How Can We Challenge the Standardization of Science and Other Aspects of Education?

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I received an email from Professor Emeritus Charles “Kip” Ault, Lewis & Clark University.   We’ve never met, but we have a connection through each others’ writing.  In 1992, I wrote and published a science education book, Minds on Science (Library Copy) and he used the text in one or more of his graduate classes at Lewis & Clark.  In 2010, I found his and Jeff Dodick’s article published in the research journal, Science Education, entitled Tracking the Footprints Puzzle: The problematic persistence of science-as-process in teaching the nature and culture of science.   Each of us at this time carries the title “emeritus” from our respective universities.

But “older” science educators don’t die, they just keep on a-writing.  And so it is with Dr. Ault and myself.

In Dr. Ault’s case, he has just published a book entitled Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 (Library Copy).

This is a bellweather book.

The reason I say this that this book represents one of the only critique of the nation’s acceptance of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).   For example, the book might not be a good read for lot of folks at Achieve, Inc. headquarters.  I’m not sure, but it might not be only anyone’s book list at its Washington headquarters.

For me the book is a “hopeful” bellweather, in that I have faith that science educators will start to ask questions about the NGSS, and begin to critique the eagerness to carry out the NGSS.

Recently I wrote about how teaching and learning is standardized my e-book.  In that book I said that:

The conservative world-view is at the root of educational reform, not only in the United States, but in most countries around the world. This world-view has set in motion the reform of education based on a common set of standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability metrics that demoralize not only students and their families, but the educators who families regard as significant others in the lives of their children. This eBook is an exploration of how these reforms of education, which are rooted in authoritarianism, are damaging public education with its canopy of a Common Core, high-stakes, and market based tactics which are nothing but hooey.  Hassard, Jack (2014-12-16). The Mischief of Standardized Teaching and Learning: How Authoritarianism is Damaging Public Education with its Canopy of a Common Core, High-Stakes Tests and Market-Based Hooey (Kindle Locations 18-22). . Kindle Edition.

Kip Ault’s book is written to offer not only a historical context for how standardization has come about, but to enable science educators the basis for a critique of the standards movement.

One of the subheadings in the first chapter of the book is The Holy Grail of Power.  Like many of the writers that I have acknowledged on this blog, Ault sees standardization as an end to a quest for unity and this is the Holy Grail of Power over (science) education.  Four groups are identified by Ault as constituting this holy grail:

  1. State Bureaucrats
  2. Disciplinary Scientists
  3. Corporate Entities
  4. Science Educators

As you read this list, can you conjure up how each group’s power is used to “unify” teaching, and strive for the standardization of teaching and learning.

For the state bureaucrats, Ault says that

the bureaucrat’s ideal curriculum standardizes the nature of science (or the processes of science), independent of context. Legibility trumps diversity; state interests displace personal ones. Test scores signify learning, and policy unfolds based upon interpretations of these scores. Charles Ault, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

In Ault’s view, the various disciplines of science (paleontology, physics, molecular biology, etc.) represent a disunity in that the sciences do not represent a singular “field” of study.  Why is this important in a critique of the science standards?  In Ault’s view, the NGSS perceives the science discipline to be alike, and so a single set of processes and methods are imbedded in the standards.  This is unfortunate because the various sciences are messy.  It’s not a set of steps or processes that characterize science inquiry.  We have oversimplified the nature of science as clearly explained by Dr. Ault.

Corporate entities have poured millions of dollars into the standardization of standards, and many of these entities are realizing huge profits, especially through testing, and curriculum and textbook publishing.  But I appreciate Ault’s idea that the NGSS standards has influenced researchers and curriculum developers.  He puts it this way:

Institutions seeking funding for projects to advance science education have no choice but to cast their proposals in terms of the NGSS. For-profit and nonprofit providers of professional development, school district trainers, and consulting firms wait in the wings eager to help. Charles Ault, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015

Science educators are also one of the entities that strive for unity among the sciences, and the standards.  He has an interesting take on this and he writes:

Science educators, in the creation of curricula and the training of teachers (elementary through secondary), feel called upon as guardians of the quest for unity among the sciences. Their professional identity—an identity setting them apart from other professors of education, for example—depends upon this cultural norm. Ideas about the nature of science and the culture of science now pertain more to the community of science educators than to that of scientists. These ideas equate in many minds with critical thinking, inquiry skill, and the development of intelligence. Charles Ault, Challenging Science Standards: A Skeptical Critique of the Quest for Unity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015

Challenging the science standards movement will be well served by Charles “Kip” Ault’s new book.  I’ll return to his book in future posts.  For now, what questions do you have challenging the NGSS and the Common Core?

