theory, and that aspect of systems theory known as chaos theory, with the famous example offered by an early proponent of this approach, Edward Lorenz, who in his work with weather systems (incredibly complex) offered the example of what we know as the butterfly effect, how the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in, say, South America, can totally change the weather patters on the West Coast of the United States.  

Systems theory is to a large degree derived from the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, born in Austria, who derived the ideas which lead to systems theory from his work as a biologist, observing and analyzing living systems.  He is responsible for General Systems Theory, which can unfortunately be easily simplified to a mechanistic approach, and also to the idea of open systems, the theory of which argues against mechanistic application of the second law of thermodynamics.  He was especially critical of mechanistic approaches in the social sciences, which he pointed out were complex interactions of between natural sciences and human social systems.  He certainly believed that systems theory was applicable in the social sciences, but was clearly critical of what could be considered "atomistic" approaches.  

With that as background, let me return to Pollan and the ideas I derived from reading his words.  Pollan spends some time exploring the thinking of Sir Albert Howard, "an English agronomist knighted after his thirty years of research in India" (p. 145) who provided the philosophical underpinnings for organic agriculture, whose ideas can be seen in the work of Rodale, and who has been favorably written about by Wendell Berry. Although Howard never used the modern word "organic" in his writing, he offered a holistic approach, one which included not only agricultural aspects but also the interconnected social aspects.  Pollan notes on p. 150 that Howard encouraged farmers to regard their domains more like living organisms and less like machines.  Pollan then writes this:

The notion of imitating whole natural systems stands in stark opposition to reductionist science, which works by breaking such systems down into their component parts in order to understand how they work and then manipulating them - one variable at a time.  In this sense, Howard's concept of organic agriculture is premodern, arguably even antiscientific:  He's telling us we don't need to understand how humus works or what compost does in order to make good use of it.  Our ignorance of the teeming wilderness that is the soil (even the act of regarding it as a wilderness) is no impediment to nurturing it.  To the contrary, a healthy sense of all we don't know - even a sense of mystery - keeps us from reaching for oversimplications and technological silver bullets.

When I read the words I have just blockquoted, I immediately realized how applicable they are to what is wrong with our approach to schools, and to educational research.  As noted in my remarks above about testing, often we measure in education that which is easy to measure (recall for example) without regard to its appropriate functioning in a living organism.  We seek to focus on discrete parts of learning and of educational domains in a reductionist fashion, "manipulating them - one variable at a time."  In  a sense that presumes, incorrectly, that we have identified all of the variables that need to be understood.  And too often we interpret the results on the basis of strength of correlation, ignoring that what we are able to perceive may not have a direct cause-and-effect relationship.  

I am not arguing that there is no need to break down learning into discrete steps which can be learned separately.  As one who has coached I understand the importance for some to have the physical processes broken down, then rebuilt.  As a musician, I know the value of learning scales and chords and arpeggios, fluency in which can be essential to putting together a work of music without attempting to recognize and learn each discrete note with its pitch, duration, volume and attack / accentuation.  But as coach and as a musician who has worked with high school musical theater and non-professional adult choruses, I also understand that there is no one way to help others with these skills, because the operation of their minds, the perception and translation of inputs (notes on a page and direction from a conductor) and the relevant previous backgrounds with which they arrive are not universal.  As a coach or musical director, I must adapt my "instruction" to the immediate intersection of material or skill to be learned and the person doing the learning. There is in most cases a social dimension as well, which ranges from being productive in the use of the time of all participants to helping diverse people realize that by listening to instruction geared to someone else they may gain perspective on their own difficulties and successes and begin to develop the skill of self-instruction, adapting and improving on their own.  

I have in part just describe the intersection between the biological and the humanly constructed systems upon which I touched in discussing von Bertalanffy.  What I need to add to this is that I do not need to know everything about the prior background and mental orientation of my students or athletes or musicians to be able to assist them, but I do have to respect that my knowledge is not complete, that sometimes I will not fully understand how I have succeeded in helping / instructing someone, or even the adjustments  have made in the instructional process.  There is often a real subtlety, because I am myself a living organism who is adjusting based on multiple inputs, sensory and also - at least I experience it this way - intuitive, not directly accessible by my cognition.

I began in computers during the period when most data was entered through punch cards.  Often important documents were encoded not merely with information that was printed as well as punched.  And as well as the 80 columns of characters on such a card were printed the additional words "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate" because that could make the card unreadable by the machines that processed them.  I often think we perhaps need to imprint that on the forehead of every student we instruct, because they are living systems, not merely carriers of information.  They are not machines into which we put input, they do not automatically learn merely because we have taught a lesson, no matter how well "tested" that lesson has been, regardless of the raised test scores that may have resulted in other circumstances.

Part of learning is the ability to find useful information and skills and be able to transfer that to a different situation, making modifications as appropriate.  In a sense, I have in this posting tried to model that by my taking words written in the context of helping people understand about how our food is produced and applying them to try to help people understand the nature of education, of teaching, of learning.

I do not pretend that my application is perfect, because the situations are not exact parallels.  But if some develop a deeper understanding, it has been worthwhile for me to make the effort, even if that deeper understanding has the effect of enabling the one who develops it to demolish the argument I present in this post.  Learning is real, even if it is not what the instructor has intended.  That is a lesson that should be remembered not merely by those of us whose professional responsibility is the education of others, but also by all whose life involves instruction of any kind.  That certainly includes parent to child, but also child to parent. It applies to all of us, because we are similar in this regard - we are living beings operating in a social environment imposed upon a natural world - we can never fully know everything there is to know, and yet we must act, move forward.  We should remember the limits of our knowledge, and thereby be both humble in how we apply it, and open to the possibility that even hard-won lessons may need to be modified in the light of deeper understanding over time.  That is as true in our teaching our children as it is in producing our food.


Originally posted to teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 03:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by Environmental Foodies and Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar for those so inclined (54+ / 0-)

    I pondered these words for a while, having read them early evening yesterday.  When I found I could no longer sleep early this morning, I sat down and began to write.  This diary is the result.

    Do with it what you will.


    do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

    by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 03:03:16 AM PDT

    •  I thank those whose recommends have promoted this (13+ / 0-)

      for however brief a stay it may have on the recommended list.  I am glad that it has found some audience, and therefore served some useful purpose.


