Breaking the Mold

Just to make you think (h/t):

Now, it’s a gross simplification, to be sure. I’d add a column labeled “Reading”, for instance, and how much of the “classes” and “homework” laid the groundwork necessary for “perl”. But the point being made is this: the basics of education are necessary, but it is often what kids do on their own time, outside of school, that helps determine their future career path. So when do we allow them to start charting their own (guided or mentored) course instead of having them wasting their time by keeping them locked into the current, rigid k-12 system? I’m a great works/western civ. kinda guy, but not everyone is. Up to a point, all students should be educated with the basics, but by…say…the 11th grade, maybe its time to break the old mold and let the kids have more flexibility and choice in their education and their future.

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Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Up to a point, all students should be educated with the basics, but by…say…the 11th grade, maybe its time to break the old mold and let the kids have more flexibility and choice in their education and their future.

Not so! All kids should have “flexibility and choice in their education.” That’s one of the many problems with a focus on standardized testing.
Moreover though I reject the very idea that schools should be measured based on their “usefulness” to career success (as if anyone can tell someone else what success means for them). The focus should be on promoting students’ “interest in learning, their desire to continue reading, thinking, and questioning.”
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/progressive.htm

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

I can’t believe Russ is still quoting Alfie Kohn here as if we recognize him as some sort of authority. Give it a rest already, Russ – we have read Kohn’s nonsense and it is exactly his type of progressive education ideas that are turning our children into into illiterate, undisciplined little monsters who sound out their spelling like fools and multiply their numbers together (now called integrating) through the aid of physical blocks. Kohn’s advocacy of allowing children to “discover ideas” on their own results in students who can’t read or do basic math by 2nd-3rd grade. To get out of trouble with the adults in the classroom, children learn to parrot progressive keywords like “I made a bad choice” to be released and continue their bad behavior. I’ve witnessed these methods in action – the children lack direction, focus, and basic competency – products of the progressive dream world in which students can instruct themselves and nobody is accountable.
Short of a marketized voucher system of public education, some basic improvements to the mess we have now would would be tiering based upon demonstrated effort and ability (“racist” according to progressives), more rigorous AP-like courses, and hands-on vocational programs.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Anyone with questions as to who’s right try this: visit a classroom at the best private schools in the state and discover which model is in place. On the other hand, if you want your kids to learn to parrot facts presented to them by the teacher, by all means put them in that type of school but stop to consider exactly what type of jobs require those skills.
What’s clear is that many of those who pretend to support reform, really advocate for more of the failing status quo (or worse yet an intensification of what hasn’t worked in the past).

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

This reminds me of my “Educational Foundations” class in my MAT program that required me to read Bill Ayers as our core text. God forbid we disagreed with this gospel. I remember my professor asking seemingly subjective questions, but telling us we were wrong unless we gave her the answer she was looking for. What a joke. There is no reason why an education can’t prepare children for the real world (i.e. career, although Russ might support a welfare queen, as long as she still has an interest in “learning”)while also instilling a love for learning. I love learning, but I also knew that I needed to major in something that allowed me to support myself. If we are to be sustainable as a country, we need to provide children with the tools to work in society. That’s all part of a democratic society. Not sure Dewey would disagree with that. As someone who has worked in a progressive classroom, it’s not pretty. Kindergartners are expected to explain rationally why they made the choice to hit someone who colored on their paper. They may sit in the “thinking chair” for about 5 minutes, but kids learn that this really isn’t a consequence and they can make faces at their friends from the chair. Then, surprise, surprise, they repeat the behavior shortly after. In addition, first graders can’t add or subtract from twenty, but they can tell you how numbers make them feel. Did you know we can no longer carry or borrow because these are incorrect words to use in math? Now, we are composing and decomposing. Maybe regrouping if you’re lucky because at least this term doesn’t connote a dead body. And by all means, let’s give children the complete choice to choose what they want to learn. I… Read more »