NSTA’s Uncritical & Authoritarian Position on the Next Generation Science Standards

The National Science Teachers Association released a position statement on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

The NSTA statement is  uncritical and authoritarian.  It granted outright compliance with the NGSS, even though there is a groundswell questioning the use of standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards.  Should we endorse one set of performance goals for all K-12 students in English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science?

Although the position statement includes citations from the literature of science education, of the 17 references, 11 were National Research Council publications.  There were no citations from the major peer-reviewed research publications of the science education community (such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, the journal Science Education, and Journal of Science Teacher Education).  This is not a dismissal of the NRC publications, but I wonder why the peer-reviewed research was ignored in the development of the position statement.

There are many years of research on the efficacy of the standards movement, and one wonders why the authors of the NSTA statement did not consult the research on standards.

In my opinion, the 3,769 word document is a reworked version of the information that you can find on Achieve’s Next Generation Science Standards website.  The NSTA statement is divided into several sections including: Introduction, Conceptual shifts in the NGSS, Implementation of the NGSS, Declarations, Historical Background and References.  But these divisions are merely statements of compliance to the dictates of the Next Generation Science Standards documents found on the Achieve website.

Are the Science Standards brick walls for teachers and students?
Are the Science Standards brick walls for teachers and students?

For example, the introduction tells us that all students should have access to a high-quality science education that teaches the skills needed to get into college or get a job (College and Career Readiness).  This is the refrain that we have used for more than half a century to rationalize why science should be included in the curriculum.

The shortage of “trained” workers for the science and technology fields will reach the hundreds of thousands, maybe the millions in the near future, and we must make sure that we more graduates in STEM related fields if we are meet the shortfall.  At least that is what governments, some corporations and foundations claim.

Yet, there is statistical data that refutes the shortfall claim.  I won’t go into details here, instead you might want to read Robert N. Charette’s article, The STEM Crisis is a Myth. 

As Charette reminds us, the U.S. has had perpetual STEM anxiety, especially starting during the Cold War.  He reminds us, however of this.

What’s perhaps most perplexing about the claim of a STEM worker shortage is that many studies have directly contradicted it, including reports from Duke University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Rand Corp. A 2004 Rand study, for example, stated that there was no evidence “that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon.”

The march to standardize and uniform the curriculum is a dangerous movement in a democratic society, and especially in one that is so diverse in cultures, languages, and geography as America.  How can we really think that one set of statements of science goals can be valid for all learners, all schools, and all teachers?

The common standards movement, of which the NGSS is a part,  rests in part on the opinion that state standards are inferior and inconsistent, and the need to increase student achievement, especially in science and mathematics, to stay competitive in the global economic environment. It’s had to argue with this. However, it is not true.  America is one of the most competitive countries in the world, indeed, number 4 in the world.

The drive to develop the common standards has also been “adopted” by the U.S. Department of Education, and in its Race to the Top Fund ($4.5 billion), states that did not adopt the common standards lost 70 points on the 500 point scale for doing so.

Why do these organizations want to develop a single set of standards, and will they be any better than the standards that exist in the 50 states today?  The fact is state departments of education around the country have in one sense been coerced into accepting the common core standards to apply for very large Federal grants, and the assumption that a national set of standards will be superior to standards developed at the state or local level.

There are very weak arguments, not based on sound research, used to convince us that one set of science standards developed by an elite group of scientists will change the course of science education.

Common Core Knowledge

For the past two decades there has been a drive to create a common set of standards in math and science (and English Language Arts).  The enterprise is well-funded, and supported not only by theU.S. Department of Education, but by corporate and philanthropic America to the extent that the initiative is pushing ahead at an urgent speed.

The drive to set up common standards is part of “rightest” movement that Dr. Kristen L. Buras (2009) describes in detail in her book Rightist Multiculturalism: Core Lessons on Neoconservative School Reform.  She hones in on a fundamental question about curriculum, and that is “What knowledge is of most worth?.”  But Dr. Buras has us consider the question from another frame, and that is “Whose knowledge is of most worth?”

As Buras suggests, curriculum development in a democratic society must be:

the result of long-term democratic and substantive discussions, and it must also be grounded in an honest and searching appraisal of the structures of inequalities in this society. A “core” cannot be imposed from the outside and legitimately claim to be based on the “knowledge of all of us.

The word “core” is as it relates to knowledge is used in the two major standards’ reform efforts in the past decade: The Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language Arts, and in the Next Generation Science Standards.  In the NGSS, the content of science is referred to as Disciplinary Core Ideas.  As Michael Apple points out in the Introduction to Buras’ book, “What counts as “core knowledge” has all too often been someone’s core, not everyone’s core (Apple, 2000).

The “core” knowledge outlined in the mathematics, English language arts, and science standards has been spelled out by committees of experts largely from colleges and universities, and with very little initial comments by teachers and curriculum specialists.  The deliberations have primarily involved impersonal online reading sessions and the completion of online multiple choice evaluation surveys.  Face-to-face deliberations have been held, but behind closed doors, with little to no public record. The process to develop and “adopt” the CCSS and NGSS has not been deliberate, and has not been critically assessed by the education community.

