The Art of Mingling Practice and Theory in Teaching

This article is the Fourth in a series on The Artistry of Teaching.  

In 1896, the laboratory school of the University of Chicago opened its doors under the directorship of John Dewey (Fishman and McCarthy 1998).  Dewey’s idea was to create an environment for social and pedagogical experimentation.  Theory and practice should mingle, and the laboratory school as Dewey conceived it would be a place for teachers to design, carry out, reflect on, and test learner-centered curriculum and practice.

What is the relationship between practice and theory, and how does this relationship relate to artistry in teaching?

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

If you can’t explain it to six-year-old, then you don’t understand it yourself

enstein_on_bikeIn my career as a science teacher educator, I valued both practice and theory.  But in my day-to-day work with people who wanted to be teachers, it was important to give a balance between practice and theory.  Indeed, in the first secondary science teacher preparation program that I had a part in designing, we engaged students in this program who held degrees in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and engineering with students in elementary, middle and high school during their one-year program.  As Einstein also said, “if you can’t explain it to six year old, then you don’t understand it yourself.”

So, early in the student’s first quarter at Georgia State University, they found themselves co-teaching in an elementary school working with students ranging in age from 6 – 11.  We believed that if students in teacher preparation programs were going to appreciate and value educational theory, then they had to start from the practical, day-to-day experiences of elementary age students and their teachers.  In the “Science Education Phase” program, teacher education students followed the first term with an internship in a middle school teaching students ages 12 – 14, and then in the third “Phase” they did a full internship in a high school in metro-Atlanta.  The Phase Program, which was implemented from 1970 – 1983 prepared science and engineering majors to be secondary science teachers (grades 7 -12).

Because of the range of experiences with K-12 students that these teacher education students had, it was possible to mingle practice and theory, and help them construct personal and social knowledge about teaching and learning.

In Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs, researcher Linda Darling-Hammond focused on identifying good (powerful) teacher education programs.  According to Darling-Hammond, they are rare.  In their research, seven programs were selected for intensive study (she makes the comment that there were many other candidates).  Case studies were written for Alverno College in Milwaukee; Bank Street College in New York City; Trinity University in San Antonio; the University of California at Berkeley; the University of Southern Maine near Portland; the University of Virginia in Charlottesville; and Wheelock College in Boston.  All of these programs “mingled practice and theory,” were characterized as learning-centered and learner-centered, as well as being clinically based.

Indeed, one of the characteristics of these teacher education programs was that the curriculum linked theory and practice, and one was not more important than the other.  In successful programs, which typically take more than a year of graduate work, there is a to and fro, back and forth between courses and field work.  The programs were also based on the idea that students build knowledge about teaching, and construct meaning from experience (observation, co-teaching, teaching), reflection, advanced study of pedagogy.

In the science education teacher preparation experiences at Georgia State University, students were immersed in a program that valued practical, field-based experiences and experiential learning in university courses.  Our theory of teacher preparation was to mingle practice and theory.  And, we believed that we should move in the direction of practice to theory, not the other way around.  We accomplished this in the TEEMS Program (Teacher Education Environments in Mathematics & Science) which was inaugurated in 1994 and is the teacher education program for secondary teachers at GSU.

In the past, students took education courses, and then “practiced” what they learned during student teaching.

Little to No Mingling in Teach for America

This antiquated approach, however, is exactly how the Teach for America program trains candidates for teaching.  Most of the TFA graduates then are placed in schools in urban or rural areas, in schools that could benefit much more with experienced and wise teachers.  There is not enough time for TFA to advocate a powerful program that mingles practice with theory.  They are exposed in 5 weeks to education methods and then parachuted into schools unprepared for the realities they will face.

It is one of the great tragedies of contemporary teacher education, that the Teach for America program prepares so many teachers, most of whom do not have a commitment to the teaching profession, but instead use these experiences as stepping-stones to something else, and on the backs of many citizens in poor neighborhoods.

Teacher education programs that provide intensive preparation over time actually challenge students intellectually while helping them learn hands-on approaches that help K-12 students learn (Darling-Hammond).

Back to School

One criticism of teacher education programs is that they are staffed with Ph.Ds that know only about theory, and little about practice.

Disclaimer:  I was one of those teacher educators for over thirty years, and I must say that my colleagues were very experienced in the practical realities of the K-12 environment.  I guess we had bad press.  But that should change.  Read on.

IMG_0173In a research project which was just published by Michael Dias, Charles Eick, and Laurie Brantley-Dias, entitled Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach, sixteen science educators went back to school and wrote important and astonishing autobiographical papers about their experience.  They all stepped away from their role as a science teacher educator and entered the world of K-12 teaching. They immersed themselves into the real lives of students and teaching, and in this process, experienced the complexity of teaching, and in some cases the difficulty in being successful in the classroom.  The project was the brainchild of Mike Dias, Charles Eick and Lauri Brantley-Dias.

One teacher education researcher revealed, “I lacked the essential knowledge that contributed to my immediate failure as urban, low-track science teacher.”  Another colleague found that because students were not used to doing hands-on activities, they became too excited leading to the breakdown of classroom management.  Another teacher educator realized that not taking into account students’ diverse backgrounds could lead to problems of mundaneness and disconnectedness.  And, another colleague points out that his biggest challenge was to take the content that he knew and teach it in a constructivist, hands-on way that very young students could understand (Hassard, J. (2014). Closing. In M.Dias, C.Eich, L. Brantley-Dias (Eds.), Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach (pp. 287 – 302). Dordrecht: Springer.)

So often teacher education is viewed as an ivory tower experience, with those preparing teachers having little knowledge or experience in real classroom actions and life.  No so with these science teacher educators.

There are 16 examples of teacher educators mingling practice and theory.  I don’t have the space for all of them, but I would like to highlight a couple of them here to support the importance of mingling practice with theory.  The following two accounts are based on (Hassard, J. (2014). Closing. In M.Dias, C.Eich, L. Brantley-Dias (Eds.), Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Educators: Practicing What We Teach (pp. 287 – 302). Dordrecht: Springer.)

Charles Eick: Realistic Teacher Education

IMG_0163Charles Eick gives us his insights into realistic teacher education, a model of teacher education based on the work of Korthagen and Kessels (1999), that draws upon constructivist and inquiry-oriented science education in which teacher education moves from practice to theory, instead of the norm for teacher education in which prospective teachers learn theory and strategies first, followed by practice during internships and student teaching.  In reality, theory and practice are entwined, and Charles provides ample evidence of this.

