education

Diane Ravitch in Good Intentions, Ignorant Elites, and Scoundrels (via Downes), writes,

We live in a dangerous and dark time for schools. In many districts, the gears of power are controlled by non-educators who don't have a clue. They madly embrace testing and data and data-driven instruction because they have not a single idea about how kids learn and how teachers teach and what conditions are necessary to promote teaching and learning. This new breed also populates some of our nation's leading think tanks. Most of them have never taught; have never been in a classroom since they were students; know nothing of the history of education and nothing about research, but they know how to fix the nation's schools.

These assertions are true to some degree. I can certainly compare such non-educators with educators who have never taught ESL students, who have never learned another language, and know nothing of the research on second language acquisition, but they believe that ESL students can become fluent in English in just a few years.

What Works in Teaching?
At the same time, I can also understand why many could care less about the history of education and its research. Just look at the reading wars of "whole language" vs. phonics approaches, the math wars of "whole math" vs. traditional math curricula, and other education wars that pit "progressives" vs. "traditionalists" (see Hirsch's The Roots of the Education Wars). These different camps know educational history and research. Yet, they—just like Ravitch and Meier—disagree on how to educate students. Unlike the scientific consensus on F=ma, which works well in most cases (and in those cases it doesn't, there is a scientific consensus on why it doesn't work), there is no educational consensus on the best approaches to teaching students. Or, if there is, it's torn apart by political and ideological clashes.

Without a consensus among educators on what works and without consistent results, it's quite natural that non-educators will step into the fray with their own ideas of what might work. And that doesn't always mean that they do not consult with educators or "don't have a clue." Within the Gates Foundation, for example, the Program Director of Education in the U.S. is Vicki Phillips, who has been a district superintendent in Oregon, secretary of education and chief state school officer in Pennsylvania, and a middle and high school teacher, and she has a doctorate in education. Instead, it means that the core of what works in teaching may be more a matter of common sense than than the insights of educational research, a common sense that says that the foundation of what works in teaching is a knowledge of subject matter and relationships of trust and respect between teachers and students.

What Works is Subject Matter Knowledge
Ravitch also blasts Teach for America:

[Superintendents] will tell you that they are going to change "the quality" of teachers by recruiting Ivy League graduates and Teach for America folk. They are going to push out all those experienced fogies, so that their newbies have no one to learn from, no one to show them the ropes, no one to help with knotty day-to-day problems.

I posted on this before, but some research shows that Teach for America teachers are better than experienced teachers. In Making a Difference, we read,

The findings show that TFA teachers are more effective, as measured by student exam performance, than traditional teachers. Moreover, they suggest that the TFA effect, at least in the grades and subjects investigated, exceeds the impact of additional years of experience, implying that TFA teachers are more effective than experienced secondary school teachers. The positive TFA results are robust across subject areas, but are particularly strong for math and science classes.

Apparently, the further the subject matter moves away from every day experience, as in the case of math and the sciences, the more important subject matter knowledge becomes in teaching. And apparently, subject matter knowledge is more important than knowing the history of education and its research. (For similar findings, see Teacher Quality.)

Not that TFA teachers have no knowledge of pedagogical practice. Ravitch exaggerates the newbies not having someone to show them the ropes. From the Making a Difference article,

TFA corps members participate in an intensive five-week summer national institute and a two week local orientation/induction program prior to their first teaching assignment.

In recent years, TFA corps members have also engaged in on-going professional development activities provided by TFA and whatever other supports school districts provide new teachers.

Now the average 3-credit semester course takes up 45 hours a semester. The 5+2 weeks of training, assuming a 40-hour training week, comes to 280 hours or a little over 18 credits (or six courses) of practical educational training. That's not insignificant. Regardless of the training they receive, the research is clear on TFA teacher outperforming experienced teachers at the secondary level. It makes one wonder, as Stephen Downes did concerning these results,

What does this say about the efficacy of teacher training?

Or perhaps, we should wonder about the efficacy of teacher training provided by schools of education as compared to that provided by TFA.

What Works is Relationships and Attitude
It would be easy to continue and pick holes in the rest of Ravitch's sound bites, but I'll leave that discussion for the comments already on her article. Instead, note that she says that Meier's success with small schools was due to her "singular passion" (which is also likely a factor in the success of TFA teachers).

Deborah Meiers (In Schools We Trust) wrote:

Standardization and bureaucratization fuel the very distrust they are aimed to cure. (p. 2)

Students need to be around teachers they can trust and teachers who ask questions as learners, too. (p. 14)

These points are not considered often enough. Researchers research methods. Meier practiced relationships of respect and trust, and had the attitude of a learner. Method without such relationships and attitudes will run into walls of resistance to learning.

Relationships and attitudes are also underscored by the book What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain, Vice Provost for Instruction and Director of Montclair University’s Teaching and Learning Resource Center. This book reports on outstanding teachers from various disciplines across the university, including medical and law schools. Obviously, these professors did not have a background in educational history or research. Yet they stood out. Here is a list of characteristics of teachers who stand out (excerpts from pages 15-19):

Without exception, outstanding teachers know their subjects extremely well.
Exceptional teachers treat their lectures, discussion sections, problem-based sessions, and other elements of teaching as serious intellectual endeavors as intellectually demanding and important as their research and scholarship.
Simply put, the best teachers expect "more." ... they avoid objectives that are arbitrarily tied to the course and favor those that embody the kind of thinking and acting expected for life.
While methods vary, the best teachers often try to create what we have come to call a "natural critical learning environment. In that environment, people learn by confronting intriguing, beautiful, or important problems, authentic tasks that will challenge them to grapple with ideas, rethink their assujmptions, and examine their mental models of reality. These are challenging yet supportive conditions in which learners feel a sense of control over their education; work collaboratively with others; believe that their work will be considered fairly and honestly; and try, fail, and receive feedback from expert learners in advance of and separate from any summative judgment of their effort."
Highly effective teachers tend to reflect a strong trust in students. ... Above all, they tend to treat students with what can only be called simple decency.
All the teachers we studied have some systematic program—some more elaborate than others—to assess their own efforts and to make appropriate changes.

As the book points out, these characteristics are driven by attitudes towards their research, their teaching, and their students, attitudes of respect, trust, and beliefs that they are still learning and that their students can learn.

What Works in Teaching and in Life
None of this is to say that educational theories of learning belong to the dustbin. They guide my own teaching practices. It would waste time to develop my pedagogy through trial and error alone instead of taking advantage of what others have already learned.

Instead, the point is that although educational theories can build upon a foundation, a foundation must be in place first. And the foundation of what works in teaching—or any other endeavor—is a command of subject matter knowledge, respect for others, and an attitude of learning.



A new study reports on the success of career school programs (Erik Eckholm, NY Times).

Now, a long-term and rigorous evaluation of nine career academies across the country, to be released in Washington on Friday, has found that eight years after graduation, participants had significantly higher employment and earnings than similar students in a control group.

Researchers believe that those who initially expressed interest in the academies may have shared similar motivation to succeed, whether or not they were chosen for the special program.

But this also suggests that something about the academy experience, apart from educational achievement, promoted greater success in the job market. One likely factor is the exposure the academies provide to a range of adults in real workplaces, said J. D. Hoye, who directed a “school-to-work” initiative for the Clinton administration and now heads the National Academy Foundation, which advises career academies on curriculums and other topics.

“The students see what work is like, and they build a network of caring adults at school and in the workplace,” Ms. Hoye said.

Students seem to benefit from being part of a special, small group, said Mark Bartholio, the academy director. Many do not pursue finance careers but instead go into teaching, social services or criminal justice, he said, but one graduate said the accounting skills he learned in the academy had enabled him to help start a small business.

This reminds me of Deborah Meiers (In Schools We Trust), who wrote:

Standardization and bureaucratization fuel the very distrust they are aimed to cure. (p. 2)

Students need to be around teachers they can trust and teachers who ask questions as learners, too. (p. 14)

And it reminds me of Deci & Ryan's self-determination theory in which motivation is affected by autonomy, competence, and social relations.

We often talk about making learning meaningful with a view towards connecting school learning to students' interests and activities, but meaningfulness can be stimulated by positive social relations and dampened by negative ones.



Home Schooling Debate
Stephen Downes wrote a brief note on his opposition to home schooling and has received quite a bit of flak about it, both in the comments to his post and elsewhere. I asked,

Can you expand on your position and provide some evidence for your claims?

He then made a 16-minute video On Home Schooling to detail his position and make it clearer, but although his position is clear, he doesn't seem to have any evidence for his opinions.

In a later note, he wrote of those writing elsewhere that the post by Dana Hanley was "the most constructive," and it is fairly thorough. Stephen plans to follow up with a more detailed response later, so let's see what evidence he has then.

Using Videos
On another note, his video made it clear to me that when using tools, we need to consider what they have to offer, how they can add to our message, and what we lose when using them. Videos can do things that mere talking cannot. Just consider MIchael Wesch's video, Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us. It would be impossible to get across the same meaning compressed into this video into a print-only text (unless perhaps it were book-length). A print-only text could only write about the meaning while this video shows the meaning while texting about it.