Neoconservative Reform

The neoconservative reform movement’s goal is to create core knowledge in math, English language arts, and science, and expect that every American student be tested on the same content.  Buras thinks of this as inculcation.  She writes,

We might think here of Hirsch’s promise that the inculcation of common knowledge represents the new civil rights frontier, as formerly culturally illiterate students are given access to “literate” culture and thus the cultural capital needed to ascend the ladder of mobility and ultimately participate as “equals” in the marketplace of America.

In doing so, Core urges us, pushes us, to think about culture and democracy in specific ways—ways that tend to reinforce patterns of cultural disrespect and pressures to assimilate—and to overlook other understandings. We are being schooled to avoid the radical lanes, left and right, of the American civil rights highway, and to join the wider lane of moderation, which, we are told, promises peace and happiness. (Buras, Kristen L. (2009-01-21). Rightist Multiculturalism: Core Lessons on Neoconservative School Reform (Critical Social Thought) (p. 144). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition)

The core knowledge and the common standards movement is a mix of neoconservative and neoliberal advocates, who appeal to populist sensibilities of authoritarian and traditional family and religious orthodoxy.  As Michael Apple and Kristen Buras tell, the neoconservatives defend historically dominant cultural traditions and national cohesion.  Neoconservatives advocate political individualism and free markets.  For education this means, such as, core knowledge claims and standards-based reform.

Neoliberals, according to Apple and Buras, proclaim the free market and privatization (of schools, for example) at the cost of the public sector.  This of course has opened to the doors to school choice, vouchers, and charter schools.  (See Apple, M.,Editor’s Introduction to Neoconservative Multiculturalism by Buras, K., 2009.)

The standards movement is a neoconservative and neoliberal imperative that has engulfed nearly all state departments of education, and the U.S. Department of Education.  It’s well-funded, and politically secured with Republican and Democratic talking heads.

There is some glimmer of hope.  Last year, the Chicago teacher’s union went on strike and challenged the political apparatus of Chicago.  Educators, including superintendents, in Texas have gone on record as opposing standards-based high-stakes tests.  And most recently, Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle announced their refusal to administer the standardized test, Measure of Academic Progress (MAP). The Chicago and Seattle cases are grassroots, bottom-up and determined opposition to the top-down and dominant neoconservative take-over of American schooling.  And during the past six months, some states have bowed out of Core and Next Generation Science Standards adoptions.

Critical Silence

It’s imperative for professional organizations,  university professors and colleges of education to raise questions about educational reform, and join with their K-12 colleagues to oppose and overturn the neoconservative infusion of standard and basic education for a democratic nation.  The National Council of Teachers of English have written a resolution opposing high-stakes tests, and groups of professors of education in Georgia and Chicago have written letters opposing the use of high-stakes tests in the context of standards-based reform.

In science education, we have been relatively silent, especially in raising concerns about the Next Generation Science Standards. The NSTA Position Statement on the NGSS raised no questions, and did not question the authoritarian nature of the standards movement, especially when we are engulfed by the testing mania that has had resulted in unintended consequences.

What is your position on the Next Generation Science Standards?  What are your thoughts about the NSTA position.



Inquiry: The Cornerstone of Teaching–Part I

Fifth Article in the series on The Artistry of Teaching

Conservative and neoliberal paradigms dominate education, which have reduced teaching to skills, economic growth, job training, and transmission of information.

In spite of these authoritarian policies,  many K-12 teachers practice a different form of instruction based on principles of equity, social constructivism, progressivism, and informal learning.  The cornerstone of this approach is inquiry, and in this article, I’ll explore the nature of inquiry, and why it is the magnum principium of teaching.

Inquiry teaching requires that teachers take risks because the very nature of inquiry brings us into the unknown.  It is like crossing into a new environment.  Some researchers think of this as “crossing cultures,” and for a teacher embracing inquiry as the cornerstone of their approach to teaching, it means crossing into a classroom culture that is very different from the traditional classroom, that we are too familiar with.  For a teacher who is experimenting with their own willingness and courage to accommodate inquiry teaching, it is much like thinking about Lev Vygotsky’s (public library) theory of zones of proximal learning.  Embracing inquiry teaching requires courage and the close collaboration with trusted colleagues who are supportive and believe that in a social constructivist environment, teachers can push themselves into new zones of learning.

Normally, Vygotsky’s theories are applied in the context of K-12 student learning.  But in this article, I want to show that Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism (which researchers suggest is similar to inquiry) can be applied to the artistry of teaching.

