Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Teaching Workers

Excellent blog post last week about the roots of our modern system of education.  The writer points out that we are quickly racing to the bottom, and we won't even win that race (which is pretty ironic, if you think about it long enough. I think about it all the time, which pretty much makes me a little crazy, but there you have it), much less the highly touted Race to the Top, which I refer to unironically as the Race to the Middle.

Currently in this country we are educating factory workers for factories that no longer exist in this country; if we are going to do that, I propose we institute mandatory Mandarin Chinese bilingual curriculum so that, upon graduation, successful drones...er..students, I mean, can be promptly shipped off to China to join the jobs we have already sent (or allowed to be taken) over there. If you can't beat 'em, and you aren't going to change the educational model, join 'em. Or send your kids to join 'em so that they won't be living in your basement when they are 42.

The factory model eschews critical thinking. "Critical thinking" is a dirty word these days, euphemistic for "the teacher needs a little break, so you are going to design your own project-based curriculum that you will receive no guidance on while I look over my personal email and update my blog." "Critical thinking" is the 2008 version of "differentiated instruction": sounds great but very few people actually understand what it is or how to teach it. It's more than just asking questions, although that's a good place to start, and our current factory model of education doesn't seem to move past asking questions (or complaining). In the spirit of asking questions, here is the lovely list of ten questions your students should not ask (and you should not answer):

1. Is this good?  
2. How do you want me to do it?
3. What’s the right answer?
4. How do you do this?
5. The computer isn’t working. What should I do?
6. Do you like what I wrote?
7. Is this enough? How long should it be? 
8. Can I try something different?
9. Do we have to do it?

10. Is this a silly question?

Simply eliminating these questions in the classroom (which is the direct opposite of encouraging kids to ask questions - ironic, I know) will go a long way towards de-factory-izing the classroom. The above questions indicate a supreme lack of critical thinking, and refusing to answer them (or answering them with another question of your own) will be alternately frustrating ("She never just tells me how long it should be!!") and enlightening ("I guess I could have figured that out myself!").  Ironically, in China, the place where all of our factories are, these questions would be right at home in a government school. Is that what we want? If so, we are still doing just okay.

Aim for the middle.

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