Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


New Ways to Teach

October 24, 2013

ff_mexicanschool2_largeWith school budgets taking a nose-dive, college educations costing beyond what a lot of people can pay and standardized testing (read: Any National standards for education) shown to be detrimental to learning, anything new in education is welcome.

It is hard to call Montessori and Waldorf methodologies new. They have been around for a century. The concept that a child can learn best if left to intuitively figure out the answers has always left most people feeling at best, confused, and at worst, angry. How can a person learn if there is no one to teach them? We observe the best learners have the best teachers.

But the Internet probably changes all of that. Wired Magazine has just published a landmark article about the power of freedom in the learning process. Here is a link to it. I think you need to read this before going on with my assessment.

The writer paints a picture of a destitute struggling border town in Mexico and a classroom of children who have few learning resources and little hope of achieving anything. Many of them are orphans. Their teacher reads up on miraculous teaching methods being done in India where the students are given Internet access and freedom to collaborate in their learning endeavors.

After several months of learning like this, the Mexican teacher’s students are subjected to standardized testing by the national board. When the results are announced, two of the students finish higher in math scores than anyone else in the country. The language scores for all of the students are higher than the national average and exceed any class in the country.

The methods of Waldorf and Montessori have always lacked resources. The Internet changes that. Read the article thoroughly and then consider that perhaps every assumption we have made about any child’s ability to learn has been based on the boundaries and prejudices we take into the process.

Maybe all kids need a new way to think and thus, a new way to learn.



An Open Letter to America’s Teachers

March 1, 2011

If America was one of your students, you would keep us after school for a talk. “You’ve been very disrespectful” you would start. And you’d be right. We have spent , as a nation, several years disrespecting your value to us. Some of our people, some with loud mouths and smaller wits, have claimed you work seven hour days.

You would collectively laugh at that notion if you had the strength to do so. You get there before the students arrive and leave long after they leave. On your way home, you get text messages from half a dozen of them, crying the woes about tomorrow’s test or yesterday’s missed assignments. When you get home, your family tells you of the three parents who phoned and the Principal’s secretary who called to remind you of a Senior Prom promotion committee meeting that starts in a half hour. When that meeting ends (it was supposed to be an hour long and creeped along for three), you come home and remember you have to grade yesterday’s quizzes so the football team can know which athletes can still stay on the team.

Our nation claims that you are the reason we can’t balance any of our state budgets. If it wasn’t for your crazy unions and their demands, we could lay off half of you and pay you a third of what you’re getting now. After all, you only work five days a week, seven hours a day and get all summer off. You see cities agreeing to spend a half billion dollars on sports arenas and you had to email your kids’ parents to see if any of them could donate pencils and writing pads for your kids.

All summer off? You would be lucky if you could afford that. Your teaching credential demands you spend half the summer taking Continuing Education credits and the other half of the summer you teach driver’s ed or help with the summer basketball league or the church Vacation Bible School because you had the “free time that no one else had.” And you did it gladly and willingly because even though pundits paint you as heartless, money-grubbing problem-makers, you really do love those kids. You talk to more gang members than the police, more pregnant girls than the clinic, identify learning disabilities before parents, doctors or psychologists do, counsel more broken hearts, encourage more broken dreams and ponder about another broken window in your car.

We haven’t given you a raise in years, we’ve doubled your class size, we’ve eliminated your librarians, nurses, janitors, psychologists, bus drivers, aids, secretaries, vice-principals and sports coaches – and then we tell you it’s your fault our kids aren’t learning. We force you by law to make our kids learn the answers to a test we wrote, that you don’t agree with, instead of the things we originally hired you to teach. Then we encourage charter schools and private schools to cherry-pick the best-performing students, leaving you with, among the remaining students, those who are ready to drop out, who are prepared to knife you, who haven’t spoken ten words of English in their lives –  and then we criticize you when you mutter under your breath.

Yes, Mr. and Ms. Teacher, we as a nation deserve detention. We deserve to be held back another year until we get this right. We deserve the strap and we deserve the report card you would love to give us. But instead, I’m going to give you something.



To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test

January 24, 2011

We have many ways we approach testing, learning and acquisition of knowledge. What may be surprising to many is the most effective means of learning material in a subject. According to the journal “Science”

students who read a passage, then took a test asking them to recall what they had read, retained about 50 percent more of the information a week later than students who used two other methods.

One of those methods — repeatedly studying the material — is familiar to legions of students who cram before exams. The other — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.

These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.

Let me throw a spiritual spin on this. The devil is often called “The Tempter”…but the Greek word for tempt (peirasmos) actually means to “conduct or proctor a test”. The job of the Enemy of our souls is to give us tests to see what we are made of. If we fail the test, it is supposed to push us to the brink of needing God’s help. If we  pass the test, we learn the spiritual lesson designed there.