The Age of Inquiry

My story of inquiry teaching began in 1960s as a science teacher in a small community near Boston.  The 1960s was the “Golden Age” in science education in the sense that the National Science Foundation invested tens of millions of dollars in curriculum development and teacher education.  The school’s science program was an “Alphabet Soup Science” curriculum made up of BSCS Biology, CHEM Study Chemistry, CBA Chemistry, PSSC Physics, and HPP (Project Physics).  These courses were four of the nearly fifty curriculum projects that were developed between 1957 – 1977.  I was personally involved in four of them, ESCP Earth Science, ISCS (Intermediate Science Curriculum Study), PSSC Physics, ISIS (Individualized Science Instruction System) as a writer, field test coordinator, student, and researcher.

One of the characteristics of these programs was an approach to teaching unified by the word “inquiry.”  Inquiry teaching, with an emphasis on hands-on and minds on learning was integral to NSF programs developed in the 1960s, and has continued to the present day.

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 5.44.03 PMHowever, in 1960s, they concept of equity, multiculturalism, and urban education was not part of the research and development scene. Beginning in the 1970s, especially with educators such as Dr. Melvin Webb at Clark Atlanta University, research and development on issues of equity and multiculturalism in science education began to emerge in new programs, especially in the 1980s and 1990s.

Chicago. My introduction to inquiry teaching and learning was enhanced by participating in an NSF eight-week summer institute at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago on the PSSC Physics course.  For eight hours a day, five days a week, and for eight weeks, 35 teachers participated in laboratory sessions, lectures, and films on the PSSC physics program, the first of the NSF courses for American schools.  A team of teachers, including a professor of physics, a graduate student in physics, and a high school physics teacher taught the course. The PSSC course emphasized science laboratory work and hands-on investigations.  We did every laboratory activity in the PSSC text that summer, but more importantly we discussed how to integrate the idea of inquiry learning into our own teaching.  The three faculty in our program encouraged us to be activists, to ask questions about the science curriculum and the instructional approaches being used in high school science, and to encourage new approaches and ideas.

Nearly all the teachers, who were from 30 different states, were there because they were going to teach PSSC Physics in their school in the fall.  Not me.  I had taken a new job in a different town in Massachusetts (Lexington) and would be teaching earth science (I earned a B.S. in earth science in undergraduate school and really wanted to teach E.S.).  Later in the year I realized how important this intense study of physics would affect the way I taught earth science.  I adopted many of the labs in physics for the earth science course I was teaching, and began to adapt the activities in the text we used so that students were engaged in inquiry and problem solving.

Lexington. All the ninth grade teachers moved to a brand new high school science building the next year, and two of my colleagues in earth science  “piloted” a new NSF funded earth science project, ESCP (Earth Science Curriculum Project).  ESCP was a hands-on inquiry oriented program, different from the earth science program that was part of the high school curriculum.  I teamed up with one of the pilot teachers (Dr. Bob Champlain–Emeritus professor, Fitchberg State University) and planned a research study comparing the ESCP approach to the traditional earth science approach.  As it happened, Bob and I were working on our Masters degrees in science education at Boston University, and thus the study became our thesis study.  We didn’t find any significant differences (on a content test we administered), but qualitatively we saw many differences in terms of how students felt about learning science in the two contexts.  Students were naturally attracted to working with teammates in group activities, and enjoyed trying to solve problems that involved messing about, and trying different methods and techniques.

Columbus. I left Lexington in 1966, and moved to Columbus, Ohio to attend the National Science Foundation Academic Year Institute at The Ohio State University.  I joined with 40 other teachers of science and mathematics to take part in a one-year program of study in science and science education.  Several science courses designed for Institute participants integrated some aspects of inquiry, and were different from many of the other science courses we took.  There were nearly 20 full-time doctoral students in science education, and over the next three years we explored and studied the pedagogy and philosophy of science teaching  After three years of study, I finished my work on the Ph.D., and headed to Atlanta, Georgia, to take a job as an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Georgia State University.

College Park, MD. Before going to Atlanta, I made a three-week stop in College Park.  My induction into what inquiry was all about, however, took place three weeks before arriving in Atlanta to begin my new job.  At the University of Maryland, Professor Marjorie Gardner, one of the leaders in science education in the U.S. then, invited me to a member of a team of three science educators from Atlanta, even though I hadn’t arrived in Georgia.  Each team that the attended the Leadership Institute at UMD was composed of a science teacher, a science supervisor, and a university professor.  Twelve teams from around the country participated in the first Earth Science Leadership Institute directed by Dr. Gardner.  The institute was designed as a total immersion in the ESCP Curriculum with special emphasis on inquiry teaching and learning.  Each day we did two to three hands-on activities from the ESCP program, participated in lecture/discussions with scientists who were brought in to focus on specialty topics in the ESCP, e.g., astronomy, paleontology, mineralogy, physical geology, meteorology, geology, oceanography, space science).  We also were involved in micro-teaching.  Each of us had to teach several “inquiry” lessons to groups of middle school students.  Lessons were video taped, and then in collaboration with other participants, each lesson was discussed from the point of view of our goal to carry out an inquiry activity.  Suggestions were made to change the lesson, which we then re-taught to a different group of students.  The important aspect here is that collaboration with colleagues was essential in moving each us into new conceptions and zones of activity.