Patrick
11 years ago

Rosie, winning.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“Anyone with questions as to who’s right try this: visit a classroom at the best private schools in the state and discover which model is in place.” Russ – I attended one of the top private schools in RI, and my younger sister attended another top private school in RI more recently. I am intimately familiar with what is being taught in these schools. It is NOT the progressive self-learning crap advocated by you and Alfie Kohn. Children are tiered into remedial, general, honors, and AP courses and are given rigorous curricula based upon national standards. It is a combination of rote memorization for items such as math formulas, historical facts, and grammar rules, and hands-on *structured* learning for other items such as physics experiments and creative writing. Children are objectively evaluated through testing, standardized or otherwise, throughout the school year. Children who demonstrate poor effort are punished, while children who demonstrate poor understanding are given special tutoring. Poor teachers are removed. It works exceptionally well and they get results. That’s why parents are willing to sacrifice their personal vacations and plasma televisions to shell out for these expensive private programs. “On the other hand, if you want your kids to learn to parrot facts presented to them by the teacher, by all means put them in that type of school but stop to consider exactly what type of jobs require those skills.” If students do not first have a command of basic facts and skills then no meaningful learning or interpretation is possible. The first thing I do when I get a case file is read the whole thing cover to cover and learn all the facts. Only then is it possible for me to argue one way or another based upon that knowledge. It would be a complete… Read more »

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Well it’s obvious to me from the comment above that you’ve never visited the type of school my kids attend.
Allowing students to have flexibility and choice is not the same as saying they can do whatever they like, and I’d never send my kid to a school that disciplines misbehavior with a “thinking” chair (nor would Kohn advocate that technique).

Less innocuous, or accidental, is the tendency to paint progressive education as a touchy-feely, loosey-goosey, fluffy, fuzzy, undemanding exercise in leftover hippie idealism — or Rousseauvian Romanticism. In this cartoon version of the tradition, kids are free to do anything they please, the curriculum can consist of whatever is fun (and nothing that isn’t fun). Learning is thought to happen automatically while the teachers just stand by, observing and beaming. I lack the space here to offer examples of this sort of misrepresentation — or a full account of why it’s so profoundly wrong — but trust me: People really do sneer at the idea of progressive education based on an image that has little to do with progressive education.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Utopian “progressive” education theorists like Kohn have done more damage to more Americans than have all of our enemies at war since 1776. But utopian fanboys like Russ will never recognize the facts.
What exactly are your qualifications to talk about elementary education, Russ, that would motivate anyone to want to listen to you?

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Clearly the idea of change is threatening to many folks as evidenced by the ad hominem attacks as a substitute for substansive argument.
My qualifications aren’t the issue. I’ve done a fair amount of work in the area of quality improvement which is why I began reading Deming and Kohn, but, please, don’t take my word for it. Visit a classroom in one of the best schools in the state and see for yourself. Then ask yourself why your kid’s school isn’t more like that?

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

“Well it’s obvious to me from the comment above that you’ve never visited the type of school my kids attend.” Well, it’s obvious to me that you have little exposure to progressive education beyond your children’s school. Dan is absolutely correct. Do you really think Moses Brown, Wheeler, and Providence Country Day implement a progressive ideology? They don’t! And it’s also obvious to me that you know nothing about progressive education, as you have spent more time citing Kohn than generating an original thought yourself. Read Rosseau. Read Dewey. Read Bill Ayers. This is progressive education. And the thinking chair? Hate to break it to you, but this is part of Responsive Classroom, a child of the progressive educational movement. Read Ruth Charney. I am not making this stuff up. And I am not talking about “loosey-goosey” education. Teachers are actually teaching children this bologna. Do you really think a child, on his own, could discuss the bad choice he made and the appropriate consequence for his behavior? I know a kindergartner who on our apple picking field trip decided to chuck an apple into the parking lot and almost hit another family. I told him to sit down and that he couldn’t play anymore. My mentor, after two minutes maybe, told the kid he could go back and play. I talked to him about it and he said, “What, you weren’t going to let him have recess?!? He needs to play!” Then, I took a progressive route and said, “He and I haven’t talked about what he did.” At that point, my mentor agreed with me, and I had a one minute conversation with the child about the wrong choice he made and the better choice he would make next time. Then, he went off and played. Give me… Read more »

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Look we can argue over what “progressive education” means or about the idea of using punishments and rewards as motivators (not something I advocate and not the way we run process improvement in industry), but what I’m talking about here is the idea that students should have “flexibility and choice in their education,” which clearly they should and long before 11th grade when the damage has largely been done. Again, what I advocate is applying what we know from process/quality improvement disciplines to education. In so much as progressive education is in line with those principles, I support it.
btw here’s Dan Miller describing Wheeler as a progressive school (although perhaps not as you would define it)…
http://www.wheelerschool.org/podium/default.aspx?t=112090
I also found this description, which matches fairly closely with what I’ve found as a parent.
http://www.independentteacher.org/vol2/2.2-4.html

