Although I am right, I am irrelevant

Richard Elmore recently edited a book entitled, I used to think, and now I think. Twenty well known educators wrote essays on this topic. I was struck by the ridiculousness of what they used to think, and the common sense of what they now think. In other words, they used to think what they were taught within the social science paradigm for school improvement. Now they simply use common sense and experience, when they look at school improvement.

Here is my personal IUTTANIT:

Like many education professors, I used to believe:

  1. Good teaching cannot be defined, so we describe it in hundreds of ways, hoping aspiring teachers learn something from those descriptions.
  2. Good teaching produces test scores that are better than the ones students would have gotten with less “effective” teaching. (Teaching is an applied social science.)
  3. Teachers should be held accountable for the development of student knowledge and skill. Student test scores are the bottom line.
  4. Our beliefs about education should be based on “research-based” facts and reason because those are the “best” beliefs.

Now that I am wiser, I believe the opposite:

  1. Good teaching can be defined. A definition says what something always is and what it never is. Good teaching always involves understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. It never involves ignorance, intellectual incompetence, weakness, fear of truth, pride, or selfishness. It is difficult to be a good teacher, but it is not complicated.
  2. Good teaching starts with teacher appreciation for the subject and students. It ends with student appreciation for the lessons and teacher. (Teaching is an art.)
  3. Knowledge and skills are not “measured” by standardized tests. Test results are not points on a ruler, they are like light switches that are either “on” or “off.” Therefore, teachers should be held accountable for modeling and teaching the six virtues that lead to knowledge and skills. They are easy to observe. No standardized tests needed.
  4. Beliefs are based on experiences, not facts and reason. All of us “just believe” many things. An example is those who just believe that “beliefs should be based on facts and reason.”

Nobody believes what I believe. So, although I am right, I am irrelevant.  I love irony.

8 comments ↓

#1 Ryan Cooper on 03.04.15 at 3:21 pm

So what were some of your experiences that led you to abandon your previous belief that teaching is an applied science? I’m not disagreeing with you, but I am interested in what occurred over the course of your career to lead you to that conclusion. Do you think there is any aspect of the field that could be categorized as such? Also, I love your concluding paradox, but I am curious about something. I am interested in religious apologetics. Among the aspects of apologetics that I study are epistemology, soteriology, the metaphysical, and hermeneutics. While these don’t necessarily fall under the category of the public educational arena, they do have some relevance to your 4th belief. Are you saying that facts/reason and beliefs are mutually exclusive? I think facts and reason are a basis of belief, otherwise it’s merely hope, or (if the experience is strong enough) faith. Thoughts?

#2 casey on 03.05.15 at 7:20 pm

Ryan,
My experiences were of two kinds.
#1 — In the late 1970s and early 1980s I was taught that principaling (and teaching) was being “professionalized” by professors, like those I had at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their “experiment at professionalizing” meant that, when I became a school administrator, I was supposed to apply the research findings from educational studies on effective principaling (and teaching). When I was an assistant principal and principal (1978-1988), however, I never applied research findings to any situation. Instead, I always applied what my mother taught me about how to treat people. These were not conscious applications, but sometimes I felt her sitting on my shoulder, watching and listening (even though she was 100 miles away). You can read my blog about these experiences here:
http://sixvirtues.com/blog/2010/12/27/the-failed-experiments-of-american-public-education/

#2 — From 1989 to 2005 I taught aspiring principals and teachers that they, too, should apply what research had found to be “effective.” That is what professors of education do because we assume that teaching and principaling are applied social sciences (even though we could probably not identify the “research-based” methods we use in our own collegiate classrooms).
During the early 2000s I began to wonder if the “professionalization experiment” was working. My students were telling me that public school life was getting worse, not better. And this was after forty years of trying to apply what research had found to be effective.
During the late 2000s I began asking if anybody has ever applied a research finding to an educational situation. I ask that question on my website. Nobody has stepped forward with a description.
I realize few principals or teachers read this website. They are too busy reading the research on “effectiveness.” But that is not the critical issue anymore. The critical issue is whether principaling (and teaching) should be framed by the social science paradigm or the aesthetic paradigm. Which paradigm explains what happens when schooling and teaching improve?
So, even if ten people came forward with ten stories about how they applied research findings to improve schooling, I know what all of them would describe. They would describe situations in which (1) teachers read about some kind of “effectiveness” (developed more understanding), (2) they thought about ways to do it in their classrooms (imagination), (3) they did the work required to try it (demonstrated the strong character and generosity needed to put forth extra effort), and (4) they took a chance on a new activity or set of activities, not knowing if it would improve student learning (courage and humility). In other words, I know that, if it worked, the teachers brought the six virtues to the situation.
If you frame education with the applied social science paradigm, you see teachers applying what research found to be “effective.” If you frame education with the aesthetic paradigm, you see teachers creating a beautiful situation by bringing the six virtues that always make things beautiful.
Regarding facts and reason in the formation of beliefs, I am saying that it is the experience that forms the belief, not the fact or reason. Was there ever a fact or reason that changed one of your beliefs? What was that fact or reason? What was that situation?