A Cornerstone

Atlanta. Inquiry teaching became the cornerstone of my teaching at Georgia State University for the next thirty-two years.  Through collaboration with colleagues in science education, the sciences, educational psychology and philosophy, inquiry and experiential learning became fundamental characteristics of courses and programs we designed.

When I began teaching at GSU, half of my assignment was to teach courses in the geology department, but specifically to teach geology courses for teachers.  My first course, which was taught off campus at a professional development center in Griffin, GA, was an introductory geology course for middle school teachers.  Using only laboratory and experiential activities, teachers learned geology by inquiry and problem solving.  For the next two years, I taught courses in geology in Griffin, and an opportunity to explore the nature of inquiry teaching with professional educators.

One of the most important learnings that I took away from these early experiences teaching geology was
the joy that I saw in the eyes and minds of these teachers.  A few years later, I began to study the work of Rollo May, an American humanistic psychologist.  In his book The Courage to Create (public library), he speaks to us about what the artist or creative scientist feels.  It is not anxiety or fear; it is joy.  He explains that the artist (or scientist or teacher) at the moment of creating does not experience gratification or satisfaction.  Although he didn’t talk specifically here about teaching, later he does, and it is important to make a connection and bring teachers into the conversation.  This is how I see it.  The teacher, like the artist or scientist, uses creativity to create an environment of learning, much like an artist creates a painting, or a scientist advances a theory.  All are personal.  But May adds another dimension that I think is powerful.  He says this about the moment of creating for artist, scientist or teacher.

Rather, it is joy, joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one’s own potentialities (May, R., The Courage to Create, 1975, p.45).

Over the course of my career, I worked with hundreds of teachers, professors, scientists, and researchers with whom we constructed our knowledge of inquiry in particular, and teaching in general.  We teamed to create projects that brought together not only for adults, but students and their families.

The GTP Telecommunications Network linking schools in the USA and the Soviet Union, c. 1991
The GTP Telecommunications Network linking schools in the USA and the Soviet Union, c. 1991

Moscow & Leningrad. The activity that epitomized the essence of inquiry while I was at GSU was the design and implementation of The Global Thinking Project (GTP), a hands-across-the-globe inquiry-based environmental science project. Utilizing very primitive Internet technologies and face-to-face meetings, teachers from Atlanta and other areas of Georgia forged cross-cultural partnerships with colleagues in the Soviet Union (1983 – 2002).   In 1991 the GTP was implemented in 10 schools in the U.S. & the Soviet Union, after we transported 6 MacIntosh SE 20 computers, printers and modems, and installed them in six schools in the Soviet Union.

In the Global Thinking Project teachers from different cultures came together to develop a curriculum was inquiry-based and involved students in solving local problems, as well thinking globally about these problems by participating in a global community of practice.  Inquiry was at the heart of the project.  By working with a range of teachers and students, the project developed an inquiry-based philosophy that emerged from years of collaboration among American and Russian teachers that was rooted in humanistic psychology.

Inquiry teaching was envisioned as a humanistic endeavor by American and Russian participants.  They believed that students should work collaboratively & cooperatively, not only in their own classrooms, but they should use the Internet  to develop interpersonal relationships, share local findings, and try to interpret each others ideas.

For more than ten years, collaboration took place among hundreds of teachers and students, not only in the United States (led by Dr. Julie Weisberg) and Russia (led by Dr. Galena Manke), but including significant work with colleagues in Spain (in the Barcelona Region under the directorship of Mr. Narcis Vives), Australia (under the leadership of Roger Cross), and further collaboration with the Czech Republic, Botswana, New Zealand, Scotland, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Singapore, and Canada.  With their work in the GTP, the following principles of inquiry emerged:

  • Innovative, flexible thinking
  • Cooperative–students work collaboratively in small teams to think and act together
  • Interdependence–a synergic system is established in groups within a classroom, and within global communities of practice.
  • Right-to-choose–students are involved in choice-making including problem and topic choice, as well as solutions; reflects the action processes of grassroots organizations
  • A new literacy insofar as “knowledge” relates to human needs, the needs of the environment and the social needs of the earth’s population and other living species
  • Emphasis on anticipation and participation; learning how to learn, and how to ask questions
  • Learning encourages creative thinking, and is holistic and intuitive