In contrast to Wesch's video, Stephen's video added nothing to the meaning that could not have been accomplished in a text-only medium. In fact, it accomplished less for three reasons:

  1. With print, I can easily cast my eyes up and down (scrolling if necessary) to clarify and confirm the meaning, while with a video I have to stop it and replay it if I miss or don't understand something.
  2. With video, I need to take notes to be able to see the whole picture while reviewing and reflecting on it instead of being limited to a sequential input of ideas.
  3. Videos require more time for listening than print for reading.

All three reasons involve time. This time requirement of viewing and understanding videos means that if they are to be used, they need to offer something that cannot be obtained in print only, something that is worth the extra time investment, such as using talking videos or podcasts with language learners who need the extra aural practice.



In addition to my posts on NCTE and NWP, quite a few others posted on their experiences there, too. See NCTE's list of bloggers who posted

Apparently, graduate students are starting to use blogs more in their classes. At Formoosa WPMU Blog is a list of blogs apparently maintained by graduate students in Taiwan studying second language issues. Some apparently stopped writing this summer (class ended?), but others are continuing (perhaps a new course?). Altogether, they review quite a few journal articles, create lesson plans, and write on other items of interest to TESOL folks.

Similarly, at the University of Toronto are the GRAIL (Graduate Researcher's Academic Identity Online) blogs:

The overall goal of this project is to develop a set of social and technical tools that support the formation of an online community to engage graduate students in activities related to educational research across course boundaries and throughout your degree program.

This group of blogs is more wide-ranging in their topics than just TESOL, but still focused on education and learning. There's a lot of value here.



U.K. Chief Rabbi Johnathan Sacks talks about the threat to democracy from multiculturalism in his new book, "The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society":

Multiculturalism promotes segregation, stifles free speech and threatens liberal democracy, Britain's top Jewish official warned in extracts from his book published Saturday.

Jonathan Sacks, Britain's chief rabbi, defined multiculturalism as an attempt to affirm Britain's diverse communities and make ethnic and religious minorities more appreciated and respected. But in his book, "The Home We Build Together: Recreating Society," he said the movement had run its course.

"Multiculturalism has led not to integration but to segregation," Sacks wrote in his book, an extract of which was published in the Times of London.

"Liberal democracy is in danger," Sacks said, adding later: "The politics of freedom risks descending into the politics of fear."

Sacks said Britain's politics had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed first for rights, then for special treatment.

The process, he said, began with Jews, before being taken up by blacks, women and gays. He said the effect had been inexorably divisive.

"A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation is greater than that of others," he said.

From the back cover of the book:

"Multiculturalism has run its course and it is time to move on." So begins Jonathan Sacks' new book on the future of British society and the dangers facing liberal democracy.

Arguing that global communications have fragmented national cultures and that multiculturalism, intended to reduce social frictions, is today reinforcing them, Sacks argues for a new approach to national identity. We cannot stay with current policies that are producing a society of conflicting ghettoes and non-intersecting lives, turning religious bodies into pressure groups rather than society-building forces.

Sacks maintains that we will have to construct a national narrative as a basis for identity, reinvigorate the concept of the common good, and identify shared interests among currently conflicting groups. It must restore a culture of civility, protect "neutral spaces" from politicization, and find ways of moving beyond an adversarial culture in which the loudest voice wins. He proposes a responsibility-based, rather than rights-based, model of citizenship that connects the ideas of giving and belonging.

Offering a new paradigm to replace previous models of assimilation on the one hand, multiculturalism on the other, he argues that we should see society as "the home we build together," bringing the distinctive gifts of different goups to society as a whole, and not only to our particular subsection of it.

Sacks warns of the hazards free and open societies face in the twenty-first century, and offers an unusual religious defense of liberal democracy and the nation state. A counterweight to his earlier The Dignity of Difference, Sacks makes the case for "integrated diversity" within a framework of shared political views.

The notion of "integrated diversity" reminds me of Maria Rosa Menocal's book "The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain" in which she writes about the "authentic multiculturalism" in medieval Spain that occurred through processes of tolerance, dialogue, and acceptance of "contraries."

Her notion of authentic multiculturalism ties in well with a "responsibility-based, rather than rights-based, model of citizenship." We hear all too often people clamoring for rights without regard to any responsibility they might have. It's more of a "gimme, gimme" attitude instead of a "giving and belonging" attitude. Not that rights must not be protected in a democracy, but rather they must be balanced by a sense of responsibility for a liberal democracy to exist.

Related posts:
The Downside of Diversity
Multiculturalism and Prejudice



Most of us are aware that diversity of ideas can lead to innovative solutions to problems in work environments and learning in educational environments. But diversity apparently has negative effects. Based on interviews with almost 30,000 people in the U.S., Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard, has found that diversity in a community has its downsides (via EdNews.org).

Diversity is proportional to

  • less voting,
  • less volunteering,
  • less giving to charity,
  • less working on community projects,
  • less trusting of one's neighbors, and
  • less civic well-being.

How much less? "In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings." Although we might expect trust to lessen between different groups, Putnam found that trust lessened "even among members of the same group."

These are serious findings. Diversity is important for creativitiy and learning. At the same time, it creates friction and distrust. As noted in the post Multiculturalism and Prejudice, promoting multiculturalism has a side effect of increasing prejudice for some people. Somehow, while maintaining respect for all cultures, we, our schools, and our communities need to emphasize and teach what we have in common instead of our differences.

Related posts:
Multiculturalism and Prejudice
Authentic Multiculturalism in Medieval Spain
Economic Diversity Raises Test Scores
Collective Intelligence vs. Crowd Dumbness



The Guardian has an interesting article, "Paul Sniderman: Identity Crisis" (via EdNews.org". Sniderman is the Fairleigh Dickinson Professor of Public Policy at Stanford University. According to Sniderman,

"While any society will always have its fair share of bigots, we also found that governmental multiculturalism made the problem worse. By arguing that all groups in society should be allowed to live according to their own beliefs and customs, they were encouraging people to see themselves as different from one another. And not just a little bit different, but fundamentally different. So it fostered a them-and-us attitude to politics." ...

what also emerges from this study is the thinness of the line between difference and prejudice. "We found that views typically held by otherwise tolerant Dutch people - that Muslims treated women badly and were too authoritarian with their children - were counterbalanced by Muslim attitudes towards the Dutch," says Sniderman. "Muslims believed the Dutch were disrespectful towards women and failed to discipline their children properly. So this wasn't about prejudices held by religious fanatics on both sides; it was a genuine conflict of values between two communities. It was the focus on these differences, through the pursuit of multiculturalism, that tipped the balance towards prejudice in some cases." ...

The biggest predictor of integration and social mobility in the Netherlands is the ability to speak Dutch ...

"[western governments] should legislate less for how they want people to feel, and more on the things that really matter, such as educational opportunity."

So, although multiculturalism's intent is to promote respect for diverse cultures, its results can be that of prejudicing people against those who are different.



Sometimes, I wonder about the cute titles that accompany books, but in this case, it is appropriate. Zen and the Art of Public School Teaching is written by John Perricone, a longtime high school teacher and a holder of a 6th degree black belt. From an interview conducted with Michael Shaughnessy (columnist with EdNews.org), Perricone says his most important message is,

The concept of "philosophical identity." It is my thesis in both my book, and my address that we 'teach who were [sic] are', and that it is our 'philosophical identity' -- our sense of mission or purpose that we envelop ourselves in each day as we enter the classroom (or lack of same) which ultimately distinguishes those who find joy and passion in the teaching profession from those who find drudgery and simply pick up a paycheck every two weeks. So, both in my book and in my Keynote address, I take my audience on an introspective journey looking first at their identity as a human being, then as a teacher, and then we look to see if and where those lines intersect.

This notion of philosophical identity is closely tied to his perspective on values in teaching:

That every human life has intrinsic worth, value, and dignity and that it is our job as teachers to give our students those tools and insights that will enable them to live their lives at the fullest and deepest expression of their humanity. If that isn't the ultimate goal of education, I'm not sure what any of us are doing in this profession.

"We teach who we are." And who should we be? From Attending to the Inner Life of an Educator: The Human Dimension in Education (pdf), Avraham Cohen's dissertation, are several responses, one of which is a poem by Rumi:

The Guesthouse

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all;
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Related posts:
Sacrifice and teaching
Ants Have Teachers
Code of Ethics



Deborah Meier ("Protecting Public Schools", Forum) talks about the need to support our public schools. Her article should be read in its entirety but here are a few excerpts:

"Reformers who urge us to drop the pretense of a local connection between schools and their communities lead us into dangerous territory."

"Reformers of all stripes sometimes forget that the genius of our democracy is in sustaining the tensions and balances between various sources of power—including the power of us “ordinary” people."

"That language of “for, by and of the people” may sound sentimental, but be wary when you are told that we cannot “compete” in the world unless we give up our commitment to democratically controlled public schools as mere wishful thinking."

None of this is new, but it bears repeating as folks so easily forget the necessity of including all shareholders in pubic schooling processes.



Ben Feller ("Study says teacher training is chaotic", Boston Globe) writes about a study conducted by Arthur Levine, former President of Teachers College at Columbia University, asserting that teacher education is "deeply flawed." (For the report, go to The Education Schools Project.) The main points are:

  • a lack of common required skills in teacher education programs
  • low admissions standards
  • disengaged college faculty
  • inadequate practice in the classroom, and
  • inadequate supervision

I can identify with inadequate supervision and the lack of practice in the classroom. When I went to Turkey to teach English armed with my masters degree, I knew the theory but had had zero practice. In Turkey, I was scrambling every night to figure out what I would do the next day. And there was almost no communication among teachers to resolve what I should teach, and so subsitute in a way for a mentor.

