Education often draws from the NOW

Bird Droppings October 27, 2010
Education often draws from NOW

Several days ago a teacher offered to me a book on curriculum or so she said “Dumbing down of America” by Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld. It has been a few months since I picked this book off the shelf while reading various books at Barnes and Noble as I do so often. This book literally is about the dumbing down of America, pointing out all the faults in the educational system and how we are in worse shape than 100 years ago. The book is advocating home schooling and alternatives to public education and a public school teacher offered this book to me which I find amazing. Maybe my general demeanor as sort of on the other end of the scale politically did not get through to well. However as I think back 100 years ago not all children were educated in public school.
Many kids were living at home or in rural situations where education was not even considered. Mandatory education was still being worked on as late as 1974. In 1972 in Macon Georgia as a part of the work I was doing involving disabled students we found 284 children who had never been in school in less than 60 days. All were disabled and were not required at that time to attend school and in reality most had no place they could go. Now all children are educated in the United States or have the right to free and public education.
As I researched today and found many articles opposing today’s educational systems all of which had a basis in religion and morality. Interestingly enough Outcome based education was condemned and accused of causing all the ills of mankind and John Dewey was the originator and cause of educational dysfunction. These educators against outcome based education were preaching content simply having the right answers. Sort of take a test and all is well and teachers nation wide are complaining about teaching to the test and not to what students need to get on in life or into college. Much of the thanks can go to according to many teachers the No Child Left Behind legislation which is our national educational program. Over two years ago I had written a Dropping and am borrowing a paragraph or two from that particular day.

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I recently watched a young man struggle with an equation in his math class homework. He asked me for help and without asking exactly what he needed help with I answered X=3 and was told I was wrong even though the answer was right. How could I answer without solving the equation was his question? I wasn’t thinking about math at the time and since we were working on essays about “how teachers could teach better” and he alone in the class was finished, he was catching up on homework, which was math. I apologized for answering not realizing he needed a solution as well. It really wasn’t about the answer; it was how to get to the answer.

“I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself.” John Dewey

As I was thinking further about this subject it dawned on me do I want children who know all the answers, the dates, formulas and such or do I want children who can find the answers. Somewhere in my wanderings today I found an excerpt from an 8th grade final test in Salinas Kansas. Interesting to try and see what you know. Happens to be from Dr. Blumenfeld’s book where he is showing how we are so far behind.

“Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of do, lie, lay and run.
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6,720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u.’
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: Bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, super.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences, Cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.” Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld, The Dumbing down of America

Interesting part for me was The language arts sections were the hardest. If you look at history and math other than experiential aspect of agriculture questions they are simple compared to today’s classes. I opened up a 1968 biology book from college and compared to a Biology book used in our high school. It is amazing how much different they are. Different is an understatement there are sections and subjects not even in my college book that are in the high school book. The new book had more in it and more difficult material and there were things not even discovered in 1967. So where does this take me, will I teach content or context? Will I teach about specifics or will I teach outcomes? I often use the example of a liter bottle, you can only put a liter in it and how we select and chose what goes in is the difficult part. Funny thing is compared to 1900 we have hundreds of times more information to learn and often with little context. Quantum Physics was not even around along with DNA and so many other aspects of science.
Countries have changed as have who and how events took place in history. So is it content or context? While great to know every date in US history I would rather know that the student can find the dates but can tie it all together and not simply give me facts. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

School is near can I make a difference?

Bird Droppings August 13, 2010
School is near can I make a difference?

“There is wisdom to be found in examining differences such as between ‘morality’ and ‘moralizing.’ Nouns are treated as completed statues lined up on the top shelves of a person’s character. Verbs are active, no less demanding but requiring constant engagement. They are not structures but are engines.” Ted Sizer, The Students are Watching

I read this book many years back for the first time when our then principal Dr. Steve Miletto used it in a book club meeting. As I went back through the wrinkled worn pages I found it intriguing how morality was pictured as an action word and not as a noun. The idea of constant engagement was a point many miss. You can not simply say I am moral you need to live it and breathe it. I went to watch a movie last night with my sons. Will Farrell is a police office along with partner Mark Walberg and they are investigating an investment banker for fraud. At the end of the movie rather than out takes clips of true banking fraud cases that have been tried and many sent to prison. It was the dollar amounts that floored me literally trillions of dollars taken from tax payers. I have several times started conversations about ethical capitalism and is it even possible and so far it has not really gone very far.

