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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Intentional Absence

For my three readers, I have taken an intentional absence from blogging. I have been reading, thinking, and organizing my thoughts -- but not writing. Why? Because I needed the break. But I'm back, and I want to change my focus a little. Last year I spent most of my time reflecting on the works of other bloggers. I have learned much from their writing. I have entered the conversation on many issues. My primary rant has been on leadership by fear when it comes to technology use in schools. The truth is, I don't think it will change because bloggers gripe about it. I think it will change like most things in education...a new generation takes over and adopts the tools created a decade earlier. In education, there really is no cutting edge, no matter how much we want to think we are sharp. We seldom find ourselves on the crest of the wave, rather we struggle against the undertow.

I am making a shift in the things I choose to care about. For now, let me say that I believe until the foundation of educational philosophy and training are changed, the use of technology is not that important of an issue. "It is not about the technology," say a plethora of bloggers. That's right. Technology is not even close to the most important issue in educational practice. It is much more basic than technology. It is an issue I am calling Science vs. Art.

Briefly, I believe we are amiss in our educational philosophy in the current age. We are believing that educating children is a science. Most ed.prep. programs are Bachelor of Science degrees. The approach most colleges of education take are scientific in nature. They seek to present formulas to instruct students. They tell students to start with Standards or curriculum. Construct a lesson plan, and make the student fit the curriculum at a particular level and at a specific age.

I do not think educating children can be scientific. Teaching is an art form. Great teachers don't start with standards or the curriculum they are forced to teach. They start with the students they find in their classroom. It is more important to know the children than to know the curriculum. [I know that is not a popular thought, and likely considered erroneous.] Good! Because if most educators disagree, I might be on to something valuable...because what we are doing now does not work! It's not about "reverse planning" or "designing a lesson" based on standards. It is about knowing your students, their interests, their abilities, their skills, their hopes and dreams, then figuring out how to get the information they need to become successful in their pursuits.

Does this mean teachers shouldn't know their curriculum or standards? No. They should learn their content in college, and continue to learn throughout their life. Standards change as politicians seek re-election, so relying on standards is building your house on the sand. Teaching is not a science, wherein our students are experiments to see if a canned program can work on the masses. Shame on us for accepting that approach to our profession.

Teaching is an art that takes the various "colors" of each student [nothing to do with race] in our classroom, mixes them on a canvas, with the intent of creating a masterpiece in each child's life. This is what I will be discussing for a while. I have tried to understand what has been missing in the conversation in the edublogosphere, and I think we are missing the foundation upon which we want to build a 21st century school. I'm weary of missions, visions, goals, and plans. They mean so little in the life of a school. I had to bite my tongue as I wrote this, because I want to keep from offending potential readers. But the truth is, many educational types need to be offended. Perhaps another time.

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At 10:20 AM, Blogger Jeff Newell said...

Hey Ric -

I heard a speaker at the Higher Learning Commission conference (April 07) discuss the difference between data-driven and data-informed teaching & learning. His point was that data collection tell us things we need to know, but it doesn't necessarily tell us the best way to resolve problems. This may get at your science vs. art discussion. In thinking about a data-informed approach, the science of data collection has certain virtues, but that information needs to be used to inform the art of teaching.

In the classes I teach, we spend time discussing student-control in learning activities, tying it in with the importance of critical thinking and developing students' ability to learn. One teacher last semester summed up much of what I hear saying that by the time she gets students they are so trained to do what they're told in school that it is difficult to do a self- or group-directed learning project. The students are too programmed in the "you pour-I regurgitate" model. The freedom or necessity to pick a direction and chase it down is very foreign. A concern of mine is developing thinkers. I think this is where we begin to become "21st century." Beyond a "well-rounded education," developing critical thinking is where we impact students over the course of their lives.

Just a couple of thoughts...

- Reader 4

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Ric Murry said...

From my iPhone, please excuse typos.

First, great to hear from you. Second, I think data-driven and data-informed could be a part of the conversation here. The precaution, I think, is that too frequently "researchers" make the data support their opinion rather than having their opinion be shaped by the data.

That withstanding, I think it could be true that it takes an artist to effectively use any data in the classroom. However, teachers are seldom given the choice in the data they can use-the data-driven decisions are made by those in a higher pay grade. My argument is that those in the higher levels believe that by mandating a program they operate on the premise that teaching is nothing more than a science. They are unaware of the needs of the students, but still believe they know what will work for all classrooms. Their decisions are based on little more than test scores and canned programs from publishing companies and/or consultants who must sell their wares to earn a living. This process, at best, is a scientific experiment to determine if the program will work with a given group pf kids. If it doesn't work the failure does not usually become a part of the data for the next system who hears only the success stories. This is bad science. But this process continues in the educational system.

If or when a teacher claims the program is not working as promised it is re teacher's faultbor error. Furher, teachers are seldom privy to the research data before they are tod they will be using the program.

I'll talk more about this as I write future posts.


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