Bird Droppings March 9, 2022
Our teaching can make a difference every day
I recall one day that I was looking through data as I sat through a special education training session. This is an exciting situation. I was reviewing data from a recent benchmark test in biology. It is an extremely poorly made and designed test that students know they will fail. Approximately ninety percent of students failed the test. I read the test reviews and raised questions. I read the test a day or two ahead and raised more questions. I gave the test and sat watching the student’s answers show up on my computer. Students failed in droves. I wondered who makes this up and why? After reviewing for two weeks for a test with kids, and no one can pass it. Roughly fifteen percent passed. In a group of sixteen kids, one student during makeup made a sixty-eight highest score in my test groups of students with disabilities and raised the class average three points.
I plotted data and looked at the information provided. Scores were in direct parallel to reading levels. Granted test itself was poorly done and worded poorly. But students with reading problems had a distinctly more difficult time with the test. I have been told those in power do not listen, so curious to see where my dialogue goes.
“Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world” Paulo Freire
Paulo Freire was a Brazilian educationalist and one of the most influential thinkers of the late twentieth century. He became famous for the ongoing use of dialogue in his writing. As I read a bit about Freire this morning, a word in his vernacular is interesting, praxis. In a teacher’s bag, praxis is the horrible battery of tests for certification. For Freire, a meaning with import, “acts which shape and change the world.”
“Man must prove the truth, i.e., the reality and power, the “this-sidedness” of his thinking in practice…. All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mystics find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice…. The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” Karl Marx, 1845 Theses on Feuerbach: II, VII, XI
Through thinking, events change and draw, meaning it is not simply thinking but applying these thoughts.
“It is not simply action based on reflection. It is an action that embodies certain qualities. These include a commitment to human wellbeing and the search for truth, and respect for others. It is the action of people who are free, who are able to act for themselves. Moreover, praxis is always risky. It requires that a person ‘makes a wise and prudent practical judgment about how to act in this situation” Carr and Kemmis 1986
Wise and prudent are not often used in most human situations, and it is infrequent that most people think about world good, even community good. We live in this more self-oriented society, a society of hedonism.
“Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. The process is important and can be seen as enhancing community and building social capital and to leading us to act in ways that make for justice and human flourishing.” Mark K. Smith, 1997
There are pieces here. I started with a word dialogue and have moved rather rapidly through the concept of praxis, but reading Mark Smith’s comments, the idea of human flourishing impresses me. I find it we do that perpetuate humankind’s species, ideals, and thoughts. I did a questionnaire for the state department of education on Thursday last week. The questions discussed standards and assessment and such combine that with teachers who are uptight with only five weeks or so left two till the end of course tests. This is now standard in most states but part of the quantifying. I still question whether we are making strides in education in this manner. It becomes all about cramming pieces of information into the minuscule brains of teenagers. I recall Sydney J. Harris’s comparison to stuffing sausages. In our great effort to quantify, we have stripped quality.
“Educators have to teach. They have to transform transfers of information into a ‘real act of knowing” Paulo Freire
So, in effect, cramming and pouring vast quantities of information into students to take a test that had to be pushed up due to the calendar and state parameters makes a lot of sense. (I am seriously being sarcastic here) Over the years, I have asked how much water can be poured in a one-liter bottle? Then I ask how many state officials will it take to figure out that one? A summer or two ago, I recall reading tests to students with learning disabilities almost a paradox in and of its self “reading graduation tests.” I looked across at my water bottle, and that thought hit me can we put more than a liter of water in a liter bottle. Immediately I was thinking of freezing it; water expands when chilled, then heating it again expansion. How do we put a gallon of information in a one-liter container, or is it ten gallons of material?
It was back several winters ago, on a trip to the mountains and a walk through a visit to the Foxfire museum, that the reality of doing this hit. It is possible to fit ten gallons of knowledge in a one-liter container. The museum curator and guide held up a copper tubing device and talked about the mainstay of mountain life years gone by, “moonshining.” The device he held up was a condenser used in making white lightning, grain alcohol, or moonshine. In theory, you can condense and distill those ten gallons to whatever capacity you want. Granted, the more condensed, the harder perhaps to use it in contextual settings. You teach the necessary aspects borrowing from Freire, “transform transfers of information into a ‘real acts of knowing.” This is the key to taking the content and applying context. Then it will be remembered and provide the latitude to advance thinking and that person’s direction in life and make a difference. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and be sure always to give thanks namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)