Charles Eick asked Michael Dias, from Kennesaw State University, to work with him as the lead collaborator in documenting his experience in the classroom.  The Eick/Dias collaboration provides a model for other science educators planning to return to school to “practice what they teach.”

Working together reflectively, Eick and Dias were able to describe for us how they modified the curriculum to meet the needs of their students by including more practical activities, activities that characterized Charles Eick’s middle school teaching when I visited him more than a decade ago, and Michael Dias’ high school biology classroom.  Together they decided that activities and projects including problem solving, engineering, societal issues, and seeking creative solutions by means of technology and creative arts were just the ticket to engage the students.

One of the important aspects of this chapter by Eick, and the others is the goal of democratizing teacher education by encouraging the “mingling of minds” (Robertson 2008).  By going back to the classroom, these teacher education professors show a willingness to change one’s views on teaching, and perhaps move away from ”ivory tower” disconnectedness to the real fulfillment of teaching which arises from daily interactions with youth.

As Eick points out, this is an important aspect of realistic teacher education. Eick explains how perceptions change when one commits to a realistic teacher education approach:

We learn to accept that the classroom teacher is the expert in practice and we are the experts in theory on how to improve the practice of others to maximize student learning. They live in the ‘real world’ and we live in the ‘ivory tower’. However, when one has become both the professor and the teacher through recent classroom teaching experience, this arrangement changes. These traditional lines begin to blur. Teachers in the classroom begin to see you as having expertise in both areas. You have earned the respect as someone who ‘walks the talk.’ And this fact not only enhances your professional credentials, but also allows entrée into further school-based research, collaborative work in teaching and learning, professional development, and many other possibilities for innovative arrangements that benefit both school and university programs.

Ken Tobin: Students as Partners

Students have a source of wisdom that many teachers value in their own practice.  Research by Ken Tobin shows how collaborative self-study can mitigate the top-down reform efforts that as he suggests, “ignore structures associated with curricula enactment and seem impervious to the voices of teachers and students.” Tobin’s discussion of co-teaching (cogenerative dialogue or cogen) is a model that is relevant when we think of mingling theory and practice, but more importantly of professors’ willingness to learn from others who typically would not have been considered sources of knowledge about teaching–high school students and teachers.  And in Tobin’s case, it was a teenager from an urban school, whose population was 90% African-American, and many of them living in poverty, that provided a way forward.  Tobin is quite open about his initial failure as an “urban, low-track science teacher,” and as a result recruited a high school student (as he had asked his teacher education students) for ideas on how to “better teach kids like me.”  Respect (acceptance & trust), genuineness (realness), and empathic understanding appeared to be crucial aspects of the cogen activity that emerged from Tobin’s struggle to work with urban youth.  Tobin puts it this way:

 Although it took us some time to label the activity cogen we created rules to foster dialogue in which participants established and maintained focus, ensured that turns at talk and time for talk were equalized, and that all participants were respectful to all others. The end goal was to strive for consensus on what to do to improve the quality of learning environments. In so doing all participants would endeavor to understand and respect one another’s perspectives, their rights to be different, and acknowledge others as resources for their own learning.

One intriguing notion to take away from Ken’s research was his willingness to give voice—listen–if you will, to students. Are we willing to listen to our teacher education students?  Could our courses at the university level integrate the principles of “cogen” such that students voice is lent to determining the nature of syllabi, agenda topics, and types of investigations?  Should our teacher education courses be co-taught with experienced science teachers?  As Tobin explains, “cogen is an activity that explicitly values the right to speak and be heard.  It is also implicitly based on democratic values, and on the ideas of Roger’s theory of interpersonal relationships.  Being heard is a progressive or humanistic quality that can create an informal classroom environment enabling students who struggle in the formal straightjacket of the traditional class, a meaningful chance of success.

Return to Dewey

I started this article referring to John Dewey and his wish to create environments for social and pedagogical examination.  A contemporary science educator who speaks the language of Dewey is Dr. Christopher EmdinEmdin is an urban science educator and researcher at Teachers College, Columbia University.  His research on teaching science in urban schools focuses on Reality Pedagogy.

Here is a video of Dr. Emdin in which he takes us inside of schools to show how the practical realities of students’ lives can be a part of school science.  Here practice and theory meet in real classrooms.

Like Dewey, Emdin’s pedagogy extends beyond any existent approach to educating urban (hip-hop) youth.  Emdin’s approach is a biographical exploration of how he mingled theory and practice in urban science classrooms (Emdin, 2010).  One of his ideas that resonates with Eick’s and Tobin’s accounts is this:

Becoming a reality pedagogue not only requires an understanding of the hip-hop students’ ways of knowing, but also attentiveness to the researcher/teacher’s fundamental beliefs.  This involves awareness that one’s background may cause the person to view the world in a way that distorts, dismisses or under-emphasizes the positive aspects of another person’s way of knowing.  This awareness of one’s self is integral to the teacher/researcher’s situating of self as reality pedagogue or urban science educator because an awareness of one’s deficiencies is the first step towards addressing them.  The teacher whose students are a part of the hip-hop generations must prepare for teaching not by focusing on the students, but focusing on self.  The teacher must understand what makes her think, where the desire to be a teacher come from, and what the role of science is in this entire process”(Emdin, 2010).

Teaching is not tidy.  It involves a willingness to try multiple approaches, to collaborate with professional colleagues, and students to work through the realities of teaching and learning.  Mingling practice and theory is a powerful approach to prepare any professional, including teachers.

 

 

What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching

In this post I am going to share some thinking about teaching that I learned along my journey as a teacher from three people.  I future posts I’ll share thoughts about teaching from other people who I’ve met along the way. What everybody ought to know about teaching is a response to what Henry Giroux calls “critical pedagogy in dark times.”  Education is dominated by conservative and neoliberal paradigms which has reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

What everybody ought to know about teaching is NOT about tips for teaching, but more about the nature of education in a democratic society.  As educators ought to be advocates for a critical pedagogy that, in the words of Giroux,

connect classroom knowledge to the experiences, histories, and resources that students bring to the classroom but also link such knowledge to the goal of furthering their capacities to be critical agents who are responsive to moral and political problems of their time and recognize the importance of organized collective struggles.  (Giroux, Henry A. (2011-06-23). On Critical Pedagogy  (Kindle Location 145). Continuum US. Kindle Edition.)