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:38:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  NPK = Reading Riting Rithmatic (6+ / 0-)

      The 3 R's approach is as simplistic and reductionist as ignoring all trace elements, micronutrients, organic matter and all the living organisms in soil.

      The American conservative approach to education intentionally stomps out creativity and the joy of learning. Creativity is viewed as a threat to order and joy is viewed as a threat to discipline.

      "It's the planet, stupid."

      by FishOutofWater on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:41:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  while not an unfair comparison (0+ / 0-)

        I would note that the three r's predates the factory model school, which is one reason I did not make the comparison you do.

        do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

        by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:45:07 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  SJ Teachers teach obedience (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Randtntx, miss SPED

          Factory farming didn't just show up out of nowhere. Before factory farms there were arsenic laden apples that killed all worms and many farm workers. There was the dustbowl that was caused by soil mismanagement. There was overgrazing by cattle.

          Factory schools are based on a long history of bad educational models too....molding little minds.

          "It's the planet, stupid."

          by FishOutofWater on Sun May 10, 2009 at 05:00:53 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  interesting to talk about apples (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FishOutofWater, Randtntx, miss SPED, rossl

            given this diary by Magnifico which talks about the loss of the diversity of apples and other fruits in Central Asia, in which readers will discover that our own apples, derived from their original site in Asia, are threatened by the way we raise them.

            do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

            by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 05:04:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Several years back, when I was a green scientist (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lilypew, C Barr

              (meaning that I worked on plants) I went to a talk at Cornell by a Russian plant scientist who was trying to maintain the diversity of the apples there. He spoke in Russian, with a translator, he had good slides. After a while into the talk, I realized that I was understanding Russian language! Amazing thing, no, marvelous thing, and I got a new view of education that day.

              Thanks, TK. An interesting observation and parallel.

              Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

              by riverlover on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:53:59 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Molding, interesting word choice (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            miss SPED, rossl

            as in MOLD

            1. a hollow form for giving a certain shape to something plastic or molten
            1. a frame on which something is modeled
            1. something that is formed in or on a mold
            1. a fungus producing a furry growth on the surface of organic matter
            1. soil rich in decayed organic matter

            Molding kids minds, moulding kids minds, minding the mould. All relevant here.

      •  Just a random thougt on this. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NC Dem, Randtntx, miss SPED

        A Chinese colleague and I were discussing family life, education etc..   He commented on how massive our math text books are compared to the one's that he had in China. Yet his math skills are formidable.

        I think that the 3 R's are still the cornerstone of education. They are the gateway to learning. Teachers have to spend far too much time getting students up to level on the basics.

        My wife and I devoted a lot of time on the 3 r's with our 3 daugters when they young. We read to them daily, even when they were months old. When hey started to read on their own we taught them how to comprehend what they had just read. We also bought software to enhance their reading comprhension. Like wise with writing and math. We taght them the alphabet, how to write letters,words, sentences, then stories We taght thm how to count then how to count with money.

        Then we taught them anyaltical skills. We woudn't give them the answer to a probelm we would teach them how to find the answer. Even if it took 2 hours versus two minutes.

        If you can give a child these basic skill early, then they are set for life.

      •  Three R's Aren't the Problem (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        riverlover, ZenTrainer, C Barr, miss SPED

        It's everything else schools try to do (and that society dumps onto the schools).

        If school was just the three R's, with kids then left with a great deal of unstructured free time to make of as they will, schools would be less overbearing and kids probably less stressed.

        But most adults don't want that. They want the kids time to be "structured," in large part because it makes schools look a lot more like the typical American workplace: long hours, plenty of stress, workplace personality conflicts, drug testing, and generally a long grind that's escaped at the end of the day so as to get home and in front of the TV.

        •  The problem is (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lilypew, C Barr, miss SPED

          that if there was a lot of unstructured time a lot of kids would just goof off.  I'm a huge critic of how schools work now, but I have no idea what the solution is.

          •  Kids Should (5+ / 0-)

            Have time to goof off. We refer to it at my house of the homeschooled as "staring off into space" time.

            Any decent thinker spends a fair bit of time staring off into space. A basic job requirement, really.

            But using that time also entails getting comfortable with the idea of high-quality solitude, which we don't value very highly as a culture (and is nearly impossible in a prison-like structures designed in part to make solitude difficult).

            •  In middle school (0+ / 0-)

              if students have "down time" they tend to get loud, physical with each other (mostly friendly punches, slaps, etc.) and almost impossible to redirect.  The more students put in a small area, without structure, the more likely for some unwanted situation to happen. Just my experience at 15 years of teaching and parenting.

              "There must be more to life than having everything" -Maurice Sendak

              by lilypew on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:49:00 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  By and Large (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Those kids have been trained to behave that way. They've grown up in a system which structures most of the waking hours of children (either through active supervision of play by adults or by subcontracting the structuring to computer games). Your middle schoolers weren't blank slates when they got to junior high, but have been in certain behavior patterns since preschool.

                And kids need to get loud and physical with each other. They're immature mammals and I can't think of any species of mammals whose young aren't oftentimes loud and physical with one another. They're hard wired to behave in such a way.

                Locking them in a room without much, if any, recess time during the day isn't going to change those impulses. The kids with the least ability to suppress those impulses end up dropping out and the rest deal with it one way or another, though the staggering rate at which we as a culture drug ourselves (both legally and illegally) may in part be a cost of this system.

            •  As far as I'm aware (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              teacherken, ZenTrainer, rossl

              the Montessori approach is based on letting the child learn what they are interested in at that moment, in a relatively unstructured environment. It's far superior to the factory school approach.

              I have a book packed somewhere (we moved recently), which I believe was by Jim Fixx of all people, that had a chapter about trying to manage highly creative people. It frustrates managers no end, he wrote, because creative people do not (and cannot!) work steadily for eight hours. They work in fits and spurts, often not on the eight-to-five schedule, and it drives managers nuts, because they want steady workers who are also creative workers. He tells them, essentially: you can't have both. You can either have drones, or you can accept that creative people need to have a significant portion of their work time spent "looking idle," while they think over the problem and do other things - like playing computer games or doodling or chatting - that look completely unproductive, but which are giving their right brain a chance to take a whack at the problem while their left brain is distracted.