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

I’ll take that sidestep as Russ’s admission that he hasn’t a clue of what he is talking about. That conclusion is reinforced by Russ’s consistent failure to say anything of substance in his own words in favor of reliance on quoting others. Does he ever have anything of his own to say?
I am also well read in Deming and use his ideas in my consulting on corporate culture and open-book management. He would resent the use of his name in connection with Russ’s woolly-headed, airy-fairy ideas. I have read numerous attempts by education theorists to translate Deming’s 14 Points into advocacy of unstructured, unaccountable teaching methods, but they end up as nonsense. There is also the issue of significant differences in intellectual and emotional factors between children and adults on which Deming was silent. Rosie has described well how “progressive educators” have wrongly twisted Deming’s ideas into a failed parody of education.
I have written elsewhere on AR about the failures of the present education system that make measurement inapplicable today and won’t repeat it here.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

What a shock! More ad hominem attacks.
btw we don’t need to guess at what Deming thought about education (“The New Economics,” p.145), which btw runs contrary to the direction the public schools are heading (Deming argues we should abolish grades, abolish merit rating for teachers, abolish comparison of schools based on scores)…
books.google.com/books?id=RnsCXffehcEC&lpg=PP1&dq=the%20new%20economics&pg=PA145#v=onepage&q&f=false
Here also Deming in his own words on education…
daytonos.com/pdf/DEMING%20.pdf

Dr. Deming: Well, what do you think should be the aim of schools?
WCEA: (Nervous laughter) Well, that’s part of what we are trying…
Dr. Deming: To me they should restore and nuture the yearning for learning that the child is born with. Why drag it out?

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Russ, there is an ocean-sized gulf between Deming’s ideas and the Alfie Kohn BS you keep parroting to us. But it would be unfair of me to expect you to understand that.
And since you so quickly complain about “ad hominem attacks,” perhaps you would equally denounce your allies, Phil and Lefty, since that’s about all they post here.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

I see. They harass you, so you harass me? Perhaps you need some time on the thinking chair.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

I’m not attacking you. I am merely exposing you as unqualified to make the sort of judgments on the subject of childhood education that you are posting here. I am attacking the failed theories of your idol, Afie Kohn. I enjoy attacking and exposing the dangerous, self-serving bullblank that the “Progressives” try to fool people with in order to make them submit to statist tyranny, with the Progressives (of course) in charge.
Yet your buddies make insulting personal statements about me that are genuine ad hominem attacks. Again, I can’t expect you to understand the difference.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Russ – I can assure you that Wheeler does not utilize the “progressive education” approach. It is unclear exactly how the head of school is using the word “progressive” in the statement to which you point. I assume the ambiguitity is by design to appeal to the hip east side crowd, and it could be referring to racial diversity, eco-friendliness, or any number of other things. There is a substantial rote memorization component at Wheeler, just as there is in any other successful private school, and they use very traditional testing methods that I’m sure you and Kohn would absolutely abhor.

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

Back to the main point- allowing all children to make all the decisions about their academics is absurd. Yes, pre-K and kindergarten should allow for an element of discovery learning, but I assure you that the best and the brightest educators model for these children and teach things like phonological and phonemic awareness, the alphabetic principle, and concepts about print explicitly. These activities should be engaging and exciting, but children need these skills to develop reading success. If we allowed children to choose what they wanted to learn, I assure you the five-year-old described earlier would put on her fairy wings and fly all around the classroom for the entire day. Would you allow her to do that because it’s her choice? As children get older, they need to know core skills to participate in society. Should they be able to choose a foreign language? Sure. Electives? Extracurricular activities? I see no problem with that. But children need to be exposed to the basics, so they have the information necessary to make choices later in life. By high school, there should definitely be more flexibility, as in allowing students to opt for a vocational program. But shouldn’t high schoolers still learn English, science math, and history? In high school, I would have never taken science classes if I had the choice, and I would have regretted that decision because my science background allowed me to write science curricula and train volunteers for a science program. Good thing someone older and more experienced than my 14-18 year old self made a decision that said I needed to stay in science class. My main problem with progressive education is that it doesn’t prepare children for the real world. Progressives like to indoctrinate students with their philosophy, so that there doesn’t seem like… Read more »