There are many people who influenced my teaching and professional work including Dr. Marlene Hapai, Dr. Joe Abruscato, Dr. Julie Wiesberg, Dr. Ted Colton, Dr. Frank Koontz, Mr. Francis Macy, Mr. Sergei Tolstikov, Dr. Marge Gardner.  Each of them taught me what everybody ought to know about teaching.  Mr. Bob Jaber, Mr. Ken Royal, and Dr. Carl Rogers are featured in this post.

I am going to start with Bob Jaber.

Bob Jaber

Bob Jaber was a high school chemistry teacher who taught in the Fulton County schools (Georgia) in the 1970s and 1980s.  I first met him when he took one of my courses in the science education graduate program at Georgia State University.    While at GSU he studied advanced graduate chemistry and science education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Bob Jaber.

As well as scientist, Bob Jaber was also an artist.  His work used mixed media to create textured art forms.  One of the art forms that he perfected was using colorful carpet samples to design floors, walls, and create poster size wall hangings.

Like Jacob Bronowski, the British-Polish mathematician and scientist, Bob integrated science and human values in his high school chemistry classes. Like Bronowski, Bob Jaber believed that science can be part of our world, and can create the values that humanize our experience.  I learned from Bob Jaber that values and attitudes should be as important as the content that we are teaching.  Everyone should know this about teaching, yet, in the present day, we are breaking teaching down into dozens of components, and in doing so forget that there is something much more important about teaching.  Teaching is something much more than the way it might look on the Danielson Framework for Teaching or Flanders Interaction Analysis.  Teaching is about the whole thing  on so many levels.  It’s not about skills (although they are important to know), it not about lists of content spelled out in the standards, and it’s not about the tests that are given to students.  It is harmony and holism in teaching, and to teachers like Bob Jaber, teaching is a journey of  profound and enduring connections with students.

Ken Royal

I first met Ken in the mid-1990s when he was teaching science at Whisconier Middle School, Brookfield, Connecticut. At the time I was conducting national seminars for the Bureau of Education and Research, and I met Ken at one of my seminars in Hartford. At Ken’s invitation, I visited his school and classroom, and actually presented a seminar at his school for science teachers in his district.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Ken Royal.

Two aspects of teaching jump out when I think about what I learned from this man.  First is his willingness to take risks, and try new stuff.  Second, Ken epitomized the experiential educator, who like Giroux believes that school should be a project intent on developing a meaningful life for all students.

His classroom was a model for the experiential science approach, and he was also a pioneer in the use of technology as a tool to enhance student learning in science. His students were involved in global conversations and research with students in at least three continents, and his students were posting results of their research using digital cameras and text at a time when the Web was in its infancy. His classroom was an environment where students were involved in active inquiry, and with the rapid development of technology in the 1990s, Ken was one of the leaders pioneering ways that this technology could be harnessed to help students get excited about science. He later became technology coördinator for the Brookfield School District, and then started writing as a freelancer about technology, and making presentations around the country. Scholastic saw one of his presentations, and hired him as senior editor in technology and teaching.  You can follow Ken on his website at Royal Reports.

One of his most popular blog posts is Flipped, Blended, Disrupted Nonsense!  It’s a must read.

Carl Rogers

Carl R. Rogers
Carl R. Rogers

While I was a graduate student at Ohio State University in the 1960s (yup, that’s right), my advisor, Dr. John Richardson, suggested that I read Carl Rogers’ book, On Becoming a Person.  You can read between the lines, but I think he had something in mind for me.  But later in my life, when I read what others have written about this book by Rogers–that it was revolutionary thinking–did I realize how significant Richardson’s recommendation was for me.

In 1969, the year that I finished my Ph.D. at Ohio State, Rogers published Freedom to Learn, the most important book published to date on humanistic education.  The book became the guide that I used as a professor of science education at Georgia State University, where I worked from 1969-2003.  It was a guide in the sense that it encouraged me to be experimental with my courses, and the programs that I developed, and working with others at GSU, had the gumption to swim upstream away from more traditional approaches to teaching and especially, teacher education.

Here is some of what I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching from Carl Rogers.

I learned so much from Rogers’ work, that I’ll only share some of the ideas that I think influenced the way that I designed courses, and programs at the University level, and in so doing encouraged K-12 teachers to consider Rogers’ ideas for their own classrooms.

One idea I want to share here is the notion of being willing to be experimental as a teacher, and to have the courage to try new ideas, and be willing to be open to the opinions and ideas of your students.  In Rogers’ book, Freedom to Learn, Chapter Two is entitled “A Sixth Grade Teacher Experiments.”  Rogers describes the despair and frustration that teacher Barbara J. Shield felt, so much so, that she tried a drastic experiment in her classroom by promoting an experiential type of learning in her classroom.  Rogers tells us that Shield decided to change the way she was teaching which she described as teacher centered to an approach based on student-centered  teaching–an unstructured or non-directive approach.  What’s important about this chapter is not the particular approach that Shield unleashed in her class, but the attitude and philosophy underpinning her wish to change what she was doing, and try out something that was new (to her), risky, and took courage, and support.

In the summer of 1973 I designed a graduate seminar at GSU for teachers that was based on Rogers’ ideas in Freedom to Learn, but especially, Chapter 2.   Teachers who took the course knew in advance that it was the intent of the course to encourage experimentation in their own classroom during the 1973-1974 school year.  About 30 teachers signed up for the course.  Our sessions were designed to explore a variety of pedagogics, and approaches to give the participants ideas to help them formulate their plans for the school year.  Some of the teachers actually took the experience of Barbara Shield’s and reorganized the curriculum of their course (usually in science) along the non-directive, student-centered approach.  Other participants delved into project based teaching, team teaching, collaborative and cooperative learning.  All the teachers agreed to collect “data” on their own and their students attitudes and concepts learned, but also to sample student work, as well as student journals.  In the summer of 1974, a second seminar was held at GSU (which met only for one week), where the teachers presented their work in a conference type of setting.