What I appreciate most about teaching today is that I have a few engaged colleagues with whom I discuss on an almost daily basis what's going on in our classrooms and how to improve our pedagogy. In addition to the problems that Levine found, I would suggest that aspiring teachers should be organized into support groups to learn from one another and perhaps even continue to support one another after graduation.



The Ornament

When you think of tolerance and multiculturalism, does Medieval Europe come to mind? Probably not. Yet, Maria Rosa Menocal's (professor of Spanish and Director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University) book The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain makes precisely that claim. Weaving together tales from medieval Spain, Menocal illustrates how three different religions built a "first-rate" culture of tolerance that influenced Europe for centuries to come.

Menocal intertwines "culture of tolerance" with F. Scott Fitzgerald's notion of a "first-rate" mind, writing,

the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time ...

[that] contradictions--within oneself, as well as within one's culture--could be positive and productive. (pp. 10-11)

Contradictions, Menocal asserts, were responsible for the flowering of art, intellect, and tolerance towards others in Medieval Spain: Muslims, Christians, and Jews interacted openly and freely, keeping a strong sense of identity, yet assimilating features of other cultures that they admired. In Medieval Spain, tolerating contraries led to great philosphers like ibn Rusd and Maimonides, who wrestled with the contraries of faith and reason. Maimonides, with his Second Law, or Mishneh Torah, would be called a "second Moses." Moses of Leon struggled with the traditional Halakah and came up with his Sefer ha-zohar, The Book of Splendor, a systematic compilation of Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. The study of the living language of Arabic generated once again a Hebrew that was "the language of a vibrant, living poetry" (p. 109).

Such "first-rate" contraries resulted in "authentic multiculturalism." Jews, such as Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Samuel the Nagid, were viziers in an Islamic government. Alongside Arabic--a language of state, love, and religion--existed other religious and vernacular languages. This multicultural environment preferred freedom of religious expression to political correctness; "incongruity in the shaping of individuals" (p. 11) to a "strict harmony of ... cultural identities" (p. 277); "to pose difficult questions rather than to propose easy answers or facile morals" (p. 274); and so on. All of these contraries and others touch upon so many issues in education and modern life, such as assimilation vs. heritage maintenance, multiculturalism vs. traditional canons, political correctness vs. freedom of expression and of religion, bilingual education vs. immersion, and so on.

The authentic multiculturalism of Medieval Spain arose from tolerance of and dialogue with others. Yet, tolerance and dialogue are not givens, as this culture of tolerance eventually fell.

WHAT HAPPENED? HOW AND WHY DOES A CULTURE OF tolerance fall apart? How did a people come to abandon a culture rooted in an ethic of yes and no, so readily able to love and embrace the architecture or the poetry of political enemies or religious rivals, so willing to read good books regardless of the library they came from? All the answers are themselves bundles of contradictions.... Perhaps all that can be said with any conviction is that in the combination of spectacular successes and failures presented by this history lie tales of both warning and encouragement. (p. 266)

The notion of contradictions being essential for tolerance and creativity, and also for learning (see Learning: A State of Dissatisfaction) underscores the need to inject uncertainty and novelty into the classroom, not so much as to be overwhelming but enough to promote the flow of learning.

At the end of the book, Menocal writes, "Every reader will take away different lessons from the tales in this book." Indeed.

Below are some reviews that offer other readings of and lessons from The Ornament of the World



What do you think? Should schools have codes of ethics or not?

David Warlick does and has posted an attempt at a Code of Ethics in "Getting Right Down to It". The four basic principles (expanded with subprinciples) are:

  • Seek truth and express it
  • Minimize harm
  • Be accountable
  • Respect information and its infrastructure

One wouldn't think that these principles would be controversial. However, Stephen Downes disagrees with codifying them. Let's look at his main points:

Yes, they can, but what is it that distinguishes a code of ethics from, say, instruction from a teacher or parent? It is one thing to tell people what they ought or ought not do - even I do that. And quite another to codify that. When something like ethics is codified, then this gives people room to be 'ethical' by watching for loopholes or playing legal games. It is better to adhere to the spirit of an ethic rather than the letter, to be ethical by holding your behaviour accountable to your own sense of good and right, not some arbitrary third party construction.

This is setting up a false dichotomy. Yes, "It is better to adhere to the spirit of an ethic," but that doesn't mean that should be no letter. I would prefer to see the possibility of the spirit informing the letter, and the letter informing the spirit, with each mutually reinforcing the other.

Also, as far as codes leading people to watch for loopholes as distinct from telling people to do, you should meet my seven-year-old son. He remembers everything I tell him to do and not to do, and is constantly formulating exceptions. So, we might consider codes simply as the pragmatic recognition of the fact that not everyone possesses or "adhere[s] to the spirit of an ethic." Thus, rather than being "arbitrary," they often are evolving adaptations by a concerned party to historical evasions of ethics. Having said that, it would be appropriate to bring the other concerned party, the students, into the writing (and ongoing re-writing) of a code of ethics.

Because the rules will never be complete. Freedman writes, "Surely the starting point is to instil the ethical value of citing sources with permission, before bringing in the obvious exceptions?" But if the rule has exceptions, then the rule, as stated, is wrong. Shall we start listing exceptions? No, because then we could never stop? Another rule, then? No, because it, too, will have exceptions.

Why should rules be complete in order to be valuable? Rules should be considered as prototypes that offer guidance rather than perfect completeness. In fact, we should consider exceptions not as endless problems, but as endless opportunities for learning. When an apparent exception arises, we can question the rule and the exception: Is this action really an exception? Why? In what ways does this exception inform our understanding of the rule? Should we change the rule or simply, noting the exception, complexify our understanding of the rule?

There is a reason we leave application of the law to the discretion of judges and not merely to adjudication of fact. The interpretation of referees and umpires rather than electronic sensors. Why we often appeal to the 'spirit of the law' rather than the letter. Why we think sticking to 'the letter of the law' is cheating.

This example of judges contradicts Stephen's position. Without laws, there would be no need for judges to interpret their application. Following this logic, there would be no need for laws. Conversely, with laws and rules, we and our students have the opportunity to interpret them, reflect on them, and grow in our understanding of the principles involved in their formulation.

The only 'morality' a person follows is his or her own, a feeling that this or that is right or wrong. Any appeal to an external sourse changes the definition from 'morality' to 'authority'.

This is a red herring. No one creates their own morality de novo. Morality is constructed on the basis of interactions with external sources, such as family, community, social institutions, and culture. (Consider the Vygotskian perspective that the social plane exists before the psychological plane.) In addition, morality is not static but changes over time with experience, that is, with interactions with external others. When people perceive an external source as having legitimate authority and persuasive reasoning, over time they may come to integrate the external position as part of their identity and thus their own morality (see self-determination theory).

Rules are normal, and so are exceptions. Consider rules for writing. When a paper is important, I go back through my paper with one rule (e.g., topic sentences and coherence) at a time looking for how well I have followed it. This practice of following rules helps my writing become clearer and more persuasive. Yet sometimes I see a need to break the rules. Life and writing are too complex to understand in their entirety. That's why we reduce the complexity down to manageable prototypes, or rules. So, of course, rules have exceptions. But until the "incomplete" rules have become automatic, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand where the exceptions exist. Learning is a matter of complexifying one's understanding of prototypes, and external guidelines can help scaffold the process.

Still, we might ask whether rules (with their exceptions) are sufficient for all contexts. Perhaps, for some purposes and contexts, stories might work better. I'm reminded of Shell's Global Scenarios:

The Shell Scenarios are carefully crafted views of the future. They provide a tool to explore the many complex business environments in which companies work and will be working. During the last 30 years our Scenarios have helped us and others to link the uncertainties we hold about the future to the decisions we must make today.

Along these lines, The Farmer’s Wife a children's story by Idries Shah, exemplifies the potential of stories for teaching ethics. In this story, a farmer’s wife drops her apple, which rolls into a hole. Unable to get it out, she asks a series of animals and objects (bird, cat, dog, bee, beekeeper, rope, fire, water, cow) to help her. However, each one in turn refuses and is called “naughty.” Finally, she asks the bird to peck the cow. Being naughty, the bird obliges and sets off a cascade of actions in reverse order of animals and objects, returning to the bird again, building up to the point at which it is expected that the last (and first) animal, the bird, will retrieve the apple. However, instead, at the last second, a wind blows the apple out of the hole, “And everyone lived happily ever after.” This short story juxtaposes (1) asking according to one’s own interest with asking according to the recipient’s interest (or nature), (2) allegedly naughty beings (and the good farmer’s wife) with living happily ever after and (3) an expected outcome from a linear cascade of causes with unexpected chance.

Stories like this one hold our interest better than rules, stay in our minds longer, and, when well-crafted, contain contradictions that exemplify the complexity of ethics.