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

This is from the article Mark used:
Over the last two decades the clamoring for education change has grown more frantic. Conservatives have a lot of people who think that if we just went back to the good old days, even the strict back-to-basics days if not the one-room school, all would be good in the garden. The idea is insane, based on nostalgia rather than true recall and certainly not real data, and I am frankly sick of the argument on conservative sites. It morphs over into core curriculum ideas for highschool and college, which is a quite different subject. (And even that is not quite an honest argument. It is easy to find bad examples in modern course and texts and pretend that things were never like that in the old days. Nonsense.) It starts from a selection bias of the better friends and relatives of online commenters who liked school and like writing about it now. Why, my grandfather had only borrowed chalk, a compass, and two desks for twelve students in their little town, but by golly they worked hard and all of them went on to become civil engineers or neurosurgeons. It’s rubbish, every bit of it.
I don’t know anything about early child education. I don’t know anything about elite private schools. But we do seem to have more experts than students. Or at least it seems that way sometimes. By the way I don’t know Russ either, though I do like his comments.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Phil – most of the commenters here advocate for a marketized voucher system. How is that “nostalgia”? It’s never been tried before in this country. We aren’t the ones clinging to failed education models, you and Russ are. We know that the public education system is broken and always has been. We want to try something new, radical, and different.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

What “article that Mark [sic] used” are you talking about? He didn’t refer to any article in his post and hasn’t appeared in the comments.

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

Like a true progressive, Phil left out some facts. He quoted one part of the post and failed to comment on “how liberals have their own idiocies, which I’m sure you’ve seen enough of that I can skip it here.” The article isn’t calling for progressive education; it’s calling for radical change. It’s calling for distance learning, for-profit schools. This isn’t progressive education.
And thanks for letting us know what you don’t know, Phil. It makes it easier to look past what you purport to know.

mangeek
mangeek
11 years ago

I’ve resisted weighing-in because I’ve been working thirteen-hour days on a project I want to finish, but I happen to be a product of Providence Public, Charter, and Private school. There’s a need for several different models throughout. High school kids who are not college-bound need a very different model than those who are going directly into the working world.
Unfortunately, the current public school system isn’t designed to offer any sort of flexibility to people like me who are ‘done with homework, ready for REAL work’. The MET saved my life, but I wouldn’t be nearly as useful at my job if I wasn’t able to do the math needed to figure out how to get my job done faster and save the most person-hours; those are skills I learned at prep school and applied at an internship while at a charter.

Phil
Phil
11 years ago

We know that the public education system is broken and always has been. We want to try something new, radical, and different.
Posted by Dan at March 29, 2011 6:38 PM
“and always has been”
Quite an indictment on public school and all the generations of graduates who have left the country in such sorry shape for you Dan.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

Phil – What time period in American education would you consider a success? My grandparents all went through the public school system – I loved them dearly but they thought the sun revolved around the earth and Abraham Lincoln was the first president. The fact that there have always been self-learners doesn’t save the fundamentally flawed one-size-fits-all model. Do you really think it’s served poor students well, as was the original goal? Meanwhile as results steadily plummet, the cost per student goes up, and up, and up, and up…

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Rosie, I’m not advocating for whatever it is you label as “progressive education.” I made a comment that “all kids should have ‘flexibility and choice in their education’ and that the goal of education should be to promote “students’ ‘interest in learning, their desire to continue reading, thinking, and questioning.'” Nothing you’ve posted has changed my mind in the slightest about those comments.
And, mangeek, I disagree with the idea of trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. I’ll try to post more on this in a bit.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Wheeler, just as there is in any other successful private school, and they use very traditional testing methods that I’m sure you and Kohn would absolutely abhor.

You’re mistaken at least in my case. What I disagree with is the idea of rewarding/punishing students, teachers, or schools based on standardized test results and with the practice of tayloring curriculum around preparing for the test.
See Campbell’s Law…
“…achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways.”

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

We aren’t the ones clinging to failed education models, you and Russ are.

I am? Um, I’m the one suggesting we abandon grades. And I totally reject the idea of students in rows of desks, regurgitating facts without really understanding them (what most so-called reformers mean when they call for more focus on “the basics”).
I haven’t commented one way or the other on vouchers (I’d a least benefit personally).