              I know of a man who bargained with his workplace: you pay me the salary of two people and I'll give you the work of three, BUT - you have to let me work at my own pace and on my own time. That means no time clocks, no "you have to be in the office from eight until five so we can see that you're working," no "you have to come to meetings and be part of conference calls," none of that. They howled, and he said "Or I can leave and find work elsewhere, and you'll be stuck trying to find three people to do the work I would do. Have it your way." They had to give in, and he was enormously productive - from about two a.m. till about seven a.m. every morning.

              We bemoan the lack of creativity in our children, and yet we do everything we can to stifle it - is it any wonder that other countries are doing better than we are?

              There is an art to teaching that is independent of the subject matter. - daveinojai

              by Killer of Sacred Cows on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:59:58 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  reminds me of tale I can tell on myself (2+ / 0-)

                in my previous life, as noted in the diary, I worked extensively in data processing.  In one major corporation, I had a cubicle all the way in a back corner of the department.  One day the executive VP happened to wander through our department.  I apparently had my feet on my desk, my hands behind my head, and i was leaning back staring at the ceiling.

                The VP blew up and went into my boss, and started ranting about me.  When he paused for a breath, after having basically demanded I be fired because I didn't seem to be doing anything, my boss corrected him.  As my boss recounted it to me (and was confirmed by people who were at that end of the office and had stopped to listen), he said "you're wrong.  He is doing something.  He's thinking.  We pay him to think. And he does it so well he is my most productive programmer."  Having made clear he had no intent of firing me, he apparently got that VP to calm down and butt out.


                do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

                by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:31:30 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

          •  I disagree (4+ / 0-)

            think about a school with 8 periods, 5 minutes in between 45 minutes each.  One is lunch.  Otherwise you are forced into these rigid periods with little time to process, no meaningful time to transition.

            We give tests within rigid time limits. Are we measuring understanding and depth of knowledge or merely giving an advantage to those who process and read quickly, even if they lack depth in dealing with the material before them.

            And we have crammed more and more into our "standards" covering so much material that the percentage of what we test can often approach a large degree of randomness within those tests.  Think for a moment of a domain in which 1,000 questions are possible, but for which you have time to ask only 50, or 5%.  On any one test someone could in theory get all 50 right and know nothing else, or all 50 wrong and know the 95%.  Granted, over time and repeated testing the actually ability / knowledge of each will become more clear.  But in one application the problem - while described in exaggerated terms here - is nevertheless real.

            Too much of our approach to education does not value depth or reflection.  And one thing our students need to learn is how to step back from things.  Unfortunately, our model of school really does not value any of that.

            do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

            by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:26:31 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  hehehe (10+ / 0-)

    you KNOW that's totally one of my favorite books ever. Rec'd your diary, of course :)

    I wrote a book! You should buy it!

    by Jill Richardson on Sun May 10, 2009 at 03:07:46 AM PDT

  •  When I was in graduate school (9+ / 0-)

    at the Yale School of Drama studying directing, one of the most important things someone said is that directing a play is more like growing a plant than assembling a machine, appearances sometimes to the contrary.

    It was a revelation.

    You can be active with the activists, or sleep in with the sleepers/ While you're waiting for the Great Leap Forward --Billy Bragg

    by andrewj54 on Sun May 10, 2009 at 03:34:46 AM PDT

  •  The assumption of a system (14+ / 0-)

    I was a terrible student, despite having high test scores.  When I reflect back on those experiences, I find it easy to relate with kids, who seem disinterested.

    There is this overwhelming assumption that kids care about education for education's sake, and they are just being failed by the system.  There is also an assumption that their is a viable career path in front of every child, if we can just get them into college.

    When I talk to kids, I am amazed by their sophistication.  They are able to intuit information from multiple sources at the same time.  When they want something, they can quickly acquire the knowledge they need.  That is what really confuses me when I look at the problems in our education system.  These kids perform in a far more socially and technologically complex society.  They adapt remarkably quickly to an ever increasing knowledge base.

    Yet somehow, they can't pick up basic educational concepts.  I think it may be us who are falling behind their capacity, and not the other way around.  Kids don't perform in testing, because there is no incentive.  If they actually took these tests as seriously as all of us do, you would see a massive spike of test scores.  We put far too much stock in the perfection of the way we evaluate students, and not enough on the communication with the students directly.

  •  Thanks for the insights. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr, miss SPED

    I have tried to relate education to the business model into which we've been thrust.  I always came up short when I got to the "product" phase.  I finally concluded that our kids are both the product AND the consumer.  That muddles the model sufficiently to make some business people's eyes cross.

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:09:26 AM PDT

    •  I actually don't think they are either (6+ / 0-)

      because they are independent human beings.  In factory farming the animals may turn into product -  in a CAFO we fatten pigs/cows to prepare them for slaughter.  At least on paper we are not preparing our students for slaughter to be divided up and processes (although it is not clear for what we are preparing them).

      As for their being consumers, that would presume that they are doing nothing more than consuming what we dole out.  That would be a rather sterile education.  In fact they are, or should be, coproducers of the learning we hope they gain while in our care.

      It is one reason I think applying a business model to schools misinterprets what is - or what should be - going on, and has some fairly serious negative consequences.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:14:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You're right, of course. (4+ / 0-)

        I was just trying to make sense of using a business model inappropriately.  Your analysis helps to clear it up for me.  I just hope I can articulate it as well as you have when the time comes.  

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:33:49 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  sterile education (6+ / 0-)

        At least on paper we are not preparing our students for slaughter to be divided up and processes (although it is not clear for what we are preparing them).

        In the literal sense, au contraire, I have done exactly that.  I have spent nearly  a month doing a standardized test "Push", in which I toil to teach classes, double the size they should be, how to pass a ninth or tenth grade modified state test, when the kids have mostly first through fifth grade competence, and fifth through seventh grade curriculum.
        It is totally the business model, the 'you can do it - no excuses' middle management mantra.
        I find comfort in Michael Pollan.  Real food; mostly plants; not too much. Would that my students could heed the call.
        Happy Mother's Day.

    •  Business/Commercial model... (3+ / 0-) a paradigmatic relationship: that of seller and customer.

      Teacher/Student is a different paradigmatic relationship: that of master and disciple.

      It is always a mistake to model one paradigmatic relationship on another.  That won't work, because...well, because paradigms are paradigms.

      Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

      by WarrenS on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:46:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  When it's working best, teacher is a facilitator (3+ / 0-)

        moderation in everything ... including moderation

        by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:03:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed. I love it when (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ZenTrainer, C Barr

          the kids take off with an idea.  I'm not always successful at getting them to bite, but when I do, it's a joy for all of us.  I keep telling them that everyone in the room, including me, should be learning something every day.

          -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

          by luckylizard on Sun May 10, 2009 at 11:30:02 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  But how do we explain that (0+ / 0-)

        to all the MBAs who insist that everything can be done to a business model?  Heck, I don't tell them how to run their businesses.  Why do they think they know how to run my classroom?

        -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

        by luckylizard on Sun May 10, 2009 at 11:27:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  hell, their models don't work in business (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          remember, GW Bush was a Harvard MBA, and he succeeded afterwards in running a business into the ground, and in being forced out by the company that had bought that business.

          Not everything in life can be quantified, and there is a danger in assuming that what can be quantified is all that matters.  I address that specifically in the diary.  

          I think of all the MBAs whose greatest goal out of B-School was to go to Wall Street and the like, and that tells me a great deal of what I need to know about MBAs.

          And I can add more.  I almost wound up teaching at Harvard B-Schools.  I blew one of three interviews for teaching writing and oral communication.  The screening process included evaluating three written analyses of case studies.  In my final interview with the director of the program, he asked me what I thought of the samples I had given.  I told him that were I back teaching high school students (as I had done as an intern for 6 months), the best paper would have been a B-minus:  it was disorganized, and lacked a complete understanding of the case, at least insofar as what the author had written.  He then told me that paper was better than 90% of what I would see while working with the papers on the case studies.  Hell, the damn author could not even properly analyze the information before him.  And this was from supposedly the top B-School in the nation, in the late 1970s.

          And given how B-school grads have run American businesses into the ground, I do not think we need to grant them very much credibility when they begin to bloviate about areas in which they have demonstrably less knowledge than those in which despite their supposed expertise they have done such a piss-poor job.

          do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

          by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 11:55:29 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Balancing act. (0+ / 0-)

            I can't refuse to teach the test but I do insist on doing more.  I'm sure you do so, as well.  The best assessments I've ever gotten have been from former students who come back and tell me how what we did together, way back when, helped them as they progressed through school and into adult life.  That's how I measure my effectiveness, regardless of the test.*  It requires patience, waiting to see how the whole education plays out for each individual kid.

            *I was a great tester.  Standardized tests were like a vacation for me and I always did well (98-99%-ile).  My life has been much less easy, so the tests measured pretty much nothing in my case.

            -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

            by luckylizard on Sun May 10, 2009 at 12:12:14 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I would like to borrow (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, JanL, C Barr, Jimdotz, miss SPED

    your 'do not fold, spindle, or mutilate' instructions to send home with all the neonates I discharge from the hospital where I work.

    Your analogy can also apply to health, and the growing and tending of our littlest ones. I wish we treated things in general with more care (dare i say, treat things with a little reverence).

    •  here words of the Rule of St Benedict seem apt: (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      frandor55, C Barr, Randtntx, miss SPED

      He wrote that the humblest implements of the garden should be treated with the same respect accorded to the sacred vessels on the altar.

      Or if one prefers, one can think of the creation story with which Genesis begins, where after the 6th day and God had finished his work, we read "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. "


      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 04:36:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I like those ideas. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        teacherken, C Barr, miss SPED

        They convey appreciation, and an understanding of the inherent value of very basic things. Blake said this well in his poem Auguries of Innocence.

        To see a World in a Grain of Sand
        and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
        Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
        And Eternity in an hour.

        Unfortunately this poem has been overused for trite greeting card type uses, but the idea is strong. Children seem to understand these notions better than adults sometimes.

  •  I love your diaries. Thank you! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, C Barr, miss SPED, rossl
  •  Somewhat off topic - homeschooling (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr

    What is your opinion of homeschooling?  My daughter is planning to homeschool her 4 year old girls (in fact has already begun).  She is very capable and creative but has some emotional issues.  I have mixed feelings.  I wish there was a part-time homeschooling option.

    •  appopriate for some, not necessarily for all (4+ / 0-)

      depending upon skills of parents.  It is helpful for students to experience skilled adults outside of the family.  And as children progress up the educational ladder it often becomes harder for parents to provide the kind of quality that SHOULD BE (but often is not) available with secondary teachers, particularly in more advanced subjects.

      I can imagine a political liberal parent who is not particularly religious or of a minority religion worrying about the experience of attending a school in a system dominated by one megachurch or by a school board of a strongly conservative and narrowly religious focus preferring to homeschool his children.

      So I have no uniform reaction.  I have taught students who were homeschooled until high school.  Some are quite well adjusted, others had trouble with suddenly being in a building with almost 3,000 other adolescents.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 05:08:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Geenius at Wrok, C Barr

        ... for your response.  My daughter is as you described but is more concerned that her daughters will be a "product" of the schools and they will be too influenced by our consumer culture.  

        •  Those Are Valid Concerns n/t (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          C Barr
        •  If "consumer culture" is the problem (0+ / 0-)

          then I'd be more concerned with popular media than public schooling.

          moderation in everything ... including moderation

          by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:05:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  No TV (0+ / 0-)

            My daughter does not let her children watch TV. The only TV they have seen is at other people's homes.  They also do not watch full length videos. She has just started letting them watch short video and ones of family.  They love books - can't get enough of them.

            •  uh-oh. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              C Barr

              firstly, I totally agree with your daughter's decision to limit exposure to television--especially for a 4 year old. but i also know that my mom did the same thing to me:  i would watch tv and movies at friends' houses, and when i realized i was being shut out of a form of culture, and the opportunity to experience what my friends were, i began to resent her for it.
              on the other hand, my dad (they were divorced at an early age) would let me watch science shows (the ones with cheesy graphics), and fantasy and even old horror movies (eg. LOTR and Dracula )--but he always gave me books to go along with them. i still have my "Encyclopedia of Movie Monsters" that taught me how to connect the stories people tell and hear with the different kinds of fear and types of action they represent or evoke.
              stories come in all kinds of different forms, and the medium itself is not always the message (apologies to mcluhan). heck, there's not even such an animal anymore (as medium, singular). i mean, who knew it would be so much fun to watch c-span and liveblog?
              of course, i'm sure 4 year olds aren't ready for the liveblog experience, but they know good stories. and good stories = interest = learning.
              and your grandchildren are smart already: Books.Are.Awesome.