A second idea I want to share here that I learned that everybody ought to know about teaching comes from Rogers’ book On Becoming a Person.  The same chapter also appears in his book, Freedom to Learn.  The title of the chapter in each book is Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.  The very short chapter is a talk he gave at Harvard University, April 1952 where he was asked to put on a demonstration of “student-centered teaching.”  After taking some time painting, writing and photography in Mexico, he “sat down” and wrote a personal view of what his experiences had been with teaching and learning.  He said this about what he wrote:

I may have been naïve, but I did not consider the material inflammatory. After all the conference members were knowledgeable, self-critical teachers, whose main common bond was an interest in the discussion method in the classroom. I met with the conference, I presented my views as written out below, taking only a very few moments, and threw the meeting open for discussion. I was hoping for a response, but I did not expect the tumult which followed. Feelings ran high. It seemed I was threatening their jobs, I was obviously saying things I didn’t mean, etc., etc. And occasionally a quiet voice of appreciation arose from

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4256-4260). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

What he said influenced me throughout my entire career as a science teacher educator, in my work as a seminar leader for the Bureau of Education and Research, and in my work with colleagues in other nations through the Global Thinking Project.  Here is just an excerpt of what Rogers said in 1952 in Boston at Harvard:

a. I may as well start with this one in view of the purposes of this conference. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential, and has little or no significant influence on behavior. That sounds so ridiculous I can’t help but question it at the same time that I present it.

c. I realize increasingly that I can only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.

d. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (Kindle Locations 4283-4290). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

I took what Rogers said seriously, and to some extent acted on it while I was at GSU.  I did away with tests in my courses, because I agreed with Rogers that most of what we test is inconsequential, and as a result there was no reason for tests.  I couldn’t do away with grades, but I could create different systems in which grading was student-centered.  Here is what I did in nearly all my courses:

All class sessions were experiential encounters that were designed as informally as possible.  On the first day of class I arranged with the on campus food caterers to have coffee, juice, fruit and cookies delivered to my classroom just before class began.  Nearly all my students were full-time teachers, and after a full day of teaching, food and drink seemed to be the ticket.  In some courses, we took two weeks to work out the curriculum with the students.  In other courses, students were encouraged to try any of the activities that were done in class back in their elementary, middle or high school.  If special materials were required, such as ozone monitoring strips, or chemical powders, they were provided.

But in nearly all the courses, the only requirements that were expected were drawn from Rogers’ chapter on his way of facilitating a class as outlined in Freedom to Learn.  As Rogers points out, every instructor has her own style of facilitating the learning of her students.  And I also agreed that there is not one way of achieving this.  The requirements that I outline here, worked for me, and my students.   This is what I gave the students on the first day of class in the form of a handout.

Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University
Course requirements for students taking my courses at Georgia State University. Rogers, Carl (1961). On becoming a person. Columbus: Merrill Publishers 

What would you like to add about What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching? Who influenced you, and what were the consequences in your professional work?

Why Cooperative-Communal Classrooms Trump Competitive-Corporate Classrooms?

There are a lot of people in the U.S. who think that the only way you can decide whether students learn is with a test.  In fact, Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida, has decided to get involved in education in Texas.  Being a guru on testing, he backs the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) system, which calls for end-of-year exams in most high school courses.

Bush said this about testing:

If Texas taxpayers are going to invest in the classroom facilities and personnel to provide students with a physics or history class, it follows that they have the right to know how much students learned about physics or history.

He goes on to say that “the anti-accountability activists discuss ideas for improving schools, but ironically — without testing — lack a credible system of evaluation to judge whether they succeeded or failed.”  Bush thinks that the only way that teachers know if their students are learning is give them a test.  The research on assessment does not support this idea, but in today’s culture of schooling, that doesn’t count (no pun intended).

To their credit, Texas has not adopted the Common Core State Standards, but teachers are still held to an “assessed curriculum, grades 3 – 12.  The tests are based on categories of standards in each content area, and the tests are mostly multiple-choice questions.  For example the end-of-year test in chemistry has 52 multiple-choice questions. Each course ends with a year-end competition largely made up of simple and complex multiple choice questions.  This hardly comes close to “measuring” science inquiry or problem solving, important goals for all students.

So that brings us to the point of this blog post.  Let’s start with an analogy.

Competition is to Cooperation as: 

A) Biology : Contention
B) Business : Sport
C) Conservative : Progressive
D) Empathy : Community

Did you choose “C,” conservative : progressive?   Two models of teaching dominate teaching.  One is fixed in competition.  Conservatives like this model.  The other is grounded in coöperation.  Progressives like this one.

I am going to argue that the values that are implicit in coöperation and progressivism trump the values that ground competition and extreme conservatism.  In school, social interaction, interpersonal relationships,  and collaboration should be the foundation for teaching and learning.

Lets take a look.

Competition and Extreme Conservatism—->The Corporate Model

Having the competitive edge, being able to compete with peers around the world, and reducing the lagging achievement of U.S. students, especially in math and science are front and center for the current cohort of school reformers.  Competition and extreme conservatism lead to a corporate model of teaching.

Their reasoning is sustained by conservative values.  In their mind, how American student do on national assessments such as NAEP and international assessments including TIMSS and PISA answers the question, How are American students doing?  According to the corporate reformers, tests are the only way to answer the question.

As we have said on this blog, these reformers how American students compete in the global economy is the most important result of schooling.  To monitor student learning, these reformers have convinced the American public that the only way to be sure that the cows are getting fatter is to keep measuring them.    Learning in school has been reduced to teaching to the test, and the narrowing of the curriculum.

Competition
Figure 1. Corporate Classrooms

At the international level U.S. students are compared to nations that are very different in culture and size, yet reformers use the rankings in their assessment of science and mathematics education.  Its kind of envy syndrome in that in American culture being number one is the important mantra, especially in sport’s competitions, and now in international achievement test competitions.  If you look further into the concept of envy, it might help us understand the unreasonable emphasis on competition.  One definition is that envy is the propensity to view the well-being of others with distress.  Or envy is pain at the good fortune of others.  In the context of international tests, we probably have a superiority complex, and so when we see other countries’ students scoring higher than U.S. students, what’s a conservative to do?

At the school level, it’s even worse.  Schools, teachers and students are held accountable to some bureaucratic committee’s end-of-year high-stakes tests, like the ones mentioned above when I talked about Texas.   The nature of instruction, the way teachers interpret curriculum, and conservative values create a model of schooling that is narrow and stressful.  Since the No Child Behind Act, a system was put in place that makes it possible for bureaucrats to set up a climate in which schools, students and teachers can fail.

As seen in Figure 1, a variety of words and phrases describe the corporate classroom.  Some of the idea include rivalry, bout, go-for-the-gold, race (to the top?), warfare, fight, tournament. In what way do these ideas affect our classrooms?

Common standards, high-stakes tests, and measuring teacher performance on the basis of high-stakes tests establishes an educational system that is the antithesis of education in a democratic society.  This creates an authoritarian system of education with power concentrated at the top of various hierarchies, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and the various state department’s of education.

