More than four years ago–March 20, 2012, to be precise–I wrote an article titled “Education: Fixing Intelligence and In-Service Training.” I chanced upon that article again recently, and it struck home, so I decided to update it, and did, in October of 2014. Chancing on it again, I thought it worth at least one more update, if for nothing else than the look on this dog’s face:
I, gentle readers, am an education seminar survivor. I won’t identify that seminar as such things are a bit of a sore spot for administrators, but suffice it to say it’s all the rage these days in Texas, and while it was not the worst brain cell abuse to which I’ve ever been subjected, it wasn’t far from the bottom, particularly considering I had to drive–both ways–in urban rush hour traffic. I won’t enter a 12-step program. I don’t think they exist, and if they did, because they’re education-related, the cure would surely be worse than the disease.
Too many these days are ready to blame teachers for the sorry state of education. Please keep in mind that overall, public education does surprisingly well at providing educational opportunity for kids. I write about such things because it’s so frustrating. With so little effort, we could do so much better, yet we settle for mediocrity and where teaching teachers is concerned, for insults and disparagement. Read on. I trust you’ll get the point.
Today’s topic is intelligence, or more directly, its misuse in education. As I’ve written in past education articles, one of the most important issues facing us is the way we too often fail to effectively use the time we allot to each school year. As I pointed out in “Education: Did You Know? Do You Care?”, it may appear that a given school district has 185 days of school—this is perhaps just a bit more than average for American schools—yet with the best intentions we remove 50% or more of actual teaching time from what might appear to be a substantial school year.
Who knowingly kills 50% and more of each school year, destroying half of every student’s learning opportunity? Smart people: teachers, principals and administrators, three parties separated by a common language. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that teachers, for the most part, do not make policy, and they certainly don’t hire or fire. Principals, and administrators particularly, are more than glad to allow the public the misunderstanding that teachers are responsible for everything wrong with education, while teachers often can’t figure out why everyone seems to be mad at them, so little authority and control over education do they have.
Smart people, it seems, are so smart they can convince themselves of some extraordinarily stupid things. People that are perhaps not so smart—or at the least don’t have multiple diplomas on their “I love me” walls—tend to be much more grounded in reality and practicality. Actually, those sorts of folks tend not to have “I love me” walls in the first place.
One of the primary things the smartest people in education—administrators—do is inflict “in-service training” on teachers. How do I know they’re the smartest people in education? Well, they’re administrators, so if they have the big buck jobs with all the power, they must be the smartest! How else could they get to be administrators? If you doubt me, just ask them; they’ll show you their walls and fill you in. They’re the smartest and most interesting people they know.
Appropriate Disclaimer: Not every administrator or principal is a weenie; possibly not even most. I’ll trust the educators reading this article to know about whom I’m speaking.
What is in-service training? In a professionally functioning school district, the primary mission is providing the best possible learning opportunity for students. The line troops—to use a military metaphor—are the classroom teachers, the people who actually implement that opportunity. It is therefore the job of principals to ensure that teachers have everything they need to accomplish the mission—and to help or remove teachers that aren’t up to speed–and it is the job of administrators to see that principals have everything they need to accomplish their part of the mission. Proper training can be an integral part of the process.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? That’s only because you’re not one of the smartest people in education. The smartest people, you see, are above all of that. Their job is to come up with brilliant, innovative concepts that will transform education and to impose them on the less smart people below them, the people not smart enough to know how to teach properly or without sexism, racism or whichever “ism” is in vogue at the moment. The less smart people–teachers–have a nasty tendency to rain on the parades of the really smart people. When they tell the less smart people what they intend to do, the less smart people tend to say tedious, stereotypical things like “that’s stupid;” that won’t work;” “that will kill 73.2% of the children;” or “that will make WWII look like a picnic,” and other similar things that illustrate the lack of vision that keeps them from being really smart people. So they tend not to tell the less smart people in the first place and instead see that their brilliant concepts are not bruised on their way to implementation and inevitable accolades for the smart people that came up with them–or “adapted” (less smart people might use a more simplistic verb like “stole”) them from someone else. The result is rather like generals bayonetting their own troops as they lay wounded in the aftermath of a battle.