              •  I think she goes overboard (0+ / 0-)

                I've told her it will be too big a deal for them when they do watch at friends etc.  We always had TV on (I was young and unenlightened) when she was small and she's not a big TV watcher now.

          •  And You Think (0+ / 0-)

            That public schooling isn't drenched in both the particulars and broad sweep of the popular media?

  •  Reductionism can lead to educational myopia (4+ / 0-)

    if taken to its extreme, as in the NPK example you cite, but some simplification to the basics is critical to the construction of an adequate foundation upon which to build a healthy education.

    I am thinking of what I see in my community college math classes: students who come to me in September after graduating from high school in June who immediately break out a calculator to compute 9x5 or 10x3 or even 5x0. Yes, I have seen all of those and more!

    It is appropriate that students be made to face the discipline and rigor of learning their very reductionist "times tables" and that they be tested objectively on the acquisition of that knowledge.

    There is so much more that students can take away from years of elementary and secondary math classes, but until they learn "the basics" the hard way, they cannot and will not absorb the full measure of the beauty of mathematics.

    I know the special interests and lobbyists are gearing up for a fight as we speak.
    My message to them is this: So am I -- President Barack Obama

    by Jimdotz on Sun May 10, 2009 at 05:20:08 AM PDT

    •  I would beware of the universal assertion (6+ / 0-)

      in your final sentence, as I have known young people who began to grasp the beauty of mathematics before formally - or even informally - being fully briefed in the basics.  And I know a number of people  including myself, who were already somewhat entranced by mathematics without being taught the basics the hard way.  

      Some need that kind of scaffolding.  My own experience and my observation of young children over time is that such is not always required.  I grasped on my own the idea that multiplication was the equivalent of repeated addition, and from that quickly realized that division must similarly equal subtraction, and thus the concept of remainder was obvious -  this was in second grade, because I had a sister who was then in 5th.  

      And that is the key point -  far too often our educational policy seems to believe that there is only one way.  Skilled teachers recognize that they need a broad range of skills and methods in their pedagogical toolbox if they are going to match the right approach to the individual students, and/or to the collectivity of a class of students.

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 05:25:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I do not deny the inborn ability of children... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        C Barr, miss SPED

        to learn beautiful mathematical pattern on their own -- and it's a joy to see it happen -- but there is a critical need for a foundation in Arithmetic and Algebra in order to understand and appreciate elementary subjects such as Trigonometry and Geometry, let alone Calculus and the applied sciences.

        I know the special interests and lobbyists are gearing up for a fight as we speak.
        My message to them is this: So am I -- President Barack Obama

        by Jimdotz on Sun May 10, 2009 at 05:33:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Must have been nice (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        C Barr, Jimdotz

        To this day I struggle with basic arithmetic. I was skipped ahead a grade at the mid-year of second grade, and missed all the arithmetic foundation. I never learned my times tables, for example. I went from a class that was doing two-column addition and subtraction to a class that was doing long division with decimals.

        Up until then I was at grade level in math. Never again have I been. It instilled in me a phobia of math that I still fight with. For decades I thought I was just "stupid at math" and avoided it whenever possible. I still carry a four-function calculator with me in order to calculate the tip when I'm at a restaurant.

        Meanwhile, my husband the incipient physicist and mathematician strolls through linear algebra and differential equations without batting an eye, and I just stare in awe.

        The hell of it is, I love to solve puzzles. But because I don't have the basic tools, I always struggle with math and eventually get angry, and then I just stop trying.

        There is an art to teaching that is independent of the subject matter. - daveinojai

        by Killer of Sacred Cows on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:36:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  That was a crime... (0+ / 0-)

          but seriously, if you are ready to try and make up for those deficits, look into yout local community college. We offer Arithmetic-level classes that truly do work for students who are ready to make the best of them. My best students are returning adults who want to make more of their lives.

          Your greatest enemy will be the fear that you won't be able to compete against all those "expert 18-year-old" students. Trust me... you'll blow them away. Returning student who are motivated always do!

          Good Luck to you!

          I know the special interests and lobbyists are gearing up for a fight as we speak.
          My message to them is this: So am I -- President Barack Obama

          by Jimdotz on Sun May 10, 2009 at 10:05:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  and so what do you think? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Jimdotz, Randtntx

      My resource classes are filled with students who cannot correctly complete 'math facts.'  We aggressively advocate for them to attend community college, calculator in hand. It is a 'standard' accommodation for special education students.

      These are students whose dreams include four year colleges.  They often cry, or shake their heads in disbelief, when teachers tell them their 'diploma' (read - certificate of completion) does not qualify them for admittance to a four year university when they receive essentials/modified classes. Community college is their dream.

      I admit it - the government/taxpayers is much-ly paying for their schooling, and I am knowingly sending students to you.

      What should I do?  

  •  Although the book discussed is not... (7+ / 0-)

       my favorite by this author, it is essential to read to understand the evolution of Michael Pollan as an author and a person who loves the earth and all its bounties.

       Back in 1992 or maybe early 1993, I picked up a copy of a paperback called "Second Nature, A Gardener's Education". On a quick read of the first few chapters, it appeared to be a simple life story of his family, their farm, grandpa's roses, and of course the soil. Unconventional, irreverant, witty, concise on words were the trademarks of this book.

       One of my greatest joys today and almost every day is to slowly (I'm now 60 and it takes longer as in most of nature's calls) kneel beside a beautiful hosta, daylily, or astilbe and tear it from the soil with a trowel or short spade. I'll then divide and move this plant to the far corners of my two acre garden I call home. Each new plant has added some crusty, warm compost that has earthworths crawling from every scoop. My nails get dirty, my knees begin to ache, and the light outside gets dim in the evening. Another great day in my world. I quietly go inside to read a few short lines from Pollan's first book and re-discover the magic in his words that keeps pulling his readers like Ken back to his books.

       Yes, life can be simple or complex, but it can never get better than a nice glass of wine, lots of reading light (remember, I'm getting old), and a Michael Pollan book.

