October 17, 2011

Narcissism indeed

Via Darren comes this superb post by the Math Curmudgeon. The M.C. is amused by a post put up by NBC's Education Nation site which states that kids aren't listened to in the classroom, and has a list of things that "need to be done" by teachers which will [supposedly] "help" them.

Needless to say, like Darren and M.C., I got a bit of chuckling enjoyment out of reading the list. It's almost akin to reading the "demands" by those in the current "Occupy" protests across the country. Nevertheless, this seems to be a boondoggle within the teaching realm today -- teachers who believe, like Darren, M.C. and myself -- that too many of the current educational "theories" and fads are pretty much useless and have transformed an appallingly large segment of our youth population into mewling babies ... vs. those who subscribe to such theories. Let's face it -- there's always been distrust by teachers of administrators and/or professors who pop into inservices armed with the latest fad du jour and then telling us (not asking) that we need to use it. Usually these fads are repackaged (or re-repackaged) ideas from yesteryear but now include the latest "edu-jargon." Furthermore, these fads are promulgated by profs and/or administrators who have either never been in an actual classroom (teaching), or have been out of one for decades. And, additionally, particularly when it comes to administrators, such dissemination of these fads is often due to the fact that one (or some) of them is working towards another degree and needs to "field test" his/her fad in a classroom.

I don't want to totally denigrate the list made by these students as some of the statements are indeed what good teachers should do. For example, one suggestion says "I can't learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me." Any teacher worth his or her salt will always try to "connect" with the students. That's part of the job! But students need to remember that this is a two-way street -- that they have to make an effort to connect with the teacher. But unfortunately, the vast majority of the list in question is mealy-mouthed "do-stuff-for-me" narcissism. For example, this one is way too often co-opted by the educrats: "We learn in different ways at different rates." This is, of course, true; but what these students and the educrats fail to realize is that the reality of modern public education makes it nigh impossible to address this as they would like. How does a teacher address over 30 students' different learning styles and paces in the span of 45-50 minutes? And consider: How will college professors address the learning styles and paces of over 200-300 students in university lecture halls? How will employers address the learning styles and paces of new hires? Answer: They don't. They expect their students/hires to adjust to their teaching style/job requirements. Therefore, should we not expect school students to similarly make adjustments in the classroom?

We also read this: "Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class." Again, any good teacher cares about his students, but it is not more important than teaching the subject matter. I tell 'ya what, students: When No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top say to teachers that we'll be evaluated on our empathy, maybe that above statement will have merit. But as it is, we're evaluated on how we teach the subject matter, and how we raise your test scores ... whether you give a hoot about raising them or not.

"We need more than teachers. We need life coaches" is the next suggestion. Nothing more, perhaps, epitomizes how education has changed in the last 30 years or so. (I direct you to this cartoon as evidence.) Y'see, parents used to fill this role. But I tell 'ya what, students -- if you want teachers to usurp the role of parents, then don't go running to your parents when you're disciplined for bad behavior or you get a poor grade in class. Fair enough? This student suggestion perhaps goes well with another which says "Tell me something good that I'm doing so that I can keep growing in that." Uh, no. The problem with the modern narcissism is that you've been told that too much.

Fifteen years ago while working on my masters I took a class titled "Discipline and Classroom Management." Having only been in the classroom then a mere six years, I figured it'd be beneficial. Oops. The course was taught not by professors (not that that would have made a bunch of difference, in my opinion) but by several counselors whose total "real" experience in classrooms I can't precisely recall now, but do remember it was pretty miniscule as a whole. I think the last straw for me in this class is when they showed a video promoting a program whereby the teacher and the student were to be considered "equal partners" in the classroom (or some such nonsense). It showed a student-teacher conflict being "resolved" by a school counselor where each presented his side of the story and then a "resolution" was "agreed upon." Here's what the Math Curmudgeon would probably say to that:

Apparently, no one listens to the students and that's bad. Of course, most of us do but that's not the Reformer Way of Describing Teachers so we obviously don't do that and obviously The Students Are Always Right When They Complain.

"In their discussion, young people provided insight into their own experiences with education and what they think needs to be done to ensure that every student receives a world-class education." Because we all know that students are the Font of Wisdom and teachers are morons. Quick note: Sleeping through class does not make you an expert on education.

The bold text is key. Why would any teacher want to be put on an "equal footing" with a 13 year-old in a classroom dispute? It's not his class, it's the teacher's class. A good teacher (and most are good) will establish fair rules and enforce them fairly. It's ludicrous to go to a mediation session because you booted a kid from class for talking constantly ... after you gave him numerous warnings. What would that boil down to?

  • COUNSELOR: Now, Mr. Hube, Johnny says you weren't fair sending him out of class.
  • ME: Really? How was it unfair?
  • JOHNNY: You only gave me three warnings.
  • ME: One should have been enough.
  • JOHNNY: But Biff was talking too.
  • ME: He stopped talking after one warning.
  • COUNSELOR: But how did you give Biff the warning, Mr. Hube? And did Johnny hear your warnings? Did you, Johnny?
  • JOHNNY: Not all of them.
  • ME: But you just said I gave you three warnings. You must have heard them.

Yes, the above is a hypothetical conversation, but the aforementioned video included a mediation session very much like that -- sans the teacher firmly holding his ground. In the video, the teacher meekly accepted the idea of being "equal" with a young teen.

I tell 'ya what: When a 13 year-old child has bought a house, has paid bills, has had children, and has held a job ... THEN you can put him on an equal footing with me. But until then he's just a kid, who at that age has as the most important thing on his mind playing Xbox after school.

For "Discipline and Classroom Management's" final paper, I spent an entire day in the University of Delaware's Morris Library researching scholars who believe that such management ideas are a lot of bunk. It was easier than I expected. I meticulously dissected and shredded the course in my final paper, putting worries aside that I'd get a lousy grade for not toeing the party line. I felt it more important to send a message. The result was a mixed bag: I got an "A" on the paper, but one of the instructors wrote a page full of comments on the back of it ripping me in return. I took it as a compliment, really, except for, perhaps, the remark that my paper was "visceral." "Visceral" means "not intellectual : instinctive, unreasoning; dealing with crude or elemental emotions : earthy." To the contrary -- my feelings about discipline and my final paper are (were) anything but. They're well thought-out based on research and real life experience.

Which brings us right back to where this post began. And which would you prefer? A theorist who thinks he knows what works, or a realist who knows what works?

Posted by Hube at October 17, 2011 12:18 PM | TrackBack

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