Inquiry as Magnum Principium

Inquiry is the sin qua non of experiential teaching and learning.  A method?  No.  It’s a foundational principle that is integral to democratic and humane environments that was espoused more than a hundred years ago by John Dewey.  In Dewey’s mind, this question must be asked when considering the way learning should occur in schools:

Can we find any reason that does not ultimately come down to the belief that democratic social arrangements promote a better quality of human experience, on which is more widely accessible and enjoyed, than do non-democratic and anti-democratic forms of social life? In Dewey, J., 1938. Experience & Education, p. 34. (public library)

At a deeper level, classrooms organized as democratic spaces encourage imagination, and it with free inquiry that teachers show themselves as Freiean “cultural workers.”  Freire says:

Teachers must give creative wings to their imaginations, obviously in disciplined fashion.  From the very first day of class, they must demonstrate to students the importance of imagination for life.  Imagination helps curiosity and inventiveness, just as it enhances adventure, with which we cannot create.  I speak here of imagination that is naturally free, flying, walking, or running freely.  Such imagination should be present in every movement of our bodies, in dance, in rhythm, in drawing, and in writing, even in the early stages when writing is in fact prewriting–scribbling.  It should be part of speech, present in the telling and retelling of stories produced within the learners’ culture. In Freire, P.,Teachers as Cultural Workers,  p. 51. (public library)

Becoming an inquiry teacher is a life-long phenomenon that emerges from the craft of teaching in the context of classrooms and schools that advocate professional collaboration and a pursuit of wisdom in teaching.  This is not ivory tower thinking purported by an emeritus professor of education.  It’s going on now in schools across the country.  Working together from the ground up, rather the top down, Chris Thinnes says on his blog how he and his colleagues work together to “formulate, analyze, prioritize, and activate driving questions that democratically identify the intersections of individual interest and shared priorities.”  You can go to Chris Thinnes blog, and read the kinds of questions he and his colleagues asked at their first meeting which focused on how a teacher creates an environment and climate conducive to learning.  It is this kind of democratically organized work that leads to teachers growing into cultural workers, inquiry teachers, and artists in their own right.

As way of introduction, here is what Chris said about the in-school meeting among all the staff to explore ways to improve teaching:

For a variety of reasons, I have been inspired for a number of years by the idea that our teachers’ professional learning and collaboration should be governed by the same principles and objectives as our students‘ learning and collaboration. To that end, each of six domains from the framework of our Goals for Learning (Create – Understand – Reflect – Transmit – Include – Strive) will be invoked as we establish language to articulate our core commitments to effective teaching practice; design driving questions that will facilitate further inquiry among our teams; identify teaching practices that should be visible to teachers, learners, and observers; explore resources drawing on a wide range of expertise outside our community; and create our own rubrics for self-assessment, reflection, goal-setting, peer observation, instructional coaching, and administrative evaluation.

Is inquiry the cornerstone of teaching?  What do you think?  What would you add to this conversation?


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.



Is Teaching an Abacus or a Rose?

First article in a series on The Artistry of Teaching


Teaching is more immediate than reflective, and the artistry of teaching, much like creativity, comes to the prepared mind, sometimes serendipitously, more often as an invention or ingenious solution to an immediate problem.

Many of you will agree that teachers are closer to being orchestra conductors than technicians. Yet, in 2013, we are in the midst of a sweeping assault on teaching and the teaching profession by people who focus on test scores, efficiency, cost benefit analysis, achievement, and common standards.The argument, in The Artistry of Teaching, is that in spite of the corporatization of schooling, it will be teachers and other educators who will lead the way to restore schooling to its democratic ideals.

This is the first of a series of articles for an eBook entitled The Artistry of Teaching  that will be published over the next few weeks.

?The Abacus or the Rose?

There are some people who believe we teach science not because it nurtures the child’s imagination, but because it might help her get a job.  Reform in science education for the past two decades is based on the idea that American students receive an inferior education in mathematics and science, and as a result will not be able to compete for jobs in the global marketplace.  In this scenario, the purpose for teaching math and science is to get a job.  Furthermore standards-based reform coupled with high-stakes testing has morphed into a model of teaching in which “whadja get” is all that counts.  Achievement scores and changes in math and science is the barometer reformers use to decide whether they should take a happy pill, or not.

In this scenario, which also includes reading scores, the arts and humanities curriculum are pushed to the side, meaning that the only content worth studying is content that will make America economically more competitive–mathematics, science and reading.     Melissa Walker, Executive Director of JazzHouseKids, and Peter Smagorinsky, Distinguished Research Professor of English Education at the University of Georgia take issue with this new conception of schools, and suggest that arts programs (such as music) can serve as medium in which students develop a strong attachment to school, and develop positive relationships with peers and educators.  They also report that arts programs have powerful effects on student learning, as in this statement:

According to “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies National Endowment for the Arts,” students with deep arts engagement are four times more likely to participate in extracurricular activities, including school government, yearbook, school newspaper, service clubs, and community volunteering. Prolonged engagement in the arts shows that student participants enjoy greater academic achievement and are better prepared for college. Dedication to artistic activities also contributes to better outcomes in their entry in the initial job market, and better alignment with professional careers.