    •  That wonderful book taught me that (5+ / 0-)

      you mustn't view the above ground visible portion of the plant without considering its roots.  The two parts must be in proper proportions to one another.  Cut the foliage back.  Transplant without enough of those less obvious nutrient and water gathering roots to support the above ground vegetation and the plant will fail.  The parallels to education are there.  Many students became upset that I wouldn't answer their questions with factoids, but instead wanted to get them to think through the problem.  Life is seldom a simple multiple choice test with the possible answers arrayed in front of you.

      moderation in everything ... including moderation

      by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:17:51 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think you would enjoy the Pollan (3+ / 0-)

        especially when he is writing about the approach of Joel Salatin, the proprietor of Polyface Farms, who describes himself as a grass farmer. One will learn not only about grass, but also about the real carbon costs of the way we generate and distribute our food.  

        do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

        by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:35:09 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I can't deal with that at all (0+ / 0-)

      I'm a brown thumb, and I avoid dirt like the plague. I can't imagine ever enjoying getting dirt under my fingernails or on my hands. Just the thought makes me twitchy.

      If it makes you happy, more power to you. I guess my version of that kind of thing would be cleaning an area of my home, then relaxing in the resulting order and tidiness with a good book and a cup of tea (or in the summer, an ice-cold Fresca), and maybe some water crackers and Brie.

      There is an art to teaching that is independent of the subject matter. - daveinojai

      by Killer of Sacred Cows on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:41:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I guess you've never lay down along the (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NC Dem

        receding shoreline of a lake and slithered and rolled around in the mud like a worm, just for the squishy experience?  Everybody should try it at least once.

        moderation in everything ... including moderation

        by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:10:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ew. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          C Barr

          Ick. Ew. Gross. Aigh. I cannot even begin to express the depth of ickiness that just reading that idea inspires in me. I would never do that, ever, in my life. I would go insane trying to get clean afterwards, and probably scrub my skin off in the process.

          I probably have mild OCD. I've always chalked up these quirks to having Asperger's, but I wouldn't be surprised to find out I have mild OCD, too. I must wash my hands dozens of times a day, and there are certain textures - like mud - that I absolutely cannot tolerate, because contact with them creates physical sensations that take minutes or even hours to fade. I don't think most people get that if I touch something sticky or squishy, the spot literally throbs - my nerves jangle at me for a long time afterwards, no matter how much I scrub the spot or spots where it touched. It just feels dirty no matter what I do.

          I also have to check doors when I lock them - only once, but I must do that one check. If not, I'll be twitchy and worried for the whole time I'm away from the car/house/office that I might have locked, but am never sure I locked.  

          When I was in early undergrad, I took a child-development course, and the instructor advocated forcing guiding children with unintegrated sensory problems to do things like put their hands in wet clay, mud, sandbox sand, etc. to help them "get used to" how it felt. I had to walk out of the class, because it made me so ill to even think about it, and - frankly - it sounded like child abuse to me.

          So just... no. That's an experience I'll gladly give a miss to, thanks anyway.

          There is an art to teaching that is independent of the subject matter. - daveinojai

          by Killer of Sacred Cows on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:20:10 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Guess it wouldn't be a good experience for you. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Killer of Sacred Cows

            As for me, when it was time to do something else, just swim around out in the lake and voila! ... clean.

            moderation in everything ... including moderation

            by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:26:15 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  But... lake water is never clean. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              C Barr

              That... no. I think I was in a lake once, when I was eight or so, at camp, and after being dumped in it I had to go run to the shower and bathe for about two hours to feel clean again. Ocean water is slightly less bad, although it's still not clean and I still have to wash and wash afterwards, but the salt seems to make it feel "less dirty." I guess on some level my brain "knows" that most "dirty things" - bacteria, etc. - can't survive very well in salt water.

              I'm frankly amazed at people who can do things like touch mud or dirt, or garden, or go swimming in a lake, and not feel filthy. I would be jealous if it weren't for the fact that I can't imagine the fun in doing any of those things... probably because of how it makes me feel to imagine doing those things.

              There is an art to teaching that is independent of the subject matter. - daveinojai

              by Killer of Sacred Cows on Sun May 10, 2009 at 09:32:27 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  I hate AP classes (7+ / 0-)

    I'm mulling over writing a diary about this, but I just took my first AP exam (US History) and the class has been one of the worst experiences I've had in school, even though for the first half of the year I had perhaps my best teacher ever.  It's just a terrible class - preparing for a test all year, encouraging cheating because only test scores matter, and not really learning anything substantial.

    I hate to see that Obama and his administration think that increasing the number of kids in AP classes is some kind of good reform.

    •  you may hate the classes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      riverlover, C Barr

      but you'll love not having to pay for those college classes.
      Both of my sons AP tested out of a year or more of freshmen level coursework. Score.
      Now, cheating, that's a whole 'nother diary...

    •  They call that AP (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Geenius at Wrok

      That's a sorry excuse for AP.  Most likely due to a poorly educated teacher.

      •  Actually (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ZenTrainer, C Barr, BonnieSchlitz

        like I said I had two teachers over the course of the year.  The first was one of the best I've ever had, yet the course still sucked.  We didn't really learn anything of value - just how to take a single test.  The second half of the year I had a pretty sucky teacher who was conservative to boot, but the course was the same as before and just as bad as before.

        Preparing for a single test all year teaches no one anything, except for maybe some test-taking strategies and a few useless facts that they'll forget a week or two after taking the test.

        •  The US elementary and secondary education (2+ / 0-)

          system was described in a government report in 1980 as seemingly imposed on the US by our worst enemy.  My approach developed over 20 years was to give a dose of speed reading along with test taking skills and practice.  I had 4 hours a week for 4 weeks and I was 85% successful in helping undergrads pass the state regents test.  The type of teacher you had takes the easy way out, if you don't pass they blame you, you didn't try hard enough.  It is never their fault.

          I got hired to help a school district pass the state test in 1985, instead they fought me every inch of the way and I quit in 1989.  The staff was so pathetic that at the beginning of the school year the speaker left the auditorium at the end of the day quoting Mark Twain.  "Never try to teach pigs to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pigs."  To this day I don't know if any of them knew they had been insulted.

          •  actually, 1983, if you are referring to what (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I think you are, and that was the very badly flawed report "A Nation at Risk" whose executive summary argued that our educational system jeopardized our economic future.  Most of what it warned about turned out not to be accurate, the executive summary was not supported by the data in the report, and the fixes imposed as a result of the panic it caused led to the next round of worried interventions that did not work, flowing from Goals 2000, and those led directly to No Child Left Behind.

            I would be cautious about citing government reports on education put out to drive an agenda.  Sometimes the language used is not indicative of the underlying reality.