To this end, administrators set aside a given number of days of each year to, through in-service training sessions, impose the latest concept that will, by itself, transform American education. Sometimes they teach these brilliant concepts themselves, more often, they hire “consultants” to do this for them. Consultants are people who are not quite as smart as administrators—most of them are ex-teachers who saw the light and are making a great deal more money destroying the brain cells of actual teachers—but have the right credentials because Administrators agree with what they’re selling–er, teaching, I mean teaching, and pay them a huge amount of money, so what they’re presenting must be good. What they’re really good at is selling recycled old ideas that didn’t work before the most recent recycling to administrators. These people do not call themselves “teachers,” no. They are much smarter and more capable than that. They are properly called “presenters,” “trainers” (“sit up! Roll over! Gooood teacher!”), or even better, “facilitators.”
NOTE: This is also a way to determine who is smart in education. Dumb people call things like scissors and rulers and pencils, “scissors, rulers and pencils.” Really smart people call them “manipulables.” They’re called that, you dumb people, because they are things that you “manipulate.” Get it? Manipulate? Manipulables?
Isn’t that smarter and better? Won’t that help children to learn more effectively? When I ask such smart people if things over which we test students should therefore be called “testicles,” they fail to see the inherent humor. As a matter of fact, they fail to see the humor in just about everything and usually start screaming “sexual harassment” and “bullying,” and “racism,” and I reply, “but we’re both white!” Things usually really go downhill from there. I guess really smart people don’t laugh much. Me? All the time. Anyway, let me demonstr–er–“facilitate” what this would look like in the classroom:
Teacher: “Bobby pick up your manipulable.”
Teacher: “Your manipulable, the long, skinny yellow one with a point on one end and an eraser on the other.”
Bobby: “You mean my pencil?“
Teacher: “That’s right, Bobby, your manipulable.”
Bobby: “It’s a pencil. Why are you calling it that funny name?”
Teacher: “This is serious technology, Bobby. Understanding that it is a manipulable will enable you to attain heretofore unheard of educational achievement, and I Have just facilitated that understanding.”
Bobby: “Whatever.” (Under his breath: “what a dork!”)
See how effective it is? Me neither.
Teachers hate these “facilitation” sessions with a passion because they aren’t smart enough to understand that having enormous amounts of their time utterly wasted by “facilitators” who will lecture them as though they were “stupid,” keeping them from preparing to actually do their missions, AKA “teaching,” is a “good thing,” a thing that will absolutely greatly improve education because really smart people say so, and they’re in the positions of really smart people, so they have to be really smart or they wouldn’t be in the positions of really smart people. See how smart that is? Dumber people call this a “circular argument,” but I’m sure really smart people have ascended, far, far above such outmoded, simplistic thinking. They’re probably sure of that too.
True, there are some teachers who will give lip service to getting at least something out of these sessions. They tend to fall into several categories:
(1) People who are so new at teaching they think that since these sessions are mandated by administrators, they must be valuable. They actually think that responsible adults wouldn’t knowingly waste huge amounts of time and money:
This often confuses them because every fiber of their being is screaming that their time is being wasted and their intelligence is being bound, gagged, whipped and insulted, yet really smart people obviously think intellectually abusing less smart people is a good thing, so they must be missing something and they’re not experienced or smart enough to figure out what it is.
(2) People who are desperate to get out of the classroom filled with all those, those—children!—and into the ranks of the really smart. If an administrator pulls his hand out of his pocket and a piece of lint falls to the floor, they will praise it as a remarkable educational innovation that will transform human knowledge. Many administrators will agree with them.
(3) People, who, despite being not so smart, are polite and nice and try not to say a bad thing about anyone. There are a great many such people in the ranks of teachers. In the ranks of administrators, not so much. Go figure.