“The white man talks about the mind and body and spirit as if they are separate. For us they are one. Our whole life is spiritual, from the time we get up until we go to bed.” Dr. W.F. Peate, A Yakima healer, Listening from the heart

It has been nearly seven years since my middle son choose to go to Georgia Tech over The Savannah College of Art and Design. It was a far cry cartoon animation to the polymers and fibers. I remember the evening when he told me he had made up his mind he did not want his art to become tedious or to be his work so to say. He always wanted to enjoy doing art. It was not that he doesn’t enjoy the math and science of his chosen field of study but the art is his passion.
For many years I lived on a farm and various chores of farm work were my release from the tedium of the publishing business, be it bush hogging pasture, going to the barn during the night when we were in lambing season to check for lambs or just out checking on cows. As I sit and ponder this quote I have chosen – it has been a number of years since I lived on the farm and the farm now is a maze of houses and lot lines and once hay pastures are now yards and once fields of clover and fescue are now patios and charcoal grills. Soccer fields now fill some of the space I once chased cattle and buffalo across and herded sheep to the barn for shearing. It has been a few years since those days. It is the separation we tend to want to make and we want parameters to various aspects of our life.
I have been reading a book The Deschooling of society by Ivan Illich. In his book he speaks of institutionalizing everything and how we tend to make aspects of life literally things. Our schools have become an entity in and of itself, as do many businesses. Literally education becomes so into itself that we loose what it was intended to do. We so structuralize and institutionalize and categorize we loose fact that children are to learn.
Sitting here in my school room writing later in the day then I normally would thinking are we meeting the curriculum and test scores and are we satisfying the demands of the other institutions state and federal and local. We just heard a short speech by our school superintendent about how we have raised standardized test scores and graduation rates. We have certified more teachers in a system of certifying which really does not necessarily demand the best teacher but only that the requirements have been met. Are we stripping away the various components of life shelving and labeling in some methodology of dehumanizing endeavor.
Once all aspects in life were on and treated as one when an illness came you looked within the whole not piece by piece as so often do now as we do, going to specialist after specialist seeking cures. Watching as I do often sitting back observing I wonder if this is what we have done in our society? Have we taken what once was whole and dissected to a point of which we have such a multitude of pieces and we may never get the puzzle back together? Dr. Peate’s little inspirational book “Listening with the heart” is a series of lessons from Native Americans of thoughts and ideas he has seen as he worked on reservations as a medical doctor. Looking at school it is not about the joy anymore it is about the test score meeting curriculum making the grade. Thoreau left teaching when this hit him and he became a learner realizing his students would learn far more from him if he was learning as well. Borrowing from the first paragraph in a paper I wrote on my philosophy of teaching – In 1845 Henry David Thoreau said:

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

I believe in the uniqueness and freedom of the individual and that true learning is through experiencing the event. There has to be context to the content. In my own classroom I try to provide opportunities for my students to learn in a democratic environment. I try to be the facilitator not dictator. I often use hands on learning experiences as well as technology as tools to provide more involvement with students. I do believe students have to want to be there to learn other wise we have simply met requirements of the institution and learning is really only hopefully going to occur. I wrote a few emails earlier telling of an experience several days ago.
As I wander in my random thoughts spiritually and mentally trying to grasp pieces of what others idlely let drift by mesmerized by the tedium of life they choose or are too bored by what to them is common place. By allowing others to explain in either this parameter or that and taking away from the freedom of choice and thought we do so institutionalize every aspect of our being be it religion, school, work or shopping. My wife used to pick on me when I would go out and bush hog or mow often for six or eight hours when we lived on the farm. When we cut hay and time was a crucial element due to rain I would mow field’s dawn to dusk literally institutionalizing the process. So in effect taking away the liberty and awe by demanding I do the task within a given parameter. Pushing a lawn mower in a smaller patch of grass with out the time constraints of hay production gives me back a bit of the freedom though my head is often filled to the brim with pollen and might say other wise.
Our yard is large comparable to yards in the area perhaps a little over an acre. It has been a few years as I mowed in my yard a red tailed hawk had chosen this spot to die in. I had not seen this hawk come here but in the middle of a large expanse of grass and untouched by animals other than ants and insects lay the hawk. I could find no signs of trauma. As I mowed I wondered why this hawk chose me and here. Why did this great bird come to me to rest? I am sitting here having wanted to write since last night tired from an odd week heading back to school and paperwork and pondering papers for grad school and so many small bits and pieces. As I look back a hawk came to me. Often it is difficult in my search for paths and in my journey to reveal and share with others. They see a dead bird probably carried here by dogs but for me that piece is far more significant it has never happened before and why a red tailed hawk and why that day and why this bit and strand in time. Maybe it is time we try and piece back together the whole rather than continue fixing only pieces. Maybe there are reasons midst the jumble and as always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.