Still, neither stories nor rules are sufficient. A spirit of morality in the schools and communities is crucial. Without it, people will, as Stephen wrote, look for loopholes, because in such a case, the stories and rules do not reflect students' environment, which seems to be the case in general, at least in the U.S. From Thomas Lickona's book Character Matters, the "2002 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth" reports that in high school, 75% of students cheat on at least one exam; 40% steal from a store; and 40% will "lie to get a good job." Jeffrey Selingo in his article "The Cheating Culture" (Prism Magazine), reported that in the mid-nineties, cheating at least once was around 82% for engineering students and that it has been rising since then.

So, despite laws and existing rules, students are, as Stephen wrote, following their "own" morality. And as I wrote above, an individual's morality is not created de novo; it's the result of interaction with others and environmental pressures. So, what are schools and universities to do? Speaking on character education, Dwayne Huebner (curriculum theorist and Professor Emeritus, Teachers College) is worth citing at length on this point:

First, recent discourse about moral and spiritual values in the classroom is incorrectly focused. That discourse assumes that there is something special that can be identified as moral or spiritual. This assumption is false. Everything that is done in schools, and in preparation for school activity, is already infused with the spiritual. All activity in school has moral consequences. The very highlighting of the need to teach moral and spiritual values in schools implies a breakdown not in the spirituality and morality of the student, but a breakdown in the moral activity and spirituality of the school itself, and of the people in control of the school. Those in control of the schools cover their own complicity in the domination system by urging the teaching of moral and spiritual values. They do not urge that the moral and spiritual climate of the schools, which they control, be changed. That teachers do not feel the freedom to be critical and creative is a sign of their enslavement to other principalities and powers. The need is not to see moral and spiritual values as something outside the normal curriculum and school activity, but to probe deeper into the educational landscape to reveal how the spiritual and moral is being denied in everything. The problem in schools is not that kids are not being taught moral and spiritual values, the problem is—the schools are not places where the moral and spiritual life is lived with any kind of intentionality. (The Lure of the Transcendent, pp. 414-15)

I'm not quite sure what Huebner's perspective is on intentionality, but Alicia Juarrero in her book Dynamics in Action: Intentional Behavior as a Complex System defines actions as "behavioral trajectories constrained top-down by an intention." Behavior—the enactment of meaning, moral values, and beliefs—results from a self-organizing process of a person’s history of reciprocal interactions with his/her environment, a process in which interdependencies between intentions and actions, individual and society, are entrained. If intentions are not regulated and are not followed by action, people will follow the thoughts, intentions and actions of others. In other words, people conform to their social environment unless they intentionally, and persistently, will to do otherwise. That's all that students are doing, conforming to their environment.

So, again, what are schools to do? Although schools, too, have interdependencies between themselves and their communities, they must take the initiative in entraining their intentions and actions to match the ethics they wish their students to embody. That's not easy to do. Most learning is unconscious. Thus, when breaking old habits to form new ones, it's helpful to structure support into the environment that promotes conscious intention and reflection. Rules and stories can be two such types of support. They remind us of prototypical actions that we wish to emulate, as in the case of David Warlick's principles. Thus, there is no essential dichotomy between ethics and rules or stories. All are useful, in fact, necessary: The spirit provides the motivation to act ethically, and stories and rules (along with experience) provide the support and knowledge to do so.

For other links on this topic, see David Warlick's response to Stephen Continuing the conversation on ethics, and also via Stephen Downes, see Terry Freedman's response to Stephen and Susan van Gelder's post.



Diana Schemo (NY Times, "Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study") writes:

The Education Department reported on Friday that children in public schools generally performed as well or better in reading and mathematics than comparable children in private schools. The exception was in eighth-grade reading, where the private school counterparts fared better. ...

Students in private schools typically score higher than those in public schools, a finding confirmed in the study. The report then dug deeper to compare students of like racial, economic and social backgrounds. When it did that, the private school advantage disappeared in all areas except eighth-grade reading.

In other words, socioeconomic background is the primary "determiner" of academic success or failure. These findings echo those in the California study (see "Bilingual Education vs. English Immersion: A Draw"), which stated,

"the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

I wonder how poverty is linked to attitude. William Raspberry, retired columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote about the Attitude Gap:

Speaking frankly and helpfully about the academic achievement gap between black and white students is a lot harder than it ought to be.

It is particularly hard if it is true -- as I believe -- that the gap has less and less to do with racism and more and more to do with the habits and attitudes we inculcate among our children.

I remember reading another article by Raspberry in which he attributed the academic achievement of military children to their attitude that although they recognized the existence of racism they still felt that success was possible. Although I couldn't find it, parts of it seems to have been picked up by Casondra Brewster:

Syndicated columnist William Raspberry attributed military kids’ high academic success ratios of good grades and moving on to college to, in his words, "... an unusual degree of academic success because they hold to an unusual degree of the empowering belief that they are in control of their destinies." Raspberry also attributed military school children’s success to the presence of parents "who are both self-disciplined and accepting of military discipline."

Is the relationship between poverty and attitude one similar to "learned hopelessness"?



Recently, I posted twice about education leading to immaturity (Education Leads to Immaturity and Education Leads to Immaturity cont'd) and commented how in some ways it made sense. Initially, I was thinking of students (not all, of course) at my former university, when I was a student and had little responsibility. But a friend of mine pointed out that students don't need to have responsibility in school governance to experience responsibility. When I think of my ESL students, many of who are interpreters for their parents, many who have their own families, and many who are juggling full-time jobs while going to school, obviously these students have responsibility and maturity. (None of this counters the notion that students should be involved in their education and have more input into its relevance.)

So, I went back to the article at Discovery News, where Jennifer Viegas reported that Bruce Charlton, the theory's creator, would soon have an article in Medical Hypotheses on his theory (Charlton is the editor-in-chief of the journal). And from there I went to the article "The rise of the boy-genius: Psychological neoteny, science and modern life" (2006, volume 67, issue 4, pages 679-681). If this is the one being mentioned, it turns out that it was not a researched article but an editorial with only anecdotal evidence. Perhaps Charlton is on to something, perhaps not. However, I will spend more time thinking through and researching articles I read before responding with an "unfinished" mind.



"Teaching 'the least boring job'", according to a survey reported in BBC News:

The Training and Development Agency for Schools questioned more than 2,000 graduates aged 21 to 45, finding more than half were regularly bored at work.

Those in administrative and manufacturing jobs were the most frustrated, followed by marketing and sales employees.

Teachers and healthcare workers were the least bored.

Graduates working in the media, law and in engineering were middle of the "boredom scale". ...

When asked why they found their job interesting, 81% of teachers questioned said it was the challenge of the role and the same proportion said it was because "no two days were the same".

Of course, this needs to be balanced by the fact that "Half of Teachers Quit in 5 Years" (Lisa Lambert, Washington Post) due to "poor working conditions and low salaries."

Jentis, now a stay-at-home mother of three, says that she could not make enough money teaching in Manhattan to pay for her student loans and that dealing with the school bureaucracy was too difficult.

"The kids were wonderful to be with, but the stress of everything that went with it and the low pay did not make it hard to leave," she said. "It's sad because you see a lot of the teachers that are young and gung-ho are ready to leave."

Those working conditions lead to teacher burnout. A search at Amazon.com resulted in 419 books on the topic of teacher burnout.

So, teaching is enjoyable, as long as conditions are permitting. I've been more than fortunate in this regard. I get to dream of better ways of engaging my students in learning to write, to implement those ways, and to see those dreams come to fruition.



Jennifer Viegas in Serious Study: Immaturity Levels Rising (Discovery News) writes on the increasing phenomenon of psychological neoteny, a state of remaining immature and retaining childlike behaviors. The article quotes Bruce Charlton, the theory's creator and a professor in the School of Biology at the University of Newcastle:

“By contrast, many modern adults fail to attain this maturity, and such failure is common and indeed characteristic of highly educated and, on the whole, effective and socially valuable people," he said.

"People such as academics, teachers, scientists and many other professionals are often strikingly immature outside of their strictly specialist competence in the sense of being unpredictable, unbalanced in priorities, and tending to overreact.”

Charlton added that since modern cultures now favor cognitive flexibility, “immature” people tend to thrive and succeed, and have set the tone not only for contemporary life, but also for the future, when it is possible our genes may even change as a result of the psychological shift.

The faults of youth are retained along with the virtues, he believes. These include short attention span, sensation and novelty-seeking, short cycles of arbitrary fashion and a sense of cultural shallowness.

Cognitive flexibility goes hand-in-hand with immaturity? Perhaps the converse would be true, too: Maturity goes together with cognitive stubbornness. I wonder if I can increase my cognitive flexibility by working at becoming more immature. What does this mean with respect to school curricula and to learning?



A little while ago, my seven-year-old son asserted on doing his homework,

I'm so smart. I have everything in my brain.

However, about ten minutes later when I asked him to tie his own shoelaces, he said,

I can't. I know the first part, but I don't know the second part. Is it the thumb or two fingers?

His comments reminded me of the book The Embodied Mind by Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, which posits a fundamental circularity between cognition and experience. There is no disembodied mind directing our actions: All knowledge is enacted via experience.

Eleanor Rosch gave a talk at the American Psychological Association a few years ago titled "What Buddhist Meditation has to Tell Psychology About the Mind". She ended her talk with some quotes from the autobiography of Peter Ralston, a world martial arts champion:

One: The starting point: ambition, focused intention “As a teenager I wanted to be the best fighter in the world. Period!”