In the hope of expanding the boundaries of human knowledge, I shall provide for you, gentle and gullible readers, some examples of what passes for transformational teacher education in these enlightened days. Our subject is The Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP, as it is officially known. The various terms commonly used by teachers to describe it aren’t fit for a family blog like this. Actually, they’d probably be considered out of bounds at a dog fight or mud wrestling match held in a biker bar. Rest assured (or in abject horror) that this is far from the only absolutely transformational concept out there.
NOTE: Circa 2014, SIOP is apparently going the way of all such transformational programs. It normally works like this:
(1) Administrators think up, or buy into, the concept, spending huge sums of public money on it, and forcing it on teachers and kids.
(2) Teachers are not only forced to endure in-service training on the brilliant “new”–ha-ha–concept, but are forced to implement it under threat of bad evaluations, firing, etc. This produces “data,” which is akin to never-ending sex with the fondest objects of their desire to administrators.
(3) Some teachers make an honest attempt to use the brilliant concept, only to discover it doesn’t work, takes far more time to do than merely being a competent teacher, annoys the kids, and wastes enormous amounts of time and money producing “data,” which is like, well, in-service training to teachers.
(4) At least some administrators eventually realize what they did is really stupid, but they’ve spent so much time and money, and lied so blatantly and often about the value of the concept, they don’t dare admit it and stop torturing everyone.
(5) After a few years, teachers figure out how to give the appearance of fully supporting and implementing the idiotic concept while actually spending as little time as necessary creating that illusion.
(6) After 5-10 years, they latch onto something else–they have pretty short attention spans, but an unlimited desire to spend public money–and quietly let the last concept fade away without ever really saying that’s what they’re doing.
We appear to be at the latter stages of #6 these days, but I’ll let you read about SIOP because it’s such a good example of what passes for state-of-the-art educational theory these days. Take your blood pressure medications and read on.
If you take the link, you will find the website of The SIOP Institute, which is a creation of Pearson. Pearson is an education company that is even smarter than administrators because it is full of ex-administrators and teachers who ascended to a higher plane of being, and is now smarter than any human being. In fact, some scientists think Albert Einstein came up with the idea for SIOP, but once actually exposed to its reality rather than mere theory, dropped 50 IQ points overnight. Some suggest this is why he never came up with the Grand Unification Theory, but I’ve been exposed to SIOP, so I wouldn’t know…what’s my name again?
Anyway, Pearson makes more money selling materials, programs–gasp–in-service training, and high stakes tests to people who think they are smarter than the people that work for them. They are careful to flatter these people who think they are smart by telling them how smart they are to buy Pearson products and concepts, and particularly in-service training sessions. See how smart they are? If you want to see how smart they are and how wonderful SIOP is, just visit their website. They’ll tell you all about it. You probably won’t be smart enough to understand it, but that should only serve to convince you that they’re smarter than you, which is how many people earn doctorates these days.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I am a SIOP victim. And as with all proper victimology, it’s not my fault! About a decade ago, I went to the first SIOP training session in my state, and it was two days long. Let me repeat that: It was two days long! By the end of those two days, I had to be forcibly restrained from committing suicide by eating the enormous three ring binder of SIOP material, and I was longing for relaxation and tranquility like the Baataan Death March. SIOP, you see, is very hip and up to date. It is a means for teaching children who do not speak English very well—or at all—simply by means of employing certain brilliant, revolutionary procedures and practices! Who could have known it was so easy? Not people like teachers; that’s for sure!
At that first session of brain cell destruc—er, I mean enlightenment, the entire program was based on a lesson plan template so brilliant that if every American teacher simply wrote every lesson using that template, even people who couldn’t speak, read or write English would somehow be able to magically accomplish academic tasks! It’s impossible to tell whether the “consultants” that worked for Person actually believed any of that, but they were good at convincing administrators they did. There are rumors that a group of them left Pearson and came up with another famous slogan: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” and a related slogan: “If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance, period.”