If you look the data that the Georgia Department of Education reports on its website on the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT), you will find state, system and school summaries.  These summaries are Excel spreadsheets of  test scores, and the percentage of students that did not meet, that met, and that exceeded the “standard.”  You can find data for each grade level, for each school system, and every school in the state by grade level and content area.  You can have a lot of fun with these spread sheets.  You can rank order the school districts in the state based on CRCT scores.  You can also scrutinize each school system, and find the “best” and the “worst” performing schools.

The standards have a powerful impact on the day-to-day actions of teachers and students.  They are based on the CRCT.  Dr. Carolyn Wallace  speaks to these issues in a study,  Authoritarian Science Curriculum Standards as Barriers to Teaching and Learning: An Interpretation of Personal Experience published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.   Wallace found that the authoritarian system of education in Georgia impeded teaching and learning. An important point that Wallace highlights is that teachers (and students) are recipients of the standards, and were not part of the process in creating the standards. By and large teachers are not participants in the design and writing of standards. But more importantly, teachers were not part of the decision to use standards to drive school science, first. That was done by élite groups of scientists and educators.

Wallace cites research studies that document the harmful effects of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on teachers and students, and especially students-at-risk. Wallace shows that NCLB has diminished teachers abilities to work professionally to interpret curriculum as it relates to the needs of their students. Wallace suggests that there is a consensus that the content and product nature of the standards (or curriculum) limits teachers’ pedagogy in that teaching becomes “less diverse, less contextualized, and less creative.” Teachers must teach the same material because it is discrete, and will be on the test.

The corporate model reformers are working very hard, and with a lot of money to privatize education, and remove the word “public” from public education.  There has been an outright assault on schools, administrators and teachers by the conservative reformers, and they have done a very good job of turning our schools into yearly achievement test competitions.

In George Lakoff’s book, The Little Blue Book, there is a chapter on public education, and how crucial education is for democracy.  Lakoff, however, points out that education is moving in a direction in which money is determining the nature of “public” education, and that  danger lurks.  He writes:

Given this understanding of education, it is natural to view even public education as a business. Schools whose students get good test scores are profitable. Teachers of those good students bring in profit and, like executives who earn bonuses, deserve merit pay. Schools whose students regularly get bad test scores are unprofitable and considered failing schools. Like divisions of companies that lose money, they can be closed down, and just as managers whose divisions regularly lose money stand to get fired, so do teachers whose students don’t get high-test scores.

The belief that students can only be motivated to learn through competition is a dangerous path to follow.  As Ed Johnson pointed out in a guest post on this blog, competition is the life-blood of the way much of schooling is arranged.  The use of grades, prizes, money, stars, happy-faces, and the like are all examples of the use of competition to “reward” the winners.  Here is what Ed Johnson had to say about how competition in learning such a destructive force in learning and teaching.  He writes here about an experience he had as a judge for a Social Science Fair in Georgia.  He says:

That day, the Social Science Fair Contest opened my eyes and forced my ears on so that I might experience learning competition among youngsters in a new, revealing way. I suspect it was the unmistakable expressions of dejection on the faces of the contest losers that made me see and hear differently. Even the second and third place winners strained to put on a happy face, which showed me they, too, saw themselves as losers. Moreover, I plainly saw that the “First Place Winner” had attained recognition at the expense of all the other contestants, a God-awful lesson for a child to learn about learning and, perhaps more importantly, to learn to see other human beings as obstacles to personal success.

We need to step back and look at the unintended consequences of using competition within and between classrooms, teachers, and schools.  Do we want to think of education as a process in which some are winners, and the others are losers?  I don’t think so.

Let’s take a look at an alternative.

Cooperation and Progressive Values—->The Communal Model

We often assume that Charles Darwin, the co-discoverer of the concept of natural selection, would name competition as the most important trait for survival for human being.  George Lakoff and Elizabeth Wehling discuss Darwin’s ideas about coöperation and write that,  “Darwin explicitly described empathy and coöperation, and not competition, as natural traits of humans and animals and as central to the survival of animal species.”

In fact, Darwin argued that empathy is crucial to species survival.  He said this about empathy:

As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races  (quoted in Lakoff, 2012).

Figure 2. Cooperation
Figure 2. Communal Classrooms

Cooperative and empathic values should characterize classroom teaching and learning.  We think of classrooms as social learning groups of students and teachers who can work cooperatively to solve problems.  We argue that competition for grades and approvals are not needed to motivate student learning.  In fact, using external motivators like grades and approvals does not motivate students to do anything more than ask, “Is it on the test?”

On the other hand, if students learn that cooperative activities, such as teaching each other, working on small projects together, and discussing and debating relevant content-related issues are relevant, then their attitude toward school, and their understanding of science will be enhanced.

Dr. Christopher Emdin, Professor of Science Education at Teachers College, uses the concept of  the “communal classroom” which involves students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community, and the collective betterment of the group.

In an earlier research study, Dr. Emdin collaborated with two of his high school students, Jessica Collins, an 11th grade high school student who lives in the Bronx, NY and has been a student-researcher in science for two years, and hopes someday to be a doctor);  and Lasleen Bennett,an 11th grade high school student who lives in the Bronx, NY.  Lasleen has been a student-researcher for two years. Her favorite subject is mathematics, and she wants to be a doctor, teacher or psychologist.

In their study, Exploring the context of urban science classrooms, published in Cultural Studies in Science Education, they contrast two ways to organize a classroom, the corporate way and the communal way.   To Emdin, the corporate classroom involves students and teacher working with subject matter and functioning in ways that follow a factory or production mode of social interaction. The primary goal in corporate class mode is maintaining order and achieving specific results (such as the results generated by standardized tests). The corporate model is based on competition and extreme conservative values.

The communal classroom involves students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on inter-personal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group.  The communal model is based on coöperation and progressive values.

Co-researchers Jessica Collins and Lasleen Bennett comment here on corporate and communal classrooms and give us their insights into life for a studenta in high school classrooms.

Jessica Collins

If things are more communal, you don’t have to worry about who is talking first or who is putting themselves out on the line. We all just talk, figure things out and learn because the classroom is more like part of life. People can get upset or in a bad mood but still figure out how to learn a concept. The communal is pretty much connected to the students’ environment.  You start to see that science is all around you. All of a sudden, everything you see, eat, taste, or hear has something to do with what you are learning in school when it all gets connected.