Is it possible that the Enemy, regardless of his adversarial relationship to us, is still God’s servant in our lives? Of course. It is the best way (though perhaps the most painful way) to learn.


Get a Zeal to Learn

November 12, 2008

Leo Buscaglia, in his book “Loving Each Other” talks about the mealtime ritual as he grew up. All the kids would sit down at the table, grace was offered, and then his dad would ask the same question: “What is one thing you learned today?” It didn’t matter what it was: they may have learned that white cars don’t go faster than black ones or that frogs don’t taste good when licked or that differential calculus helps us get from one side of the room to the other. But if one of his kids said “Nothing”, he would receive the same punishment. Dad would give his child a long, baleful stare along with a groan and say, “Then you wasted this day.

He must have been related to my dad. Many weekends my dad would bring home an armload of books from the library to read. Many times they would all be read by the next weekend. Then he would do it all again. He was fascinated with a plethora of topics, but his favorites were history, geography, crime novels and famous sporting figures. I remember sitting in his study one Saturday afternoon watching him read. I know; you’re thinking that this explains so much about my geekness. But I liked to watch my dad when he didn’t know I was looking. His facial expressions said so much about what was happening in his heart.

At one point, he looked at me and a frown came over his face. “Mike” he started, Read the rest of this entry ?


Some Children are Smarter

May 7, 2008

We are entering a new era in Education in this country; unfortunately, the reason for this emergence into unknown territory is quite by accident.

The “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2002 required that by 2014, all children in the public school system reach a mean average in ability. That means that all children are legally required to become average by 2014. You can immediately see that this is one of two things: a) Mathematically impossible, since “average” means you are in the statistical middle and you can’t have the middle as the bottom standard; or b) Philosophically impossible, since you cannot achieve a goal when it ignores societal relationships and the fallen nature of man. “No Child Left Behind” assumes that all children are relatively on the same playing field with regards to ability.

As we study how far we have come since 2002 in achieving the goals set in the act, the realities are depressing. We are at a statistical dead-heat: we have not progressed at all, especially in math. Perhaps the reason is that we are ignoring a simple fact. Some kids are smarter than others and some will never do well in school by any measuring rod (other than the mother’s measuring rod where she sees all of her children with rose-colored glasses). But we don’t like to come to that conclusion. Why? Because we want to hold onto the concept that all students can achieve academic success.

Three studies have helped to foster this idea. First came the landmark book “Pygmalion in the Classroom” which claimed to study children and teachers and found that when teachers were told their students were smart, the children’s grades improved. When they were told they were stupid, their test grades dropped. Hence, it is not the ability of the student that determines what the grades will be, it is the expectation of the teacher. The problem that has emerged from this study in years since is that it has never been shown to be repeatable by other researchers. There is no doubt that teacher expectations can have an effect for a year or two, but not over the life of a person.

The second study taught that poor self-esteem lead to poorer grades. But since that 1982 study came out, it has been clearly shown that good self-esteem does not raise grades with anyone! That was depressing, but it is reality.

The final study is not wrong, just not helpful. It showed that most kids have abilities in some area, but not always in language and math. This has been shown to be consistently true, but most schools are not equipped (and may never be) to train in the arts, cooking, relational skills and building trades that would release kids to their full potential. Also, we have been told that the only real route to success in America is through a college degree and a vocational plan. To alter that stereotype is going to take decades if it happens at all.

Charles Murray, writing in the “New Criterion” has a simpler answer:

Educational romanticism characterizes reformers of both Left and Right, though in different ways. Educational romantics of the Left focus on race, class, and gender. It is children of color, children of poor parents, and girls whose performance is artificially depressed, and their academic achievement will blossom as soon as they are liberated from the racism, classism, and sexism embedded in American education. Those of the Right see public education as an ineffectual monopoly, and think that educational achievement will blossom when school choice liberates children from politically correct curricula and obdurate teachers’ unions.

In public discourse, the leading symptom of educational romanticism is silence on the role of intellectual limits even when the topic screams for their discussion. Try to think of the last time you encountered a news story that mentioned low intellectual ability as the reason why some students do not perform at grade level. I doubt if you can. Whether analyzed by the news media, school superintendents, or politicians, the problems facing low-performing students are always that they have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, or have gone to bad schools, or grown up in peer cultures that do not value educational achievement. The problem is never that they just aren’t smart enough….

There is much more to be said about these harms (and I have said it, in a book that will appear in a few months). For now, it is enough to recognize that educational romanticism asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top. It short-changes all of them.

Read the full article (much of which I have summarized already for you) here.

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