Two: Recognition of the unsatisfactoriness of the ordinary conscious way of doing things. (May come with success) “Around that time, I would go to classes and fight black belts and win, but still feel like I lost…Something wasn’t right…. I was winning from natural ability, but I wasn’t winning because I really understood anything…”

Three: Finding the unbiased mind beyond fear and desire. Opening perceptions. Appreciation. “It was in that situation that I first learned to drop fear of getting hit, or of winning or losing… What that did was open up my perception to what was really happening. I just saw a fist coming and I’d move…When I’d get worried about it, I’d get stuck somewhere and get hit… It’s a beautiful secret, an exacting and tremendous feedback.”

Four: Expansion of the knowing field. Also some change in sense of time. “…abilities like being able to read somebody’s disposition accurately started to come. The moment they would think to hit me I would stop them. That’s it. Handled. I just kept finishing everything before it got started.”

Five: Actions from awareness; simply knowing what to do and it’s always appropriate “New abilities started to arise… I didn’t have to be cognizant of any movement on their part, psychic or otherwise, to know what to do. I just knew. That blew me away. I didn’t have to perceive a thing…very simple, very simple.”

Six: Comes full circle; transformation of the original ambition and intention “I decided that if I were to continue to do this, I wanted to start contributing what I did and what I knew in a much larger way. I wanted to transform the martial arts in the world into a place for the development of the human being, and of honesty.”

Quite a bit of what Ralston says is similar to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on flow, a process of total enagement in an activity for its own sake with the result that one feels a sense of satisfaction and loses track of time. Flow has eight dimensions, not all of which must be operating at once (from EduTech Wiki):

Clear goals and immediate feedback
Equilibrium between the level of challenge and personal skill
Merging of action and awareness
Focussed concentration
Sense of potential control
Loss of self-consciousness
Time distortion
Autotelic or self-rewarding experience

It seems obvious that Ralston often enjoyed the state of flow. Many athletes do, as do video gamers, gardeners, and others. According to Csikszentmihalyi (quoted by Jamie Chamberlin in the APA Monitor), however, flow is not typical:

'A typical day is full of anxiety and boredom,' says Csikszentmihalyi. 'Flow experiences provide the flashes of intense living against this dull background.'

Elsewhere, Csikszentmihalyi wrote,

It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to.

And they don't, because school is seldom a place of "intense living." Of course, work isn't, either, but that's not the point. If we wish for students to enjoy learning, then it would help to design our classes so that they are more conducive for states of flow to occur.

Sometimes, the system just works against states of flow. For instance, my ESL students are expected to reach levels of English that, although possible, are often more than challenging due to obligations constraining their study time, such as working 20, 30, and 40 hours a week. In addition to working full time, most of my night students (and some of my day students) are married (or single) with children.

Still, another condition for flow is clear goals and immediate feedback. As I look at my composition syllabus, those goals are probably not clear enough to my students, and feedback is usually delayed. It shouldn't be too difficult to make the goals clearer, but it's more difficult to give immediate feedback on essays. I usually grade them on the weekend, and so there's a 5- to 7-day delay.

What would be interesting would to develop a software tutor for writing that could provide immediate feedback and guidance. John Anderson et al. has an interesting article "Cognitive Tutors: Lessons Learned". The article discusses different tutors (algebra, geometry, LISP) used to facilitate student learning and mentions a few problems:

Students' own attitudes to the tutor classrooms are quite positive to the point of creating minor discipline problems. Students skip other classes to do extra work on the tutor, refuse to leave the class when the period is over, and come in early.

Isn't it terrible when motivation becomes a problem? A tutor application for writing would likely be harder to create than it is for math. Math has right and wrong answers, and the wrong answers can fall into different types of errors for which a tutor can be programmed to respond. Writing is fuzzier than math. It's not right or wrong: it's more or less effective. But if it could be done, it would have the advantage of many of the conditions for flow.

Another possibility would be to create video games in which writing plays a major role. James Gee, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, in his book "What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy" strongly supports using games in education. Christine Simmons ("Video games seen as way to train, learn") reports that the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) "has developed three 3-D video games to be used for training and education," two of which are for firefighting and immunology. On the latter one:

"Immune Attack," places players on a tiny vessel that can travel inside the human body. The game aims to educate high school, college and graduate-level students in immunology. The goal is to find and attack dangerous bacteria, said Kay Howell, vice president for information technologies at the FAS.

Shaffer et al. have a paper on "Video Games and the Future of Learning". As they note:

The American Army, a longtime leader in simulations, is building games like Full Spectrum Warrior and America’s Army —games that introduce civilians to military ideology. Several homeland security games are under development, as are a range of games for health education, from games to help kids with cancer better treat themselves, to simulations to help doctors perform surgery more effectively. Companies are developing games for learning history (Making History), engineering (Time Engineers), and the mathematics of design (Homes of Our Own).

I doubt that most of my students would be interested in a game designed simply to write better. But what if writing were a crucial element in the game? Perhaps games for journalists, business managers, lawyers, and others for whom writing is an integral part of the job? Or perhaps redesign existing games to put the focus on writing? I have more questions than answers. But Shaffer et al. comment on the implicit learning theory behind video games:

Video games thus make it possible to “learn by doing” on a grand scale—but not just by doing any old thing, wandering around in a rich computer environment to learn without any guidance. These forms of learning, associated with progressive pedagogies, are bad theories of learning. Learners are novices. Leaving them to float in rich experiences with no guidance only triggers the very real human penchant for finding creative but spurious patterns and generalizations. The fruitful patterns or generalizations in any domain are the ones that are best recognized by those who already know how to look at the domain and know how complex variables in the domain interrelate with each other. And this is precisely what the learner does not yet know. In Full Spectrum Warrior, in contrast, the player is immersed in activity, values, and ways of seeing. But the player is guided and supported by the knowledge built into the virtual soldiers and the weapons, equipment, and environments in the game. Players are not left free to invent everything for themselves. To succeed in the game, they must live by—and ultimately master—the epistemic frame of military doctrine.

So, we need a game in which students "live by—and ultimately master—the epistemic frame of" a rhetorician. Hmm. I think I would enjoy, playing that game.

On a final note, educators, myself included, often try to ease students' way into materials as much as possible, thus sometimes (often?) "dumbing down" their learning. In an article on Wired, James Gee comments:

The secret of a videogame as a teaching machine isn't its immersive 3-D graphics, but its underlying architecture. Each level dances around the outer limits of the player's abilities, seeking at every point to be hard enough to be just doable. In cognitive science, this is referred to as the regime of competence principle, which results in a feeling of simultaneous pleasure and frustration - a sensation as familiar to gamers as sore thumbs. Cognitive scientist Andy diSessa has argued that the best instruction hovers at the boundary of a student's competence. Most schools, however, seek to avoid invoking feelings of both pleasure and frustration, blind to the fact that these emotions can be extremely useful when it comes to teaching kids.

Also, good videogames incorporate the principle of expertise. They tend to encourage players to achieve total mastery of one level, only to challenge and undo that mastery in the next, forcing kids to adapt and evolve. This carefully choreographed dialectic has been identified by learning theorists as the best way to achieve expertise in any field. This doesn't happen much in our routine-driven schools, where "good" students are often just good at "doing school."

How did videogames become such successful models of effective learning? Game coders aren't trained as cognitive scientists. It's a simple case of free-market economics: If a title doesn't teach players how to play it well, it won't sell well. Game companies don't rake in $6.9 billion a year by dumbing down the material - aficionados condemn short and easy games like Half Life: Blue Shift and Devil May Cry 2. Designers respond by making harder and more complex games that require mastery of sophisticated worlds and as many as 50 to 100 hours to complete.

"Hover[ing] at the boundary of a student's competence" and challenging students "to adapt and evolve" with immediate feedback put players in a state of flow. Hmm. Would it be possible to design an entire course as a video game?



Although I use Tinderbox, a note-taking tool, primarily for taking notes, generating ideas, and my weblog, I have been considering how to use it with my classes in terms of class management and curriculum design. Keith Burnet (via Mark Bernstein) has some ideas on using Tinderbox for curriculum design in math:

My hope and summer project is that by refactoring the Maths topics ruthlessly, I can get to a set of small hard nuggets of Maths (a sort of irreducible set of base vectors) that can be rearranged and strung together in different combinations to suit the learning styles of all the various students we see at College. To continue the analogy with Extreme Programming, I hope to associate a class time factor with each note so that you can ‘price’ a route through a topic quickly.

Some months ago I brainstormed topics in GCSE Intermediate Maths with students and a selection of textbooks. I am now beginning to group the grains together and establish links between the topics. So far we have a mind map for the Shape module with three different kinds of link:

  • A contains B (red)
  • A is related to B (blue)
  • A contrasts with B (snot green — the colors can be customised)

Soon I will be able to add a fourth kind of link — StudyNext — that will provide a thread through the material. Perhaps there will be a number of threads to suit different learning styles.

Here's a screenshot of his project:

Curriculum

As Keith notes, the ability to re-arrange the ideas and threads linking them in a visual conceptual map allows "structure and relationships ... to emerge," thus facilitating curriculum design. Fantastic!



Amit Paley ("Homework Help, From a World Away: Web Joins Students, Cheap Overseas Tutors", Washington Post) writes on the thousands of students who are accessing tutors in other countries via the Internet. The rhetoric for and against is interesting:

"We don't believe that education should become a business of outsourcing," said Rob Weil, deputy director of educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers. "When you start talking about overseas people teaching children, it just doesn't seem right to me."