In this view, school is more than a place to drill and test students on the content of mathematics, science, and reading, but a commons where student’s lived experiences are central to the nature the school’s curriculum.  It is easy to forget that schools are actually communities, and are places in which children and adolescents can thrive and be persons in their own right.  The arts and humanities should mingle with mathematics and science in the same was that John Dewey conceived it more than a hundred years ago.  School should be a humanistic environment designed with the interests of the child at the forefront.

Instead of viewing school as each community’s social, emotional, and intellectual commons, we’ve turned school into a political punching bag, as well as source of wealth for corporations and businesses who insist on charter schools, vouchers, and the privatization of the school management.  We have to reject this idea, and begin to advocate for teachers, who’ve known before they became teachers that schools are democratic and humanistic places where parents hope for the best for their children and youth.

Humanistic Virtues

In this article, and in the blog articles to follow as part of a series on the Artistry of Teaching, a different scenario will be  argued.   And it is that schools are the most important commons in a democracy, and that the school is a center for the development of the creative, artistic, humanistic, and intellectual capacities of humans.  School is a community resource that above all else should be an part of the life of children and adults in their neighborhoods.  In this conception, teachers and administrators will use their professional knowledge in a way that educates our youth.

So, in this post I am going to argue that teaching is an artistic endeavor.  As such, the central idea about teaching is this:

Teaching, like art or science, is an expression of a personal vision of reality, and the great breakthroughs come when the teacher invents a new vision, uniting previously unconnected details. In short, teaching is a work of imagination.

Another way to look at this is the argument that “those who can, do; those that can’t teach.” But Eric Booth, in his paper, The History of Teaching Artistry, suggests this might not be true.  He writes:

Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach—according to George Bernard Shaw, who also wrote that he never learned anything from a teacher, he taught himself everything; so maybe GBS had a little ax to grind. He got it quite wrong—the truth is that those who can do two things well, at the same time, in almost any setting, are teaching artists.

Teaching is neither art or science, it is its own discipline.  There is however, artistry in teaching and that is what we will explore.  The Abacus and the Rose sheds some light on this.

Science and Human Values

When I was a professor at Georgia State University, I taught a seminar for several years for graduate education students (all of them were teachers in the Atlanta area) entitled “Science and Human Values.”  I had designed the course for doctoral students, but to my surprise, each time I offered the course, it was filled with teachers who were in graduate school working on masters or educational specialist degrees.  The make up of the classes was diverse and included teachers K – 12 from most of the metro-Atlanta school districts.  The purpose of the seminar was to explore the human values that are crucial to science and art, and how understanding relationships between science and art can tell us about teaching.

17358I used two books to organize the course, each written by Jacob Bronowski.  The books were The Ascent of Man: A Personal View (including his 13-part BBC video documentary series) and Science and Human Values, three essays that Bronowski had given as lectures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1953.  When the three lectures were published together as a book, Bronowski added a last section.  That section was a play he had written entitled  The Abacus and Rose.

The Abacus and the Rose was a radio drama written by Bronowski and broadcast by the BBC  in 1962.  It was then published by The Nation, and then Bronowski added it as the last part of his book, Science and Human Values.  Bronowski wrote the play to express his ideas on how common ground could be employed between science and philosophy, which had been explored by C.P. Snow in his 1959 lecture, The Two Cultures.

We used Bronowski’s work to explore the human values that underscore art and science and to relate this inquiry to the nature of teaching.  The course curriculum was based on Bronowski’s artistic creation as presented his 13 part video series, The Ascent of Man-A Personal View.  As Richard Dawkins points out in his forward to Bronowski’s book:

Who more than Bronowski weaves a deep knowledge of history, art, cultural anthropology, literature and philosophy into one seamless cloth with his science?

Although Bronowski didn’t intend it as the foundation for his book, his poetic view of science was a metaphor for our understanding of teaching as discussed by teachers in this seminar.  An understanding of science required connections to history, culture, literature and art, and clearly, as teachers we understood that this is exactly what teaching is about.  There is the desire in us to make connections, to inquire, to seek answers to our questions, and as teachers we can bring this attitude and philosophy to our courses and classes.

So, what does the Abacus and the Rose have to do with teaching?