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

“Rosie, I’m not advocating for whatever it is you label as progressive education.'”
Yet this is the link you originally posted:
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/progressive.htm
Note the word progressive. You touted a progressive education article. You got a response. Sounds to me that you are trying to separate yourself from your original post. I also care little if I’ve changed your mind in the slightest because progressives are incorrigible. Never was my aim. I think someone else needs to go sit in the thinking chair.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

More ad hominem attacks… what a shock!
As to the substance, yes, Kohn defines his approach as progressive and notably mentions none of the things you claim he must promote based on the writings of others. As he said…

If progressive education doesn’t lend itself to a single fixed definition, that seems fitting in light of its reputation for resisting conformity and standardization. Any two educators who describe themselves as sympathetic to this tradition may well see it differently, or at least disagree about which features are the most important.

But you seem to most intested in arguing what you think he supports rather than what he actual suggests as being important, with your initial comment consisting of the type of “cartoon version of the tradition” he specific sets out in the article to refute.

For most people, the fundamental reason to choose, or offer, a progressive education is a function of their basic values: “a rock-bottom commitment to democracy,” as Joseph Featherstone put it; a belief that meeting children’s needs should take precedence over preparing future employees; and a desire to nourish curiosity, creativity, compassion, skepticism, and other virtues.

That’s exactly what I want for my kids and hardly something that should be so surprising.

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

I apologize for calling you a progressive. No one deserves such name-calling.
And as for the “cartoon,” I gave you a number of anecdotal accounts. You dismissed my accounts and are calling them cartoons. I wish I could make this stuff up. But thanks for proving the incorrigibility point.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

And by all means, let’s give children the complete choice to choose what they want to learn. I know a five year old who would choose fairies. No reading, no math, just fairies. I know a nine year old who wants to play basketball. He can’t read or write well, but his school drinks the same koolaid as Russ, so that’s okay.

Yes, that’s a cartoon version. And call me whatever you like… it’s much more a reflection on you than me.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Russ, you sound just like a TV evangelist, thumping and quoting from your “Progressive education” bible.

Rosie
Rosie
11 years ago

But Russ, that would be the 5 y.o.’s choice. Didn’t you say that “all kids should have ‘flexibility and choice in their education’ and that the goal of education should be to promote “students’ ‘interest in learning.” Well she wants to learn about fairies. What say you?
And as for the nine-year-old boy, this is absolutely true. He attends a progressive school and can’t read or write well. He plays basketball most of the day. That’s his choice! I’m still failing to see how this is a cartoon when I am giving you clear logic.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Russ-learning facts doesn’t necessarily mean that the purpose is rote learning and regurgitation.
Learning attitudes without facts isn’t a very good idea.
I’m not talking about controversial subjects here either.
Geography is an example-it was important when I was in grade school in the Fifties and with the world much “smaller”today it’s even more significant in understanding current events(remember that term?),especiallly since we are virtually bombarded with information these days.Having the facts helps tp evaluate such things.
That’s a single example.It can be applied to any subject.
Facts don’t change.
You can’t build a house without tools.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“Well she wants to learn about fairies. What say you?”
Then I’d say read a book to her about fairies, let her draw a picture of fairies, design a house for the fairies to live in, study butterflies, airplanes, insects, etc. I had my own kindergartner who loved fairies not so long ago.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

What’s most ironic about this conversation is that “one weekend messing with Perl” is a perfect example of “flexibility and choice in education” that Marc and the old-school traditionalists are so quick to dismiss (incredibly without any sense that they’re arguing against the very idea the graphic represents).
There’s nothing saying school couldn’t include that type of activity every day or every week for the budding computer geek, except for the vocal opposition of the faux reformers who’d rather the students do as their told and fill in the bubble sheets as effectively as possible.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Marc, I’m curious why you think it’s impossible to teach “the basics” while still providing opportunity for flexibility and choice. Didn’t you ever write an essay on “what I did last summer” or a book report on something of your choosing? That’s offering kids a choice.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

Joe, here’s an example for my daughter’s class who are learning about Kenya. Each student picked an animal to write and draw about and then discussed their research with the class. I never knew there was so much to know about the hyrax and my daughter was thrilled to be the local expert.
That’s learning the tools one needs in life… conducting research, reading, writing, drawing, speaking in public, computer skills, self confidence, no?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Russ-yes.
We’re not really arguing here.I’m just saying that imparting a broad base of factual knowledge to students early on is a good basis for further development.
In the 6th grade my class had to know who every head of state in Latin America was.And I went to a garden variety NY public school.We had some GREAT teachers.Many of our male teachers were WW2 veterans.
My HS history teacher,Julius Bloom,was a tailgunner on a B-17-ya think he knew how to teach WW2 history?
I just like to see kids get a solid start.

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