...

Teachers unions are vigorously lobbying for legislation that would make it more difficult for overseas tutors to receive No Child Left Behind funds. Weil, of the American Federation of Teachers, said after-school tutors should be required to pass the same rigorous certification process as public school teachers.

"Quality control doesn't end at 3 o'clock when the school bell rings," he said. "If you need a highly qualified teacher in school at 2:59, you should have a qualified teacher as a tutor after school at 3:01."

In response, Burck Smith, CEO for Smartthinking, an online tutoring company, states:

"We can do better service, more consistent service, and at a better price."

Smith says he believes that eventually schools will outsource their office hours, review sessions and other aspects of instruction to teachers that might be located anywhere in the world. Right now, about 20 percent of Smarthinking's 500 tutors are in countries such as India, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa and Israel.

"This is no different than what happens in any industry. Labor gets stratified," Smith said. "And that leads to the democratization of education, because the lower prices for tutoring means the rich and poor can access the same services."

The arguments against educational outsourcing appear to be two: quality control and it's not right. The arguments for appear to be democracy, and it's better and cheaper.

All of these, even if true, are red herrings. Take the quality control argument, for example.

In an hour-long session that cost just $18, the Indian tutor, who said his name was Mike, spent an hour walking Del Monte through such esoteric concepts as confidence intervals and alpha divisions, Del Monte recalled. He got an A on the final exam. "Mike helped me unscramble everything in my mind," the 20-year-old said.

It's highly unlikely that Del Monte (or other students or their parents) would continue to pay $18-20/hour if he had not "unscrambled" those concepts and done well on the test.

The real arguments, as usual, are power and money: Who controls education? Who gets the NCLB money? These are serious and important issues. As a U.S. educator, I'm biased: I lean toward supporting our educational system and keeping the money at home. Still, I would like to see better rhetoric than a fictitious quality control and "it's not right."

These sorts of arguments remind me of an essay I read last week by Dorothy Sayers, "The Lost Tools of Learning" on a not-yet-in-operation website named "Tools of Learning." Presented at Oxford in 1947, Ms. Sayers said:

Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined? Do you put this down to the mere mechanical fact that the press and the radio and so on have made propaganda much easier to distribute over a wide area? Or do you sometimes have an uneasy suspicion that the product of modern educational methods is less good than he or she might be at disentangling fact from opinion and the proven from the plausible?

Have you ever, in listening to a debate among adult and presumably responsible people, been fretted by the extraordinary inability of the average debater to speak to the question, or to meet and refute the arguments of speakers on the other side? Or have you ever pondered upon the extremely high incidence of irrelevant matter which crops up at committee meetings, and upon the very great rarity of persons capable of acting as chairmen of committees? And when you think of this, and think that most of our public affairs are settled by debates and committees, have you ever felt a certain sinking of the heart?

And she ended with:

What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers—they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.

To move past the rhetoric of outsourcing or any other issue, people must be able to learn for themselves. But how do we teach people to learn for themselves? What does it mean to learn for themselves? Is that "critical thinking"? Many "scholars" are good are critiquing positions other than their own, but not so well their own position. Somehow learning for oneself needs to include an attitude of learning, not treating any partticular position as sacrosanct, even one's own.

An attitude of learning, I'm thinking, needs to be joined with an attitude of respect toward and concern for others. Such an attitude can open one up to other perspectives instead of clinging to one's own position (see my post "Experts predict no better than non-experts"). I'm not sure attitudes can be taught. They seem to be more like viruses that get caught.



Valerie Strauss ("Putting Parents in their Place: Outside Class", Washington Post) writes,

They are needy, overanxious and sometimes plain pesky -- and schools at every level are trying to find ways to deal with them.

No, not students. Parents -- specifically parents of today's "millennial generation" who, many educators are discovering, can't let their kids go.

Elsewhere,

Teachers and principals in the early grades began noticing changes in parents in the 1990s. Parents began spending more time in classrooms. Then they began calling teachers frequently. Then came e-mails, text messages -- sometimes both at once. Today schools are trying to figure out how to take back a measure of control.

My first thought when reading this was, Take back control? You must be kidding. When I enter my 6-year-old son's school, they are in full charge. I have to push a buzzer by the locked door, wait for them to open the door, and then go directly to the main office to explain my business. Now, I appreciate that security for my son. I wouldn't have them change it. But what "measure of control" is left for them to take back?

My second thought was, Well, there are "abusive" and "intrusive" parents. At the exteme end are those parents who riot at sports games and assault and even shoot their children's coaches. And I can imagine at the less extreme end are others who interfere with the running of schools and the education of the children.

Even so, I get the feeling from this article that the schools and teachers (not all, mind you) are not receptive to parents coming to school unless asked, sort of a "closed door" policy. From NY's Channel 13: Concept to Education, we read advice for teachers to work with parents:

It is important for teachers involved in family and school partnerships to truly play the role of "partners"-- working with parents as equals rather than coming from a position of power and authority. It is also important for teachers, who may be working in very wealthy communities, to be able to work effectively with parents who may be very empowered, both economically and politically. Either way, teachers should come to see parents as resources rather than adversaries, which unfortunately happens in many schools. Teachers and families can improve outcomes for their students and children by working together on the common goals of improving the education of children. Through this process they will learn to understand differing communication styles prevalent in various classes and cultures.

Note that this excerpt assumes that some teachers, and I would include schools, see parents as "adversaries." That's a rather odd position for a school to take.

This adversarial position is found at the university level, too:

"Our aim is not to tell parents to let go completely because, of course, parents want to be an integral part of their children's entire lives," said Walter of Seton Hall, where orientation includes sessions for parents and students -- both separately and together. "Rather, it is to discuss how to be involved in their children's lives, while allowing their children to learn the life skills they will need to succeed in college and beyond."

Note that Walter says they don't want to "tell" parents, but that is exactly what the educational institutions in this article are doing. Most discussions like these occur between "experts" and "non-experts" with the implication, You should listen to us. We know what are are talking about while you don't.

Of course, I would hope that the schools know more about education than most parents do. That's their job. Yet, the amount of involvement of parents is related to cultural expectations, too. In some countries, children live with their parents until they marry. In fact, while in Turkey, I heard of some families who moved to the city where their teenager entered a university so they would be able to continue to live together. I've never noticed or heard that they didn't pick up "life skills." I'm not sure educational institutions are "experts" on what amount of family cohesiveness and interaction is suitable for "succeeding in life."

Someone who knows considerably more about the workings of public schools than I do said that districts generally want parents to become involved, although in some districts, "Parents are a pain in the neck." These tend to be districts with parents who are well off and accustomed to telling others, including school staff, what to do. She asks, "When do parents belong in schools? What's their proper function?" Those are good questions. Certainly better than beginning with the assumptions in "Putting Parents in their Place: Outside Class."



Philip Langlais, vice provost for graduate studies and research at Old Dominion University, (The Chronicle of Higher Education via OLDaily) argues for the need for institutional guidelines and faculty involvement in his article "Ethics for the Next Generation." His first and last paragraphs follow:

Troubling reports about the ethics and professional conduct of university presidents, faculty members in fields as diverse as history and the sciences, and biomedical researchers have been sharing space in news columns recently with accounts of the greedy misdeeds of business and political leaders. The scrutiny has begun to reveal such gross misconduct as plagiarism and the falsification and fabrication of data in the hallowed halls of academe and research laboratories. Indeed, the Department of Health and Human Services reported in July that allegations of misconduct by scientific researchers in the United States hit an all-time high in 2004. ...

Higher education has a critical responsibility to focus on educating our graduate students about ethical obligations and professional standards. We cannot rely solely on professional associations or regulatory watchdogs to fulfill this critical need. Our graduate students will soon occupy key positions of leadership and authority in society: Consider that, in 2002, according to the Council of Graduate Schools, nearly 1.5 million students were enrolled in American graduate and professional programs. They will become our college professors; they will train the next generation of our college professors, elementary- and secondary-school teachers, and the administrative leaders of all levels of education. Their knowledge of professional standards and their ability to be aware of and deal with ethical issues will promote integrity in our workplace and enhance the stability of our social fabric for many generations.

Three thoughts:
1. How does this article fit in with George Will's emphasis on knowledge and Schulman's emphasis on education emulating its sibling professions?
2. Will training in ethics be sufficient in a competitive winner-take-all environment?
3. Will training in ethics make up for those who haven't had integrity developed in their character from childhood?



Will Richardson talks about the needs of schools in general, to "Change or Die." He writes,

But one thing that struck us over the weekend was the lead headline in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal: "How U.S. Auto Industry Finds Itself Stalled by Its Own History." And there was a great subhead: "A Need to Change or Die" The article talks about how GM and Ford are struggling in most every aspect of business as they "grapple with past practices." Here are two icons of the industrial era who are staring reinvention or expiration in the face.

Obviously, the leap to education here isn't a big one. Imagine this headline instead: "How U.S. Education Finds Itself Stalled by Its Own History." Here we are, faced with all sorts of new challenges, stuck in a system that seem unable or unwilling to change. We've mastered this assembly line method of teaching, programming all of our students in basically the same way throughout their time in school because that was the easiest way to do it. We didn't have unlimited information or content or ideas, so we created a curriculum that suited the needs of the day. Problem is, life outside the classroom has become drastically different. Life inside hasn't very much.