What’s that you ask? Did SIOP actually involve teaching kids any—what’s that word? English? Of course not! The lesson plan template was made up by really smart people who know better than teachers!
The next time I was subjected to SIOP a few years later, the class was shortened to only a day, which instead of making me long for the Bataan Death March only made we wish for some of the less exotic and more brutal tortures of the Inquisition, or maybe being forced to listen to the speeches–of God himself–Mr. Obama loaded on the iPod he gave to the Queen of England. I’m amazed that didn’t provoke an immediate nuclear exchange. The British are quite proper and polite people and still call us their “ally.” We, obviously, have transcended that outmoded concept too.
Amazingly, the magic lesson plan template had vanished and was replaced by what people of an older generation would call, “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.” Not so smart people will recognize this as an ancient and venerable speechmaking technique, but now, it has new names and acronyms, so of course, it’s much better and smarter!
One should never underestimate the importance and symbolism of acronyms to the really smart. SIOP and related “disciplines” (for teachers, it’s more like torture) are heavily dependent on them. When I was first bludgeoned with SIOP the acronym used to describe kids that didn’t speak English was ESL: English as a Second Language. But apparently that wasn’t correct. On my next immersion in the SIOP vat of brain acid, the acronym had transmogrified to ELL: English Language Learner. That, of course, nearly made sense, and in the ensuing years, it was made far more advanced and obtuse, and became EL: English Learner, where it remains at the moment–or at least until I put the period on the end of this sentence. True brilliance never rests. Logically, the next step might be to simply call kids that don’t read, write or speak English “them.” But we’d almost certainly end up reciting lines like the classic from Steve Martin’s Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid: “only they know who is them.”
Basically–using appropriate acronyms or the whole thing won’t work– teachers are supposed to write their objective for each lesson on the board or other special place at the beginning of each class, and also list the very specific and correctly termed methods by which they will obtain knowledge through this objective. It apparently also works better if the students are made–zombie-like–to recite the objective and related spiel. Extra points are given if a zombie–er, student, student–can recite the objective to a principal or administrator making a surprise visit to the classroom for that purpose. Apparently the suffix “brainsssssss,” does not earn extra points.
NOTE: I am reliably informed that 93.2% of the answers given to administrators asking questions of students about lesson objectives fall into the “what a dork” category. Strangely, they don’t seem to find this funny.
There is, of course, paperwork, which produces data, which must constantly be done. All of this is designed to greatly encourage students and make them “buy into” whatever the lesson is so that education may be transformed. Of course, all of this takes “time,” which leaves less of this “time” available for what used to be called “learning” in a far less enlightened “time.” See how smart it is?
SIOP is so effective, revolutionary and magnificent that a few years ago, three “consultants” came to our school to demonstrate—oops! I mean “model”—advanced SIOP concepts. Here are some of the incredibly advanced concepts we were taught (remember that they were “modeling” or “facilitating” this advanced wisdom for high school teachers, many of whom held master’s and doctoral degrees):
* If you do not have scissors, you can adapt by actually tearing paper! Who knew?
* You can only fold a sheet of paper so many times. Uh…
* Calling things like pencils, rulers, staplers and scissors “manipulables” is good, because, well, because it is. Amazing! Who knew effective teaching and translating other languages was that easy?!
* When speaking with students that do not speak English, speak slowly and loudly (I am not kidding):
SIOP-Trained Teacher: “TRAN: HA-ND ME YO-UR MA-NI-PU-LA-BLE!”
Vietnamese Student: Smiling politely and thinking: “Ma-nee-pee-buh?”
SIOP-Trained Teacher: WHY—CAN’T—YOU—UN—DER—STAND—ME?
Vietnamese Student: Smiling politely and thinking (in Vietnamese): What a dork!
* They showed us the classic Abbot and Costello “Who’s On First” skit, because, well, because…or something… Mirable dictu!