#3 Mark Steger on 03.05.15 at 5:28 pm

I love it when someone is open-minded enough to question his beliefs and change his mind. A couple of questions about your new beliefs…

You say teachers should be held accountable for modeling and teaching the six virtues that lead to knowledge and skills. I infer this means you now believe in measuring the inputs to the process, not the outputs. But if you no longer attempt to measure outputs, too, how can you ever know the process leads to desired results?

You say you no longer believe “Our beliefs about education (and other things, too) should be based on facts and reason because those are the ‘best’ beliefs.” Are you now discarding facts and reason or are you now discarding the notion of a ‘best’ outcome?

Here are some of my own prior musings on the subject of changing one’s mind:
http://www.marksteger.com/2011/02/ever-change-your-mind_2171.html
http://www.marksteger.com/2009/12/things-i-was-against-before-i-was-for_8999.html

#4 casey on 03.05.15 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for commenting, Mark. I read your musings. We might be saying many of the same things. Let me respond briefly to your comments, here. I will comment on your blogsite, later. We might need Peter to settle this stuff with a less nerdy perspective.
Your first point/question/challenge is, But if you no longer attempt to measure outputs, too, how can you ever know the process leads to desired results?
My response is — yes — I am giving up on measuring outputs because we cannot “measure” knowledge and skills. I am taking “measure” literally. Standardized test scoring, teacher’s oral questioning and teacher’s written quizzing and testing reveal if a knowledge or skill is present, not how much of a knowledge or skill is present. “How much” is always greater than what is revealed in a testing situation. It is like the driver’s education written test. Every driver has more skill and knowledge than what is reflected on the written exam score. We don’t know how much more, until we sit in the passenger seat with the driver, which is why they also do the driving part of the exam. Even then, there is more than can be known in 15-minutes on the road.
How do we know if the process leads to desirable results? If they lead to more U, I, S, C, H & G, they do. And these are easily observed, even though they cannot be measured, either.
So, my premise gets stuck at the same point you got “stuck” in your blog about the universality of what is “good for humankind.” On what basis can we claim that there is such a thing? (J. S. Mill had some interesting thoughts on this.)
Your second point/question/challenge is, You say you no longer believe “Our beliefs about education (and other things, too) should be based on facts and reason because those are the ‘best’ beliefs.” Are you now discarding facts and reason or are you now discarding the notion of a ‘best’
The easy answer is no– I am not discarding facts and reason. I am saying our beliefs emerge from our experiences with facts and reason, not the facts or reasons, themselves. My new belief is Beliefs are based on experiences, not facts and reason. All of us “just believe” many things. An example is those who just believe, “Our beliefs should be based on facts and reason.”
BTW — The cover story of the March issue of National Geographic is about science, doubters, conspiracy theorists, and beliefs. I was going to maybe write about it, but I will let that up to you. You will have some interesting things to say about it. Also, you can check out my five-part series on “beliefs,” if you have not already done so. It is more folksy than your writing on this topic.

#5 Mark Steger on 03.06.15 at 5:15 pm

You said, “How do we know if the process leads to desirable results? If they lead to more U, I, S, C, H & G, they do. And these are easily observed, even though they cannot be measured, either.”

Drop the “more” and I’m almost with you. “More” requires measurement, not just observation. But leave that aside. Suppose we just count observations of U, I, S, C, H & G. That, too, would be a (simple) measurement of the outputs of the process. Sally exhibits all six of the Six Virtues. 100% Good for Sally. Good for her teacher.

#6 casey on 03.06.15 at 7:22 pm

Yes. The statement is more consistent with my argument, if I drop the “more:”
“The process leads to desirable results if they lead to U, I, S, C, H & G.”
And yes to your other point about simply counting observations of the virtues. That is exactly how I would hold teachers accountable. In our current system of accountability, teachers are held accountable for their behaviors during classroom observations (inputs) and student test scores (outputs, supposedly). In my system of accountability, which is more rigorous, not less rigorous, they would write an annual report describing the situations in which they modeled, and their students demonstrated, any of the six virtues. Those reports would be beautiful to read.

#7 Martha Howell on 06.25.15 at 2:18 pm

I never started out with those thoughts like you did. I can now; however, spout out best practices as they drip off my tongue. The reason is because I was indoctrinated into a program of learning about those best practices for three years! What I believe now is that teachers can indeed build their craft and the foundation of that craft should definitely be the six virtues. Education is a human paradigm not a business model. And humility and understanding should be at the core of what we teach. The intellectual, character, and spiritual capacities help frame the learner’s imagination and build courage and strength to to become generous educated people. “I used to think, then someone else thought, but now I think.”

#8 casey on 06.25.15 at 2:23 pm

Thanks for the great comment, Martha.

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