Under normal circumstances, the teacher gives you information then you have to give the information back. It feels like you are never really learning anything or thinking about it. It’s like we are machines that need to keep doing the same thing over and over again. There are no feelings and no emotions. I feel like if you don’t take care of a machine, it will eventually break down. The process works the same way for students. If you’re treated like a machine, some people will definitely just quit. For some other people, we learn to be more independent. It’s like we are treated like machines but because we go through that, we become strong enough to fix ourselves when we break down.  That is how we learn to survive.

Lasleen Bennett

The major idea that I am getting from what you’ve just said is about the communal and how it’s separate from the corporate. It’s the idea that what we do everyday does make sense and does count and can help the classes. I agree with that point completely. I also see how some people just don’t bother with school being related to the whole idea of being treated like machines. That is why I like being involved in coteaching. It gives me a chance to show that I can understand chemistry or biology enough to pass a test but also lets me teach my friends in a more appropriate manner.

In communal classrooms students’ ideas are accepted, and students are treated with the respect that they deserve, simply as being human beings.  Classrooms that are build around progressive values are more democratic, and more inclusive.  Students feel as if they are participants, not simply recipients of facts and information.  One of the high-school research students, Jessica Collins, speaks to this.  She writes:

The teacher has to be with students and learn their likes and dislikes and then bring what he learns to school to better the lesson. It means that you have to be involved in their lives. The corporate way is different and it really is the way that most of the classes that we are not interested in get run. The students don’t like corporate classes, and that will mean they won’t like the subject. At the end of the school year, the teachers start wondering why the students fail their Regents exams. It’s obvious that the reason is because the class was set up in a way that the students did not want to learn. Teachers should teach in a way that is best for students.  Otherwise, what is the purpose of teaching? The way to teach is about getting your point across in whatever way it takes for the student to understand. For me it’s like, teachers have to see the light whenever they stumble upon the key to their students’ comprehension.

Communal or cooperative classrooms should trump the corporate style of classroom organization that is based on competition and extreme conservative values.  In cooperative classrooms the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Indeed, because of the collaborative nature of cooperative-communal classrooms, there is a greater opportunity for students not only to learn science (or any other subject), but to teach science, and to embody science as a fundamental part of our student’s lived experiences.

In future posts I will describe the communal and cooperative model that I used in more than 30 years of teaching.

What are your ideas on ways to organize school?  Do think cooperative classrooms should trump competitively organized classroom?  Why do you think so?

ResearchBlogging.org

Emdin, C., Bennett, L., & Collins, J. (2007). Exploring the contexts of urban science classrooms. Part 2: The emergence of rituals in the learning of science Cultural Studies of Science Education, 2 (2), 351-392 DOI: 10.1007/s11422-007-9057-x

Georgia’s Movement Toward the Corporatization of Higher Education

Laura Diamond reported December 13th in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Newspaper that a new formula will be used to fund colleges and universities in Georgia staring in 2015.  The new formula, approved the Higher Education Funding Commission, will be the first step toward the corporatization of higher education in Georgia.  Scan the “wordle” that I created based on the text of Laura Diamond’s article.  Some key words are funding, percent, number, money, awarded, workforce, fiscal, graduate, outcomes, and performance.

Words Describing the Future of Higher Education in Georgia
Words Describing the Future of Higher Education in Georgia

According to the Commission’s report, the amount of money colleges receive will be linked to student success and the number of degrees awarded. The committee appointed by Governor Deal signed off Wednesday on a plan that would make colleges earn or lose money depending on how well they help students get a degree.

The key idea in this report is to tie funding to measurable performances, including retention, progression and graduation, the number of hours students accumulate (e.g. 30, 60, 90), counting the number of students who receive certification or degrees.  The report suggests that Georgia should move from an enrollment-based system of funding higher education to a formula determined by outcomes as interpreted by Dave Williams, at the Atlanta-Business Journal.  Digging a bit deeper , Williams wrote that the Governor Deal of Georgia has said that the reason for going to college is to get a job.  Indeed in one of the Commission’s reports, it is clearly noted that higher education needs to create more job-ready people with some form of higher education.  Instead of basing higher education on the public life achieved through democratic values such as equality, justice, and freedom, as suggested by Henry Giroux, Georgia’s higher education will be viewed through the lens of commercial interests and economic goals.

Georgia's Job-Based Rationale for Changing the Funding Formula for Higher Education
Georgia’s Job-Based Rationale for Changing the Funding Formula for Higher Education. Source: http://media.morristechnology.com

 

Prior to the formation of the State Commission, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the state a grant of $1 million dollars to study college completion.  This is another example of the way in which corporate billionaires are influencing the public education.

Georgia will soon approve an outcomes-based funding model for all higher education institutions in Georgia.  Follow this link to an October report of the Commission to find out how education will be measured by corporate-style measures that seem to be in conflict with the public nature of higher education.  Some of the concepts that are detailed in the October report include:

      • benchmarks
      • incentivized target populations
      • weighting outcomes to reflect priorities
      • bonus incentives
      • counting outcomes

Although it seems justified to fund higher education on the basis of benchmarks, bonuses, and counting outcomes, the real basis of this movement toward corporatization leads to a blurring of boundaries between commercial culture and public culture.  Giroux writes:

Under the reign of neoliberalism and corporate culture, the boundaries between commercial culture and public culture become blurred as universities rush to embrace the logic of industrial management while simultaneously forfeiting those broader values both central to a democracy and capable of limiting the excesses of corporate power.

I think that writers such as Henry Giroux are correct when they warn us that using a corporate measure of time (say for graduating, or progressing) diminishes the role of higher education in pedagogies of contemplation, reflection, and critical thinking.  Under the new funding scheme, the bottom line is how much was covered and not uncovered.

Georgia is not the only state to move in this direction, and frankly it’s not surprising.  The Assault of Education, which is documented in William H. Watkins’ book of the same title, is a confrontation of the politics of corporate school reform and the legacy of higher education as a public sphere.  Watkins comments of what is happening to education at the K-12 level is extremely timely as we consider the future of higher education:

Corporate, privatizer, free-marketeer, “bankster” neoliberal are working feverishly to create a narrative for 21st-century education.  Theirs is a story of competition, power, and profit.  For them America must produce a layer of highly educated people to operate new technology.  Such people must be better educated than any in previous generations because the demands are greater.  In their story, America is in a life or death battle to maintain its competitive edge in an increasingly competitive world where it is losing ground to emergent countries.  The bogeymen BRICS, that is, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, are closing in on us in the world horse race.  For the corporatists, America’s very survival is at stake.  The corporate media and other means of information regularly promote this story (Wakins, p. 189).