* They taught us how to use “prediction” in our classes. Two held up transparent plastic containers of water, gesturing like deranged game show models, while the third asked us to predict what would happen if we put two oranges in water, one unpeeled and another peeled. She dramatically put the oranges into the containers as the game show models—er, facilitators—held up the containers so all could see. The unpeeled orange floated and the peeled orange—floated. So she fished it out and peeled it some more and it—floated. So she fished it out and peeled it some more and fussed with it and it sort of sunk a little–sort of–which none of us predicted. See how smart she was?
I drooled uncontrollably for two days thereafter. It was a week before I recovered sufficient intellectual capacity to remember and spell my name.
Kids would ask: “Mr. McDaniel?”
And I could only respond: “maybe…”
Still, in-service training does provide some memorable moments. After the first hour of a particularly wretched day-long session that was supposed to help us dramatically improve ourselves and our school, a fellow teacher—our ROTC commander a Marine attack helicopter pilot–bumped into me in front of the men’s room and we spontaneously, without prompting, said to each other: “kill me now.” But of course, we were not the smartest people in education, merely the most willing to use any method of stopping the pain at that moment.
Another way we know such materials are brilliant is because they are “research based.” Every brilliant new educational concept these days is “research-based, and you’ll notice the Pearson site is all about research, because if a researcher came up with it, it must be right and everyone should do what they say because research can’t be wrong because it was done by researchers who are even smarter than administrators and maybe even, Pearson, though it’s hard to imagine anyone smarter than Pearson, maybe even educational researchers, unless of course their research proves Pearson to be smarter than anyone.
So imagine my delight and enlightenment when I discovered that my own—no doubt faulty; I’m only a teacher–perception of what is happening to the long-suffering brains of teachers during in-service training sessions is accurate! I know it’s accurate, because it was discovered by…researchers!
The Medical Editor of The Telegraph, Rebecca Smith, explains in an article entitled:
Attending meetings lowers IQ: research
Meetings make people stupid because they impair their ability to think for themselves, scientists have found.
The performance of people in IQ tests after meetings is significantly lower than if they are left on their own, with women more likely to perform worse than men.
Researchers at the Virginia Tech Crilion Research institute in the US said people’s performance dropped when they were judged against their peers.
Read Montague, who led the study, said: ‘You may joke about how committee meetings make you feel brain-dead, but our findings suggest that they may make you act brain-dead as well.’
‘We started with individuals who were matched for their IQ. Yet when we placed them in small groups, ranked their performance on cognitive tasks against their peers, and broadcast those rankings to them, we saw dramatic drops in the ability of some study subjects to solve problems. The social feedback had a significant effect.’
The researchers, whose work was published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B., which sounds really smart, and they have British accents and used MRI machines to track brain changes. They wrote:
We don’t know how much these effects are present in real-world settings…
Understanding how our brains respond to dynamic social interactions is an important area of future research. We need to remember that social dynamics affect not just educational and workplace environments, but also national and international policy-making bodies, such as the US Congress and the United Nations.”
The study raises questions over how intelligence is measured and whether it is fixed, experts said.
Well. I’ve always like the sound of “Rebecca,” and I’ll bet her British accent is charming as all get out, so I’ll take her over the evil clones I find “facilitating” in-service sessions any day.
Actually, I think that’s illegal in most states:
Prosecutor: “The charge is facilitating in the third degree…”
Defense: “Objection! My client has never facilitated anywhere near an underage…”
Judge: “Over-ruled. Proceed, Mr. Prosecutor.”
My experience, and that of my “only just smart-enough” teaching colleagues certainly supports the contention that such meetings make one brain dead. And I know exactly how much these effects are present in real-world settings. All the researchers need do is stop by any in-service session. Unfortunately, they’d probably be rendered so brain dead they’d forget why they were there, or what they were researching, and go to work for Pearson facilitating in-service materials.
My final bit of insight regarding intelligence for the researchers: teachers and male dogs have one thing in common: After a visit to in-service training–or a veterinarian–both are–in a manner of speaking–fixed.