This is fascinating for me because it shows how filters work in how we support our positions. Schulman, for example, who decries the re-invention of education schools and says they should emulate siblings like business schools, left out this notion that businesses were facing "reinvention or expiration." Actually, "re-engineer" was a buzz word in business just a few years back.

Will wants schools to just feed the students "knowledge," which to me sounds like the old assembly line model, although it need not be. Still, the knowledge taught in schools is often different from the knowledge needed outside schools to the point that it is seen by students as irrelevant. By "contextualizing" knowledge in the real world, it may become relevant, perhaps even useful.

I wonder how we can remove our filters.



George Will joins the bandwagon decrying the state of teacher education in his article "Ed Schools vs. Education." His solution for improving the quality of education: "Close all the schools of education."

Will cites liberally from Robin Wilson's article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on education schools discriminating on the basis of personal beliefs and "dispositions." It's not clear how many education schools are like the ones cited in Wilson's article, but it is more than troubling if prospective teachers are disqualified on the basis of personal beliefs that conflict with those of the school's.

Somehow, Will jumps from this obvious problem to the claims, "The permeation of ed schools by politics is a consequence of the vacuity of their curricula," that education "is about "constructing one's own knowledge" and "contextualizing knowledge," but never about knowledge of things like biology or history."

I doubt that education schools are not interested in "knowledge." Rather, knowledge is an obvious, and therefore assumed, goal. The question in education, then, is, How can we help students acquire knowledge?, and thus the emphasis on "constructing" and "contextualizing." I remember while newly arrived in Turkey, someone asked if I would like some tea (all in Turkish), and I replied, Thank you. Alhtough I waited some time, no tea came forth, because while to me "Thank you" included "yes," in Turkish culture, "Thank you " means "No, thank you." Knowledge is very much contextualized.

I can imagine areas in which I would like to see education schools change. I can think of quite a few ways in which I'd like to change my own teaching practices. However, shallow hyperbole does little but re-inforce the closed mindsets of those already on the bandwagon.



Lee S. Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for theAdvancement of Teaching and professor emeritus at Stanford University (via The Education Wonks), states,

Teacher education does not exist in the United States. There is so much variation among all programs in visions of good teaching, standards for admission, rigor of subject matter preparation, what is taught and what is learned, character of supervised clinical experience, and quality of evaluation that compared to any other academic profession, the sense of chaos is inescapable. The claim that there are "traditional programs" that can be contrasted with "alternative routes" is a myth.

We have only alternative routes into teaching. There may well be ways in which the teaching candidates of Teach for America or the New York City Fellows program meet more rigorous professional standards than those graduating from some"traditional" academic programs.

Compared to any other learned profession such as law, engineering, medicine, nursing or the clergy,where curricula, standards and assessments are far more standardized across the nation, teacher education is nothing but multiple pathways. It should not surprise us that critics respond to the apparent cacophony of pathways and conclude that it doesn't matter how teachers are prepared.

I am convinced that teacher education will only survive as a serious form of university-based professional education if it ceases to celebrate its idiosyncratic "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach to professional preparation. There should be no need to reinvent teacher education every time a school initiates a new program. Like our sibling professions, we must rapidly converge on a small set of "signature pedagogies" that characterize all eacher education. These approaches must combine very deep preparation in the content areas teacher are responsible to teach (and tough assessments to ensure that deep knowledge of content has been achieved), systematic preparation in the practice of teaching using powerful technological tools and a growing body of multimedia cases of teaching and learning, seriously supervised clinical practice that does not depend on the vagaries of student teaching assignments, and far more emphasis on rigorous assessments of teaching that will lead to almost universal attainment of board certification by career teachers.

The teacher education profession must come to this consensus; only then can accreditation enforce it. Commitment to social justice is insufficient; love is not enough. If we do not converge on a common approach to educating teachers, the professional preparation of teachers will soon become like the professional education of actors. There are superb MFA programs in universities, but few believe they are necessary for a successful acting career.

Schulman's announcement was brief, and so room was not available to develop his assertions, but on the surface, he makes quite a few claims and assumptions that are illogical.

1. Variation is conflated with chaos, and thus variation leads to a less than desirable level of quality in programs.

2. Standardization of curricula across the nation is equivalent to quality.

3. We must be like our sibling professions.

4. The initiation of new programs is equivalent to reinventing teacher education.

My brief responses are:

1. There is no evidence that variation diminishes quality of education. However, if diversity is good for learning, then one would think that variation of programs would be good for education. Of course, both should be supported by research.

2. One can standardize bad quality. Of course, Schulman is not thinking of that. I imagine that standards for content knowledge can be established, but how does one establish standards for creating rapport with students, for motivating students, etc.? Schulman says "love is not enough." I agree, but it is essential. Too much a focus on rigorous standards (and what's rigorous, something made more difficult?) will cause love to fade into the background, and so too the quality of teachers. As it is now, outside of a few educators, love is not a part of teacher education at all. Schulman's mentioning it is a red herring.

3. The claim that we should be like others is an appeal to the status of the other professions. It is not a consideration of whether education might (or might not) require other ways of achieving quality . Nor does it consider whether the siblings' professions methods are appropriate to education. It's simply assumed. Not to mention that the media constantly report on how, at least in business, college does not prepare students for the real world of work. We might argue that education colleges do not prepare students for real teaching in real schools, but that does not mean that we should be like other professions.

4. Nothing is invented de novo but builds on previous pedagogy. All new knowledge builds on what came before, is an integration of older sources. Still, it's not altogether odd that Schulman decries new programs. One favorite education bandwagon is "multiple intelligences," a theory that has no research supporting it.

Many with Schulman question the quality of teacher education programs. Although it's hard to imagine anyone denying the need for content mastery and good student teaching experiences and supervision, I'm not sure that equating quality with conformity to particular standards will achieve it. In any particular ecology, there are usually a variety of species. Should this concept apply to education programs and schools?

The notion of "converg[ing] on a small set of 'signature pedagogies' that characterize all teacher education" is one that has potential. If all species evolved from the four building blocks of DNA and all social interaction is governed by four relational models (Fiske), then there may just be a few crucial pedagogies that when combined in various ways allow for effective teaching in different contexts. But what would they be?



Returning to the theme of education, it's safe to assume that not all character education programs are successful. Lynn Revell (2002), who conductied research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428), despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff. Leming (2000) reported that a literature-based character program promoted cognitive skills among elementary students, but had “mixed results” with respect to affect and behavior. As Kohlberg (1999) states, reasoning is necessary for moral judgment, and moral judgment for moral action; however, moral reasoning and judgment are not sufficient for moral behavior. That is, one may be able to judge a situation correctly in terms of moral principles and still not take moral action, most likely because principles are not integrated into one's identity.

Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory would assert that for individuals to pursue ethical values, internalize them as their own values, and integrate them into their self, their behavior must be self-determined and the environment must satisfy psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, with autonomy referring to the volitional “experience of integration and freedom” and relatedness referring to “the desire to feel connected to others—to love and care, and to be loved and cared for” (Deci & Ryan, 2000, p. 231).

Thus, we return to the concept of love as an essential component of leading students (and ourselves) into developing character.



The effectiveness of character education programs, according to Lynn Revell (2002), remains unclear. Conducting research at 12 schools (seven elementary and five high schools), Revell focused on issues of citizenship and identity and reported that high school students tended to be “cynical or sceptical about specific character traits promoted by Character Education,” especially those students in non-magnet schools who were even “hostile” (pp. 427-428). Despite the similarity of programs across schools and the enthusiastic support of parents and school staff, students’ attitudes toward the programs’ tenets varied according to personal experiences in their communities.

Besides experience, it seems likely that other factors are likely at play, too. One factor is that character education is almost nonexistent in teacher preparation programs (Milson & Mehlig, 2002). Teachers and schools have little, if any, theoretical or practical experience in implementing character education. Although expertise is required to teach a “subject,” it apparently is not required to teach character. Second, and just as importantly, many proponents of character education programs focus on the students and neglect the character of school staff. (Exceptions exist, for example, Lickona and Meier.) And one wonders how schools and teachers simply acquire character if they did not already possess it. Huebner (1999) is worth citing at length on this point:

First, recent discourse about moral and spiritual values in the classroom is incorrectly focused. That discourse assumes that there is something special that can be identified as moral or spiritual. This assumption is false. Everything that is done in schools, and in preparation for school activity, is already infused with the spiritual. All activity in school has moral consequences. The very highlighting of the need to teach moral and spiritual values in schools implies a breakdown not in the spirituality and morality of the student, but a breakdown in the moral activity and spirituality of the school itself, and of the people in control of the school. Those in control of the schools cover their own complicity in the domination system by urging the teaching of moral and spiritual values. They do not urge that the moral and spiritual climate of the schools, which they control, be changed. That teachers do not feel the freedom to be critical and creative is a sign of their enslavement to other principalities and powers. The need is not to see moral and spiritual values as something outside the normal curriculum and school activity, but to probe deeper into the educational landscape to reveal how the spiritual and moral is being denied in everything. The problem in schools is not that kids are not being taught moral and spiritual values, the problem is—the schools are not places where the moral and spiritual life is lived with any kind of intentionality. (pp. 414-415)

Quite naturally, students would be cynical about programs that attempted to transform the students’ character but not the character of the school itself. Of course, the moral activity and spirituality of communities is important, too. For character education to be successful, we need to return not simply to ideals but to the intentional living out of ideals by schools and communities. And the foremost ideal is that of love.

