Philosophy “matters” more than curriculum

The title of the Education Week blog, “Curriculum Matters,” is a play on the two meanings of “matters.” It addresses all kinds of curriculum issues (matters); and because curriculum influences everything in the school, it “matters” above all else.

That is why blogger Catherine Gewertz described how principals are being brought up-to-date on the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum.

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We need studies to tell us this?

Education Research Crap (or Duh!)

“Workplace Conditions That Matter to Teachers” is the theme of the January, 2011, Principal’s Research Review newsletter (from the National Association of Secondary School Principals). The following research findings appear on page 1:

Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.

(Hirsch & Church, 209, p. 1)

Research indicates that . . . effective teaching can be enabled or constrained by the school workplace and the supports it offers (or fails to offer).

(Johnson, 2006b, p. 1)

Teachers’ perceptions of their schools are their reality; therefore, teachers’ behavior and efficacy are a direct result of those views.

(Hirsch, Sioberg, & Germuth, 2010, p. 1)

Conditions that are created by the leadership of the principal matter.

(Leithwood, 2006, p. 47)

Cut the Crap (or Translation)

Evidently, now we know that:

1. Teachers and students work and study together in classrooms.
2. School and classroom environments affect student learning.
3. Teachers’ beliefs affect their behavior.
4. Teachers sometimes allow principals to influence their work.

As mentioned in an earlier blog (“Research-based” does more harm than good), education research should be valued for confirming what we already know. Four examples are listed above.

Translation: I did not need a single study to tell me any of this.

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.

Virtue leads to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill don’t lead to virtue

Education has many purposes. Its most fundamental one is to make the world better. That is why all societies educate their young.

Today’s American policymakers seem to believe the world becomes better when young people acquire the knowledge and skills measured on standardized tests. Therefore public schools teach knowledge and skills. This is good, except when it occurs at the expense of teaching virtues, which is exactly what has happened since the publication of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983.

Public school educators know we have taken what is peripheral (knowledge and skills) and put it at the center, forcing what is essential (virtue) to the periphery. They also know this is unfortunate because virtue leads to knowledge and skills, but knowledge and skills don’t lead to virtue. Try it sometime — try to learn new knowledge or skills without a generous teacher and the virtues of understanding, imagination strong character, courage, and humility. Virtues are at the heart of becoming educated, so modeling and teaching them belongs at the center of the public school experience.

This is not an argument about the morality of various virtues. It is a philosophical and educational argument. Those who believe teaching virtue is akin to teaching morality need to explain the moral dimensions of understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility or generosity.

It is time we understand that these have always been, and always will be, the virtues of the educated person.

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Do Schools Teach Three Vices?

One of the claims in TSVOTEP is that schools teach intellectual incompetence, fear of truth, and pride. Several readers have argued that I don’t support this claim.

Before pointing to the book’s support for this claim, I am soliciting comments from anyone whose K-12 experiences taught them to be imaginative, courageous, and humble. Simply click on “comment” at the end of this post and describe that learning. Nobody wants to admit to being intellectually incompetent, fearful of truth, or proud; so there is strong incentive to comment.

Other readers remember intellectual incompetence, fear of truth, and pride being modeled and taught throughout their K-12 experiences. I believe this is a school norm, so I say schools graduate adults whose understanding is unimaginative, whose strong character is fearful of truth, and whose generosity emerges from pride. There I go again — stating this as if it were true. Was this claim supported? Let’s take a look.
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The Main Premise of TSVOTEP

When reporters ask for a summary of TSVOTEP, I say, “It’s based on the premise that, until we define what it means to be educated, we won’t be able to improve education.”

Several have responded, “That makes sense.”

When I state the same premise to education administrators and professors, however, the reaction is a big yawn. As I explained in the earlier post about the book’s audience, members of these groups are not interested in discussing what it means to be educated.

Administrators are not interested because they are trapped in our current model of education. They are trapped in the sense that, when they accept supervisory positions, they implicitly agree that public schools and school districts should be governed politically, and organized in bureaucratic hierarchy (the second and fourth elements of our current model). Therefore, their job is to enforce local, state and federal policies, not to challenge them. We understand this agreement because administrators who challenge local, state or federal policies are not “team players.” They might even get fired. Continue reading →

Who is the audience for TSVOTEP?

When I discussed my book with members of the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement, their first question was, “Who is the audience?” I said the book is for professional educators, but it might also be a good read for parents and grandparents. They responded, “No – this book is too academic. Normal people are not interested in all the technical stuff about how education is governed. Besides, we can’t keep track of all the abbreviations.”

Some of the retirees said chapters 1 and 2 were too academic. They suggested that these be curtailed or eliminated. Another disagreed, saying, “You can’t take out the first two chapters. They are the foundation for the whole book.”

Others said there were too many citations. According to them lay readers are not interested in references to other education writers. Another disagreed. She said, “I like the citations. They showed how these ideas are tied with others. They give the book credibility.”

Who is the audience for a treatise on education that is philosophical? The last paragraph of the Introduction says the book’s ideas are important considerations for parents and grandparents, and for those associated with independent, parochial, or charter schools. This is a broad audience, but it is not the main audience. TSVOTEP describes the status and direction of public education because public educators are its main audience. A recent experience helped me see, however, that the audience is not all public educators.
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