Why do I pick on Bill Gates?

I usually ignore education reformers who have never been teachers.  I ignore them because they want to improve student test scores, while ignoring unequal opportunity.  Only philosophical, K-12 teachers understand that our greatest failure is not students’ low test scores; it is our failure to provide equal educational opportunity.

But I have written about Bill Gates in these blogs.  (See http://sixvirtues.com/blog/2011/07/19/bill-gates-teachers-are-like-athletes-artists-or-social-scientists)

I don’t know Bill Gates, but I know his ideas get a lot of publicity. Our society develops according to the ideas of people who have access to the media.  Bill Gates has the money and power to promote his ideas, even if they lack merit.  That is why I blog about him.

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Are You Appalled, Yet?

The following passage from Kozol’s (1967, p. 2) Death at an early age: The destruction of the hearts and minds of Negro children in the Boston public schools describes an art teacher’s approach to teaching third graders. It is intended to illustrate how inappropriate she was for Stephen — a physically abused foster child who was not good at school; but who, according to Kozol, was “a fine artist:”

The Art Teacher’s most common technique for art instruction was to pass out mimeographed designs and then to have the pupils fill them in according to a dictated or suggested color plan. An alternate approach was to stick up on the wall or on the blackboard some of the drawings on a particular subject that had been done in the previous years by predominantly white classes. These drawings, neat and ordered and very uniform, would be the models for our children. The art lesson, in effect, would be to copy what had been done before, and the neatest and most accurate reproductions of the original drawings would be the ones that would win the highest approval from the teacher.

Appalling isn’t it — that an art class would focus on what is acceptable and unacceptable, instead of what is beautiful and ugly. Ugly classroom experiences are part of school life, but it is ironic when they occur in a third grade art class.

This passage can also be seen as a metaphor for how the education establishment treats the art of teaching. It starts with teacher education programs that focus on educational psychology and research findings about effective instruction in reading, math, science, history, etc. Aspiring teachers are taught how to write lesson plans, and how to teach disinterested students.

Classes that teach these skills get high marks from young teachers who say their best college courses taught them how to control students, how to write lesson plans, and how to teach (as if there is such a thing). They say this because educational administrators and policymakers require them to submit lesson plans that use research-based methods and specify which district and state objectives are being covered.

In other words, teachers are expected to (1) produce “neat and ordered and very uniform” lessons; (2) “copy what had been done before, and the neatest and most accurate reproductions of the original drawings would be the ones that would win the highest approval. . .” These expectations make sense, if teaching is an applied social science.

If teaching is an art, however, these expectations are just as appalling as those of the third grade art teacher. If teaching is an art, you can’t be appalled by her expectations and not be appalled at the education establishment’s treatment of teachers.

Are you appalled, yet?

Kozol, J. (1967). Death at an early age: The destruction of the hearts and minds of Negro children in the Boston public schools. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.