            That said, I am probably as critical as anyone I know about the current shape of our public schools, but that is as much because of politically imposed structures and approaches that bear little reality to deep and meaningful learning.

            do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

            by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:43:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I was a reading specialist (0+ / 0-)

              So I have a dim view of the mental ability of most Americans.  Having a broad view with at least 3 to 15 years working with each level from first grade through college and adult education.  

              Did you know there has never been a best selling book written above the 8th grade level.

    •  Sounds like a badly taught AP class (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      C Barr, miss SPED, rossl

      I took five AP classes in high school (dropped a sixth), and they were all great. I never felt like was being "taught to the test." On the contrary, they challenged me in ways that even my honors classes hadn't. They were wonderful.

      Plus, the 29 hours of college credit I got from them -- which advanced my class standing by a full year -- gave me an unfair advantage in the campus housing lotteries. :-)

      "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

      by Geenius at Wrok on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:57:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yeah, I remember that... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I took 4 of those my senior year (a long time ago). A few of the classes were cooler than the others--I ended up winning the Randall P. McMurphy award for AP Psychology (Google it), so I obviously had a teacher who offered different kinds of incentives for learning the material. It was fun. But what you're getting is practice for college, since really, depending on your classes, most of them will only have 2 tests, so you study for those most of the semester. Only your test scores matter there, too. But maybe the challenge is in finding ways to study the material that allow you to have fun with it or work with it in interesting ways. (And you could always present your ideas to the teachers and see if they'd consider including them. Can't hurt, right? See what creative study guides/practices you can come up with...Who knows? Maybe you'll think of ways to improve the system in the process, get inspired, and enter education to change the ways these things are done.)
      Good luck.

    •  I have some flexibility (3+ / 0-)

      because AP US Government is a semester college course that we spread out over a year.  That gives me time to explore some ideas in depth at the same time I am challenging my students to raise the level of their insight, the depth of their thinking, and their ability to analyze and put things together.

      Still,  I think I could actually challenge them far more if I did not also in fairness have to prepare them for that exam, then two weeks later a state exam in government that holds them responsible for additional material not covered in the AP course.

      I teach the 3 sections of AP because (a) I am by far the best teacher in our department to take that on; (b) I get some of the very brightest kids - the graduating senior class has as valedictorian and salutatorian two students I taught when they were sophomores.  In fact, I think of the top 5 kids 4 were my students.  

      do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

      by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:39:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You teach sophomores? (0+ / 0-)

        I'm a sophomore right now.

        •  government is a sophomore course (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          which means most of my AP students have not had a previous government class. Of 93 current AP students, two are seniors and two are juniors.  Of the 91 kids in my regular government classes, 4 are seniors, five are juniors, and three are listed as freshman.  The freshman either did not pass 9th grade English or did not pass sufficient courses to qualify as sophomores, but passed 9th grade American history so I get them.  The upperclassman may have previously failed government or may have come from a state where government is not taught until 11th or 12th grade.  Whatever the reaso, they must pass both the government course and the state test to graduate.

          do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

          by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:51:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  This is a wonderful book. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr, miss SPED

    It compares and contrasts the different ways we get our food with some lovely writing and muscular research.

    The problem with treating any of us as a "mass" is how things get boiled down to that lowest common denominator.

    We should be doing more asking along the lines of "What does our society need? What kind of education will produce the citizens we need now?"

    It is past time we addressed this.

    Pootie fan? Me too! Check out my cat advice blog.
    The Way of Cats

    by WereBear on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:28:20 AM PDT

    •  and to take this further ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      miss SPED

      What kind of education will produce the citizens we need now?"

      What kind of education will produce the citizens we will need in the future?

      But also, a teacher has to deal with what walks in through the classroom door.  Did the student have breakfast that morning?  Was the father arrested yesterday?  And how much are our children the product of popular media and culture?

      moderation in everything ... including moderation

      by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:41:13 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  the best single takedown of imposing a business (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        C Barr

        model on education was penned from the experience of a former business executive who made that mistake.  Take a gander at Jamie Vollmer's The Blueberry story.

        do we still have a Republic and a Constitution if our elected officials will not stand up for them on our behalf?

        by teacherken on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:45:58 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  at lunch today I learned a new word for me... (0+ / 0-)

           My daughter who is finishing her PhD. in School Psychology at UNC-CH is already counseling some tough cases with 14-16 year olds in Raleigh at Dix Hospital. One of her 15 year olds lives outside her home in a neighboring city in a drug home. She is in counseling for selling drugs on the street to help her friends in the "trap". The trap is the drug house. Selling the drugs is "trapping".
           Last Thursday was my daughter's last day in this program as lead counselor for 6 young ladies. The young girl is strong mentally, no academics to call upon, dysfunctional family, and no support other than her friends in the trap. At this last session, she was angry at my daughter for leaving the group. Arrangements have been made by her to have the young girl move to Virginia to live a small supportive youth home. I hope she can make the transition. Knowing my daughter, she has given her the needed skills to cope.
           Most of us have no understanding of the conditions that many of our students live with every day. For many, school is as good as it gets. Everything else is downhill. Lord knows we need to pay our teachers well for confronting these kids and taking them from where they are now and moving forward one day at a time. I worked in schools for 11 years and began my career in 1971 for less than $8,000 a year. Great teachers are worth 10 times that amount and then some.
           Thanks Ken for another great diary.

  •  I found a government report from 1980 (0+ / 0-)

    while doing graduate level research in the mid 80's that said it was if the elementary and secondary school system in this country had been imposed upon us by our worst enemy.  Today things are even worse than that.

    Good eduction would teach how to think, bad education teaches what to believe.

  •  I am reminded of John Holt's formulation... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pletzs, ZenTrainer, C Barr

    ...of "Three Misleading Metaphors of Education."

    The first is that children are containers to be filled (and that misshapen containers perforce must be discarded).  The second is that children are performers who must be trained to present their "learning" on demand.  The third is that children are inherently "broken" or "sick" and that it is the job of educators to fix or heal them.

    These metaphors influence the thinking of most people in the Ed Biz, and their effect is terribly damaging.

    When my wife finished her M.Ed degree ten years ago, she noted that not a single one of her teachers referenced John Holt even once.  He was an unperson, despite having more wisdom about teaching and learning than practically anyone else in the field.

    Gee, I wonder why?