Bronowski wrote the Abacus and the Rose as an extended note in which he discussed the theme that science is as integral a part of culture as the arts are.  Bronowski wrote this more than 50 years ago, and in my view, things have changed.  I would agree that science is an part of culture, but it is not more important in the life of students in school than the arts.  As we will see, The Abacus and Rose give us insights about the nature of science and the nature of art.  These insights, in my view, can open us to powerful conceptions as we relate these ideas to teaching.

The Abacus and the Rose is a dialog among three characters, and as Bronowski points out, there is a classical model for such a dialog, and that is the Dialogue on the Great World Systems which Galileo published in 1632.  Galileo created a dialog between two philosophers and a layman concerning the belief that the earth was the center of the universe, compared to to the idea that put the sun as the center.  It was more than that, as Bronowski explains.  It was a story about a deep issue that divided the culture, as our culture is divided today, especially about schooling.

Bronowski’s dialog takes place at a restaurant in Lucerne, Switzerland during the time that the three characters are attending an East-West conference on “some” cultural topic.  The three of them are in Switzerland on Her Majesty’s Government dime.

  • Sir Edward: Sir Edward St. Albish, who represents the Establishment, is urbane and maddeningly tolerant, fifty-five plus, Deputy Secretary to the Ministry of Education. Sir Edward’s character is based on C.P. Snow.
  • Harping: Dr. Amos Harping, represents the literary furies, feels helpless in a changing time.  He’s a reader (professor type) in English at a British university.  His character is based on Prof. Frank Leavis, a literary critic at Cambridge University.
  • Potts: Prof. Lionel Potts, represents science.  He’s a little smug–his success came young (think Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA)–and is slow to realize that there really are other points of view other than that of the molecular biologist, about 42.

In their dialog, Harping and Potts argue with each other about the nature of art and science, with Sir Edward acting as critic and arbitrator.  Potts, the scientist, introduces the idea that there is an intellectual depth to the study of nature, as much as there is the same intellectual depth that literature  presents.  Harping couldn’t disagree more.  Potts goes further and suggests that nature provides profound experiences, and that those who delve deeply into nature become one with nature, experiencing a sense of awe.  This is what makes nature beautiful to the scientist, according to Bronowski.

Harping challenges Potts to give examples that show that science at the level of human activity is not very different from the arts.  Harping wants to be convinced that science is humanistic, believing that it is not.  Potts suggests that to make his point he will compare Rutherford (the scientist) and Rembrandt (the artist).  Potts explains that Rutherford and Rembrandt made something, and what they each made was personal and the result of interpretation and judgement.  At first, Harping has trouble seeing this.  Here is a brief part of their dialog:

Potts: Let me finish, Harping.  I was talking about fact and imagination, in physics and in painting.  You will agree that Rembrandt was a painter wedded to the facts.  In one sense, his paintings are an exact description of what he saw.  Rembrandt’s paintings are not photographs, certainly; but they are representations, and they were intended by Rembrandt (and accepted by those who commissioned them) to represent reality.  In this sense, Rembrandt’s paintings are every inch as factual as Rutherford’s description of his experiments.

Sir Edward: Go on.

Potts: But of course, Rutherford’s reputation was not made by his description of the experiments.  It was made, like Rembrandt’s by his interpretation: his interpretation of what lay hidden below the surface reality and which the experiment or the painting revealed.  One experiment, one painting, pointed to the next, until they wove together a network of interpretations which made a single image.

Sir Edward: An image of what?

Potts: In Rembrandt’s self-portraits, an image of himself.  In Rutherford’s atomic experiments, the extraordinary and unbelievable image of the atom as a minute solar system.

Facts and imagination, in Bronowski’s view, are fundamental to science and art.  For Bronowski, the artist and scientist are connected culturally and by human imagination.  Bronowski believed that art and science can teach us a great deal about human values.  Although his book, Science and Human Values was intended to help ferret out the values that compel the practice of science, he also said that he would have liked to have included discussions of those values that are not necessarily generated by science, including the values of tenderness, of kindliness, of human intimacy and love.

Bronowski’s thinking has profound ramifications for teaching.  Although I am not suggesting that teaching is a science, I think most of us believe that teaching is a performing art.  But teaching is deeper than simply saying that it is a performing art.  Teaching touches the deeper aspects of human existence, and teachers foster hope by helping students uncover aspects of themselves that lay hidden.

Teaching: Science or Art, Abacus or Rose?

I recently wrote an article on What Everybody Ought to Know About Teaching?  To answer the question, I wrote brief narratives of three educators that I know.  Bob Jaber was was one of the teachers featured in this post.

Coincidentally, one of the students that took the course on Science and Human Values that I taught at GSU (c. 1973) was 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.

Bob Jaber is not only a scientist, he is 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, 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.  But more than anything, Bob Jaber was a teacher who embraced the values of tenderness, of kindliness, of human intimacy and love.

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 which many districts are using to judge teacher performance.  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.

Perhaps teaching is an abacus and a rose.   What do you think?