And then he adds this sentence, which is a challenge to all Georgians who oppose the State’s effort to reduce education to arithmetic.  He writes:

The corporatists are challenged at every turn as ordinary people understand the importance of accessible education for both personal and social advancement.  The organized resistance to corporate education is expanding as people gain understanding of the corporate agenda (Watkins, 189).

Disclaimer:  I am Emeritus Professor of Science Education at Georgia State University (GSU).  I was a professor at GSU from 1969 – 2003.  The opinions that I share here are my own. 

What do you think about the way higher education in Georgia will be funded?  Is this the first stage in a radial right turn for higher education?

 

¿Is it Not Possible to Charter Teachers for a Change?

¿Is it not possible that if teachers were chartered to design curriculum and assessment methods geared to their own students they might provide an education that is closer to the lived experiences of their student?  ¿Is is possible that by enabling teachers to carry out their work as professionals the way most of them are prepared, school would be a better place?

¿Why not charter teachers, as we have done with schools, to use their professional knowledge and credentials to carry out a more relevant and substantive curriculum based on the needs and aspirations of students they teach?

Teachers as Professional Leaders

The models of identifying teachers as professional leaders have typically been based on raising students’ academic outcomes.  One example is the National Board Certification.  In these models, identifying outstanding professional teachers is based on what impact the teacher has on student achievement and learning.  In most cases, student achievement is measured with high-stakes content or subject matter tests.  The fundamental problem with using test scores is that even an outstanding teacher accounts for only 20% of the learning of students.  As we will see below, it is out-of-school factors that have have a larger share in determining student learning.  Presently, the Department of Education in Washington, and most state departments of education believe that it the teacher who makes the most difference in the success or failure of students.  Its simply not a valid position.

In my experience, teachers who are well prepared and experienced, are able of making professional decisions about curriculum and instruction that meet the needs of their students.  Collaborating with other teachers in their school and district, they can design and carry out a curriculum that student-oriented, and based on students’ prior experiences, needs and aspirations.

Anthony Cody described a case in which teachers working together in one of the lowest performing elementary schools in Oakland “transformed their school through a combination of teacher research and creative instruction.”  The case he described on his blog, teachers, with the support of their principal, are in charge of their reading curriculum.  There are hundreds of examples of teaching doing the same kinds of curriculum and instruction innovation.

Professional teachers do not need to be told what to do or how to teach by people who work in office buildings looking at spread sheets!!

Instead, teachers need to work in environments in which professional growth is the principle of quality teaching.  A good example is the Montgomery County, Maryland Professional Growth Systems (PGS) which is a collaborative system to improve teaching, rather than corporate and state led “value-added” or “student growth” approaches. Read more here

Another example is the Lexington School District’s (MA) implementation of one of the first evaluation programs for teachers based on professional growth. The program was named the Teacher Leadership Program, and a teacher could apply for the program after three years of service. To do so required that the teacher create a portfolio of work including lesson plans, projects, student evaluations, peer evaluations, samples of student work, sample of teacher innovative products. The teacher’s portfolio was then assessed by a team of peers and administrators. If the teacher’s credentials were judged as high quality, the teacher entered the Teacher Leadership Program, and for the next three years, and would jump two steps each year on the salary scale. At the end of the three years, the teacher could reapply. The premise of the Leadership Program was to focus on professional growth, and high quality teaching. This program was created more than 40 years ago.

Hamstrung

Today, teachers are hamstrung by policies that are alien to their communities and neighborhoods.  Bureaucrats in Washington, and state departments of education make decisions about what teachers should teach, and what students should learn.  They hold students and teachers accountable by designing high-stakes tests based on lists of behavioral objectives or standards.  It was discovered was that students and teachers were held accountable using unreliable and invalid testing and measurement methods.  For research to support this, please follow this link to GREATER, Georgia researchers who are advocates for reforming evaluation methods.

In recent research published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), Randall D. Penfield and Okhee Lee point out that there is a paradox in the assessment policy enacted by the U.S. Department of Education.  They report that the assessments used across the country are developed for a student population of White, middle- and upper-class, and native speakers of English.  Yet, minority students, who were intended as the primary beneficiaries of the NCLB test-based accountability policy, are students of color, low-SES, and learning English as a new language.

The kind of reform that is being leveled on American schools ignores the research, and the problems that have plagued schools and teachers for years.  Terms such as choice and competition have replaced ideas such as equity and coöperation.  Reformers have turned schools into corporate factories designed to turn out students who can pass a series of high-stakes tests.

Without any solid research evidence, the nation’s schools have accepted that a common curriculum in math, reading/language arts, and science is in the best interests of teachers and students.  According to Achieve, Inc., the developer of the standards, students are responsible for the mastering the standards, regardless of where they live.

We have reported on this blog that changing or writing new standards will have little to no effect on student achievement.  Loveless, in the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, explains that neither the quality nor the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP test scores.  He points out that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states have had standards since 2003.

In another important study reported in the prestigious Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Carolyn Wallace found that science standards actually present barriers to teaching and learning.  Wallace analyzed the effects of authoritarian standards language on science classroom teaching.  She found that curriculum standards based on a content and product model of education are “incongruent” with research in science education, cognitive psychology, language use, and science as inquiry.

I am going to suggest that we find a way to charter teachers with the authority to make curriculum and assessment decisions based on the tenets of professional credentialing and practice.   In order for teachers to enact their charters, we need to stop using high-stakes tests as tools to punish and reward teachers and schools.  In tandem with eliminating high-stakes tests, we need to reverse the move to “standardize” education,” and say out loud that one size does not fit all.  There is no evidence to support the notion that the curriculum for all 49 million U.S. students should be based on a single set of standards.

One size does not fit all!

But in order for teachers to succeed as professionals, we need to face head on the issue of poverty and the kind of pedagogy that will help students become successful citizens in the 21 Century.

Poverty

¿May it not be that just as students who attend schools in wealthy neighborhoods, do well in school, and go onto higher education and into 21st century careers, that students attending schools in poor neighborhoods would experience the same successes if they had similar social, financial, and academic attributes found in wealthier neighborhoods?

¿Is it not possible to say that if students lived in housing environments that were safe and less prone to violence that they might do better in school?

¿Is it not possible to say that students with adequate access to health care, nutrition and activities would have a better chance at success in and out of school?