The requirement of love for a “sane society” was emphasized by Erich Fromm (1955). With love come attitudes, such as “care, responsibility, respect and knowledge” (Fromm, 1955, p. 33). Likewise, Bertrand Russell (1961) considered love and knowledge essential for character and progress: “There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is destructive” (p. 158).

Without love, any attempt to inculcate character values is driven by goals of material success, such as providing “skilled workers” and avoiding discipline problems. Such goals are not necessarily detrimental to education. However, when love is not the guiding principle, these attempts to instill values are no more than indoctrination designed to produce obedience rather than character (Kohlberg, 1999; Kohn, 1999), attempts that do not work but instead promote cynicism, skepticism, or hostility.

For the ideal of love to live in schools, there must be a shift away from the school as a factory in which teachers view students as objectives rather than human beings, a factory in which knowledge is produced and tested rather than character constructed (cf. Huebner, 1999). Instead, there must be a move toward schools and educators who not only have a mastery of their subjects but also embody character and love.



I presented a paper this weekend at a conference at Rice University: Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Thought and Practice. My paper was on the educational aspect of his movement, which has founded hundreds of schools and seven universities around the world.

It was an amazing conference. Participants included well-known scholars, a former Minister of Education from Turkey, and the Vatican Secretariat for Inter-religious Dialogue, and there were official representatives from the Republics of Georgia and Tataristan. As amazing as the participants, more so were the multitude of college student volunteers working behind the scenes to make things flow smoothly.

My paper looked at character education in the U.S. and moved to a consideration of how the the Gülen schools might adapt to be successful in a U.S. context. Basically students need to learn to reason morally (just as they would learn to reason in any particular subject), but that they also need to take action on their reasoning. Not really much that is new, but ideas that are not always acted on. I'll have more on that later. Right now I'm preparing for my next conference at Roberts, LA: Complexity Science and Educational Research. I'm going to consider the role of tagging in class interaction, group formation, and learning.



Alan Finder (The NY Times) reports on the jump in reading and math test scores in Wake County, NC, a jump that is attributed to economic diversity accomplished by busing.

"Low-income students who have an opportunity to go to middle-class schools are surrounded by peers who have bigger dreams and who are more academically engaged," said Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who has written about economic integration in schools. "They are surrounded by parents who are more likely to be active in the school. And they are taught by teachers who more likely are highly qualified than the teachers in low-income schools."

Reading through the article, we can see people's values at play: white vs. black, choice vs. quality education, choice vs. busing, success measured by property values and corporate support, economic diversity as a proxy for racial diversity, and so on. We can also wonder whether those with bigger dreams are being influenced by those with "smaller" dreams. We might ask where the teachers in previously low-income schools went? Did they quit to make room for the "highly qualified"? Or, like the students, did they become influenced by the "highly qualified" to raise their "teaching" scores?

However, it's more interesting from a complexity theory perspective of clustering and diversity. Clustering often leads to segregation: people feel more comfortable with what's familiar, and that includes ethnic and racial familiarity. Diversity can lead to creativity and innovation, and as seen here, increased test scores. (It should be remembered that the top scores likely aren't increasing, but the overall scores are due to lower performers achieving more.) In some sense, the fitness of the school ecology is improving through rearranging the system's structure.

Somewhat paradoxically, a central tenet of complexity theory is self-organization with no central control. And yet in this case a central, top-down order has improved the system's fitness. Of course, we don't know how that order came about: whether initiated from the school superintendent or deriving from the input of many stakeholders. Even so, along the lines of Juarrero's enabling constraints, greater complexity results from structure. Thus, on a smaller scale, we might consider how to structure diversity and interaction among different groups in our classrooms.



Hal Varian (NY Times) reports on a study of teacher effectiveness. An unsurprising finding was that some teachers are more effective at improving student test scores than others.

What was surprising is that

easily observable characteristics like having a master's degree or a passing score on the teacher certification exam are not correlated with teacher effectiveness.

This reminds me of something I read some time ago about there being only a 2 % correlation between MBA GPAs and their success in business. More than textbook knowledge, social skills played a role in being successful. If something similar is at work here, then shouldn't education schools help their students learn what will make them effective teachers?

Varian cited the report's finding that the "most important single influence is experience," although it isn't clear whether that means that teachers learn by doing or ineffective teachers quit teaching.

Of course, it could be a combination of both. Still, these results indicate, at least to me, more apprenticeship and less theory (not none) is one approach education schools should take. The other indication, which I mention in the previous post, is one in which I'm not sure that education schools can play much of a role. That is, effective teachers are those who sincerely care for their students and have a considerable amount of patience in working with them.



I submitted my paper on the Fethuallah Gülen educational movement. The more I think about the less confident I am that the public school system will change for the better. The difference between Gülen-inspired teachers and most others (not all, of course) is sacrificial love. Other teachers "model" character, they live it. Students are not deceived, and surrounded by a culture of individualism, corporate greed, and political scandal, there's little reason for them to become any different. It's great to master content knowledge and teaching strategies, but to motivate students to want to master "school" knowledge, teachers must love them.

None of this is new. Schweitzer, Russell, Fromm,Huebner, and others have all said the same: living a life worth living requires knowledge and love. As Russell (1961) put it,

There is only one road to progress, in education as in other human affairs, and that is: Science wielded by love. Without science, love is powerless; without love, science is destructive. (p. 158).



Alan (of Learning Circuits Blog and based on Elliot Maise's Learning Trends) compares CNN to Education.

I would not suggest that higher education institutions need to operate like CNN, but I find it fascinating to read Elliot Masie's observations of how CNN dealt with the flow of content and information in the wake of Hurrican Katrina. ...

The question is, will educational institutions be one of these organizations [that assemble content]? Below I have take some of Maise's descriptions of CNN and put them besides a gross and likely over generalized observation of higher education. Yes, there are numerous exceptions and counter examples to every one of my points, but as a whole, when you read how CNN operates and put it besides how your higher education institution operates, the contrast should be rather vivid.

He compares the tools used for assembling content, the formats, recency of content creation, content repositories, and the development cycle. Of course, even in the media there are differences between Time Magazine, The New York Times, and daily TV news. Much more so when peer review scrutiny is added in for scholarly works. And there are large differences in the technical skills of students and the specialization and skills of professionals.

But I wonder what we could adapt. For instance, how would letting present classes having access to previous classes' work in addition to the occasional student examples provided change the dynamics of learning, especially when students know that their work will become part of the repository? Would there be more engagement? Interaction? New networks?



George Siemens at Connectivism wonders about the group think that may occur from the possible moving away from centering agents toward our own inclinations of aggregating information:

What happens when we no longer share centering agents? What happens when all of my information comes only from sources that promote view points I already hold? I am concerned that this process is creating a serious divide in the ability of people to dialogue and share common understandings. Now, if I'm so inclined, I can listen only to perspectives of my own political party. If I follow Rush Limbaugh or Daily Kos, I can receive a constant message that assures me that I am right, and the other side is wrong. I think this is dangerous. The breakdown of common understanding and dialogue poses a real risk to the civility of society.

Educators have a role to play in encouraging learners to consume information from differing spectrums of thought. We are starting to see the emergence of some centering agents for individuals (bloglines) and rudimentary centering tools for groups (del.icio.us). Whatever our view or perspective, as learners in a global stage, we need to move (at minimum) to dialogue with those around us. The closing of public information spaces into private, like-minded thought communities is discouraging.



Anemona Hartocollis in The NY Times asks, "Who needs education schools?" She states that education schools have research agendas rather than pedagogical, courses on theory rather than practical practicums, ideological biases rather than an emphasis on subject matter, and so on. One of the more interesting perspectives was that of a professor at Emporia State University in Kansas, one of the better schools:

Ms. Azwell says medical training is a good analogy for what Emporia State interns go through. "They get no sleep," she says. "They're working 24 hours a day. There are those who have no money because they can't work a job, so they're not eating. They're in a classroom 8 to 4 every day. They really think they're going to die."

I can appreciate the need for intensive training, but it's rather odd that getting no sleep and thinking you're going to die are characteristics of a program that will promote learning. Still, there is much to think about in this in-depth article, especially the general trend of education schools to focus on theory and ideology rather than giving future teachers the tools they need to be successful in the classroom. What are future teachers learning and how does that affect our schools?

In the article, Diane Ravitch, states,

The idea of "preparing excellent teachers who are excellent in their subject," she says, has been overtaken by other concerns - "professors wanting to be respected in the university, and teachers' colleges wanting to become places where research is done and to be agents of transformational change."

"At the end of the day, what would principals and parents value most?"

No doubt, Ms. Ravitch, has her own ideology, but it is worth considering what sort of balance should be achieved among research, ideology, and practice in schools of education.

  • What do we want to teach future teachers so that their future students will learn?
  • What sorts of academic practices lead to better learning?
  • Obviously, theory alone is not enough, albeit it is important. But should it outweigh actual practice in preparing teachers?