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:44:49 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for the diary it's very interesting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr

    I'm now wondering how one applies these things to teaching about systems that we understand well. Like numbers.

    You see in real life I'm faced with a nephew who at the age of seven could not count to ten.

    One strategy that I tried was to sit him down and make him write the numbers consecutively from 0 to 9, from 10 to 19 from 20 to 29 without saying their names and without associating them with real world counting.

    Within a few days he was writing his numbers from 0 to 99 without any mistakes.

    I did that for several days and then went on to + 1. and he was grasped that very quickly (but without verbalizing the numbers or using them for counting)

    I moved to - 1 and the to + 2 and -2.

    He is now on top of his number facts.

    Basically my idea was to program his mind with the numbers axiomatic system Peano axioms of numbers as he he was a computer and not a human with human experiences. I did not care if he actually understood the usefulness of numbers or what they meant I just cared that this little computer can has a little  calculator  programed in it.

    He still can't count verbally but he can  add and subtract numbers on paper very well, better than his peers.

    I'm stil worried about the understanding issues.    

    "As president I will recognize the Armenian genocide." Barack Obama

    by palestinian professor on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:47:37 AM PDT

  •  Pollan's lectures are on-line (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr, BonnieSchlitz

    Many (over all his books) are on YouTube and not just those under 10 minutes. I used some in my Sociology of Food class this Spring.

    I have and will use again, Omnivore's Dilemma. But his In Defense of Food is also good. Not as "poetic" as Dilemma but more to the point.

    For similar points on non-linear systems and a planetary scale, check out Paul Roberts' The End of Food - get the right one, another book is out there with the same name.

    I don't know what consciousness is or how it works, but I like it.

    by SocioSam on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:53:08 AM PDT

  •  Agriculture did not cotton to industrialization. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr, codairem

    It was the last sector of the economy to succumb to the assembly line version of production and "reductionism". Farmers, as some of you may suspect, were loathed to change anything they were doing that "worked", even if it seemed "unscientific". Education in the US was based on industrial techniques, something that was thought as progressive at the time, but had little to do with changes in agriculture.

    Back to Liebig. What Pollan fails to mention was the competing ideas of plant growth at the time. There was vigorous debate about how plants increased their carbon content (how they grew). Another scientist, whose name escapes me, insisted plants took carbon from the soil to grow, since plants grown in high humus content grew more vigorously. Liebig posited that plants metabolized carbon from the air, with the assistance of certain salts (chemicals). Liebig was correct and the rest is history. As these salts became less expensive, and farmers saw how they increased yields, especially in poor soils, they became widely used. By the mid fifties, soil was thought to be something that held roots in place, that's about all. Much attention was paid to the physical chemistry,almost nothing to the biology. That has changed. Soil scientists now pay great attention to soil biology. Pollan also sets up reductionism as the bad guy. Reductionism helps scientists understand what each microorganism adds to soil fertility, which are destructive and how they play together. While reductionism can lead to bad decision making, it can yield great knowledge.

    Proud member of the "Dkos Swine Lobby" since April 2009

    by the fan man on Sun May 10, 2009 at 06:57:27 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for sharing that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      the fan man

      moderation in everything ... including moderation

      by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:11:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The history is certainly more complex than I laid (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        C Barr

        out in one paragraph, but Pollan practices some historical reductionism himself in his analysis.

        One correction, nitrates were used fairly widely shortly after Liebig's discovery, but had to be imported from Chile. The Haber Process, converting nitrogen from the air into ammonia using electricity in the late 1800's led to its ubiquity.

        Proud member of the "Dkos Swine Lobby" since April 2009

        by the fan man on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:39:38 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My soils instructor always hammered us with (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          the fan man, NC Dem

          Liebig's Law of the Minimum, but I never knew anything else about the guy or his work.  In education, one could compare this with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  If a student comes to school wondering if he/she will return home to find his/her mother beaten once again, there won't be much learning taking place in the classroom that day.

          moderation in everything ... including moderation

          by C Barr on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:53:24 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  By the way, my info on the debate of plant (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            teacherken, C Barr

            growth came from The Organic Tradition: An Anthology of Writings on Organic Farming, 1900-1950, agriculture and industrialization from The Resisted Revolution: Urban America and the Industrialization of Agriculture, 1900-1930.

            Proud member of the "Dkos Swine Lobby" since April 2009

            by the fan man on Sun May 10, 2009 at 10:13:38 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Important points about chaos theory: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    C Barr
    1. We don't know how many chaotic points there are.
    1. We may never know how many chaotic points are near us at any one time.
    1. There may be no such thing as a gentle average, such as the stock market.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average is now around 8500.  It was as low as 6800 not too  long ago.   It was as high as 14000 in the past 2 years.  Where's the average ?

    Resonant Library.Info Mother Nature always has the last word.

    by Nef on Sun May 10, 2009 at 07:05:28 AM PDT

  •  Class sizes and fish (8+ / 0-)

    I was having a conversation the other day with my mother about class sizes -- in a nutshell, I was observing that children in poverty need the most attention from their teachers and cause the most disruptions when they don't get it, especially when placed together with other needy students. Thus, those students should be placed in smaller classes, but because of how we fund education, those students often end up in the largest classes -- 30, 35, even 40 students in a single classroom, when they probably ought to be in classes of 10 or 12, tops.

    And suddenly I thought about fish tanks. When I started researching aquariums, I learned -- something I hadn't known -- that fish are hypersensitive to the size of the tank they're placed in. Certain fish require a certain amount of space; you either calculate the size of the aquarium based on the species and number of fish you want, or you choose your fish based on the size of the aquarium you've got. If you try to put too many fish in too small a volume, the fish will fight . . . or simply die off.

    In the public school system, we can't choose our "fish." Therefore, we have to build an aquarium that can support the fish we're given. We need, say, a 36-gallon tank. But we're only willing to spend the money for a 20-gallon tank.

    We're killing our fish.

    "The great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk." --Ian McDonald

    by Geenius at Wrok on Sun May 10, 2009 at 08:06:03 AM PDT

    •  thank you, what a thoughtful comment (4+ / 0-)

      I attend a meeting tomorrow where the topics of discussion will include how we can be a better team, how we individually can improve as teachers, and what we would like to teach next year.
      Your comment is spot on. My classrooms are very much like overcrowded community tanks.
      Which is why I am requesting an assignment change for next year.

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