It is a policy at the federal and state levels that poverty in not an excuse for not succeeding in school.  The policy promotes the idea that as long as a students have a great teacher, we can not use any excuse for students not doing well. ¿Is it not possible that even with a great teacher that a student who lives in a family with little income, poor housing, and fears her mother will be deported, just might not do well in school, even with a great teacher?

Anthony Cody provides evidence that even with a great teacher, only 20% of student success is in the hands of that teacher.  There are simply too many factors, most of which are out of school control, to claim that focusing on teachers will change schooling for children in poverty.  Yet, organizations such as the Gates Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education have repeatedly ignored the effects of poverty on student success in school, and instead have put the full burden on teachers.   Anthony Cody, on his blog, Living in Dialog put it this way:

First of all, let’s take a closer look at what “out of school factors” really are about. One of the central tenets advanced by many education reformers is that poverty is used as an excuse, a bogus justification for poor academic performance, that allows schools and teachers in poor neighborhoods to remain ineffective. Therefore, the best way to beat poverty in these circumstances is to set high expectations for everyone, hold teachers accountable for increasing test scores, and accept no excuses. So I want us to understand just what these schools, teachers, and children are up against.

Cody then goes on to discuss the impact of violence, the effect of health and housing on child development.  According to Cody, about one-third of children living in the nation’s violent neighborhoods have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  He also talks about the effect of murder, reporting that living in a murder prone neighborhood affects academic achievement in school.

Until reform focuses on poverty, test scores will not meet the expectations of the current force of corporate reformers.  Using the code words of choice and competition, American education is rapidly moving toward a market driven educational system.  The Charter School, which was designed to empower teachers, free them from overly bureaucratic regulations, and strengthen their voice in school and curriculum decision-making, has become a politicized and corporate movement that is slowly taking control of public schools.  Although there are more public schools in the U.S. than charters, many states seemed to have thrown up their hands, and are passing laws that will make it possible for state appointed commissions to create charter schools without the approval of the local school district.  Many of these charter schools have been established in poor neighborhoods and are being staffed with teachers who have as little as six to eight weeks of teacher preparation.

Critical Pedagogy

The Common Core State Standards, and the emerging national testing movement (such as PARCC), American schools are soon to become a national, centralized system of education.  Through Federal acts and laws such as the No Child Left Behind Act, the Race to the Top, and the ESEA Flexibility Requests (waivers on some aspects of NCLB), state educational departments are being “regulated” by federal mandates.   Again have the state education departments just given up.  This regulation extends to every local school district that must now follow a singular set of standards, and are required to administer high stakes tests that find the success or failure of students, teachers and administrators.  The race is on to train teachers to use the Common Core State Standards.  Does anyone have an idea how much this implementation will cost.  It’s in the billions.

In a nation with 50 states,  320 million people, 15,000 school districts, and the continuing call to make sure that schools eliminate inequity, it is unfortunate that we are creating centralized educational reforms.  It doesn’t make sense!

By their very nature, standards are  authoritarian documents offering teachers very little flexibility in their use, and essentially remove the professional judgement of teachers in deciding how to make their courses relevant to their students. Combined with high-stakes tests, we have a system that is centrally controlled. ¿Is this not an odd mixture in a democratic society?

Instead of relying on an authoritarian system of standards and tests, many teachers and researchers suggest that education should be in the service of providing students with the tools to improve themselves and take part in a democratic society by engaging in “progressive social change.”

One of the emerging progressive ideas in the teaching of science and mathematics over the past twenty years has been social constructivism.  According to researchers, such as Dr. Mary Atwater, professor of science education, The University of Georgia, constructivism provides a lens to view multicultural education in a democratic society.  In order to provide for equity in teaching and learning, social constructivism in light of a multicultural vision is crucial in making decisions about teaching.  Atwater suggests that we embrace critical pedagogy.  Critical pedagogy helps students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, a connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.

Critical pedagogy calls for teachers who are free and conscious of their role in helping students become active and life long learners capable of making decisions, and taking positions on issues that are close to their hearts.  Thus the students would become leaders in their community, think creatively, and to use knowledge to innovate and solve problems, all the while taking part in a democratic society.   Critical pedagogy faces head on the issue of poverty and equity.  To many researchers, critical pedagogy is based on the idea that there is an unequal social stratification in our society based on class, race, and gender.

As discussed on this blog, critical pedagogy is a progressive world-view, as a opposed to the conservative world-view, which dominates American education.  Based on the research of George Lakoff, a progressive view emerges. There are four principles which would drive education:

  • The Common Good Principle–Citizens bring together their common wealth to build infrastructures that benefit all, and contributes to individual goals.
  • The Expansion of Freedom Principle–Progressives demand the expansion of fundamental forms of freedom, including voting rights, worker’s rights, public education, public health, civil rights.
  • The Human Dignity Principle–Empathy requires the recognition of basic human dignity and responsibility requires us to act to uphold it.
  • The Diversity Principle–Empathy involves identifying with and connecting socially and emotionally with all people regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation. Ethic of diversity in our communities, schools, workplaces.

Chartering Teachers

Chartering teachers based on this pedagogical ideology would change the way curriculum is developed and selected, and way students are viewed as learners.  Charter teachers would be empowered to shape school curriculum, to work collaboratively on innovative projects, and take-risks to improve the education of their students.

Students in the progressive classroom would be respected, nurtured, and encouraged to communicate with peers and the teacher from day one. The classroom would be viewed as a community of learners. The progressive teacher’s beliefs about teaching are formulated by many factors, but two that stand out are empathy and responsibility.

The chartered teacher would be a highly qualified and certified professional who not only has a strong background in content and pedagogy, but has a range of experiences with youth enabling them to understand students and treat people through the eyes of progressive morality.

Chartered educators would be research oriented. That is, they would tend to experiment with new approaches to teaching and would also do action research in their own classrooms to improve the teaching/learning environment.

Chartered/Progressive educators would ask lots of questions:

  • ¿Why is our state and district willing to accept a top-down authoritarian set of standards that weren’t developed with our students’ interests or aspirations in mind?
  • ¿Do you know what the research tells us about the ineffectiveness of using high-stakes tests on students achievement?
  • ¿Why does the state department of education have so much authoritative power over the inner workings of every school district in the state?
  • ¿Why aren’t educators involved in the development of curriculum is based on the lived experiences of students, and the interests that students might have for getting involved in real work?

¿Do you think it is possible to charter teachers?  ¿Do you think it would make a difference?

 

I have used this symbol ¿ with my own editorial license.