bathtub of Kool Aid, educrat, exit cards, exit tickets, formative assessments, Frankenstein, golden bricks, manipulables, not teaching--facilitating, pedagogy, process, process true believers, research based processes, teacher evaluations, TEKS
Last Monday, I posted Process vs. Learning, explaining the enormous damage being done in education by educrats who value processes over actual teaching and learning. The damage, and it is considerable, is being done not only to students, but to teachers, many of whom are leaving education as soon as possible. The fraudulent state of what passes for education in process-obsessed school districts is also causing people who might become excellent teachers to avoid the profession.
Some argue public schools are failing because they substitute leftist political indoctrination for actual education. This is, in varying degrees in varying places, true. However, at least as much destruction is being wrought by process Kool Aid drinkers.
The processes about which I write are produced by “consultants” who charge enormous sums—tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars—for what amount to narrow methods of teaching this or that. The most financially successful consultants claim that if every teacher, in every discipline, religiously practices the various steps of their very expensive process, students will not only suddenly become supremely interested in education, they will magically reach heretofore unimaginable heights of academic achievement.
Take Mrs. Smith’s Senior English classes. She is focusing on British literature. She is about to teach Frankenstein, but she is not allowed to do that. First she must employ a “Formative Assessment,” such as a “Circle Map.” Students write the topic in a small circle inside a larger circle. In the larger circle they write what they know about Frankenstein and its author, which will supposedly help the teacher understand the extent of their knowledge and better teach the class. This will take at least ten minutes of Mrs. Smith’s 45-minute class.
Mrs. Smith is then sort of free to actually teach the topic, but this too is in doubt because all learning must now be “student-centered.” They must be allowed to determine not only what they will learn, but the manner in which they will learn it. As virtually every contemporary teenager knows Frankenstein only as a horror movie subject—if that—they would surely not know anything about the book or author, and would never choose to read it if they did. That takes far too much attention, time and work. But let us assume for the sake of argument Mrs. Smith is determined to believe she actually knows something about teaching and British literature. She’s a teacher, not a facilitator, so she fights the tide of process and actually teaches something.
At the end of the class, for another ten minutes, she must obtain, from each student, an “Exit Card/Ticket.” To do this, she will ask the students to write about what they have learned, suggestions for teaching better next time, etc., and collect and review their writings so she can learn how to teach the class according to their wisdom, experience, longing for educational excellence and desires.
But this is not all. Mrs. Smith is also required to follow the “PDSA” process: “plan, do, study, act.” She must plan exactly what she is going to do to teach this lesson this particular day, focusing on one TEK (“teek”) which are voluminous state standards for every discipline. Texas 12th grade English standards may be found here. Take your blood pressure meds before viewing. These methods must be prominently posted in the classroom. The “do” portion of the process is what Mrs. Smith is allowed to teach that day. She must also, at the end of the period, inquire of the students—this is the “study” part” how well she did, and how better she might fulfill their expectations. They, in their boundless experience and knowledge of pedagogy, will tell Mrs. Smith what she did wrong, and what she should do in the future to better meet their needs and expectations to facilitate their learning. As part of the “study,” she will take the “data” they have produced, and change her methods and approach for the next day, and the process begins again. All of this must be prominently posted in the classroom so that educrats can confirm, at a glance, Mrs. Smith is a process true believer. Some educrats also require Mrs. Smith to be a cheerleader, joyously praising every process and the brilliance of educrats in demanding it.
But that’s not all. Mrs. Smith must be continually compiling data, which must also be posted prominently, which indicates how her students are progressing, and which will also tell her what she must do in the future. Educrats have told her that without every step of these processes, she cannot possibly know how her students are doing, or how to teach. She must also regularly review this data with the kids, which will inspire them to “buy into” and “own” their learning, and inspire them to boundless educational achievement.
Mrs. Smith must also post, on very large paper so it’s easy for Educrats to find at a glance, a long-term classroom goal—one of the few parts of the processes she actually gets to do herself, and a “Mission Statement”—the same size–which she is supposed to “facilitate.” The kids, in this statement, will tell her what they intend to do to attain the long-term goal. Few take this task even remotely seriously, making brilliant an insightful suggestions like “no reading,” “no writing,” “more movies,” “let us use our cellphones and earbuds” or “more games.”
All of the paperwork Mrs. Smith must produce—and it is voluminous and time-consuming—may not be written in clear, standard English, but must be dense with eduspeak, incomprehensible, ever-changing jargon beloved of consultants and educrats, but loathed by actual educators. One writing program insists teachers and students call examples “golden bricks.” Staplers, scissors, pencils, rulers, erasers and the like are “manipulables.”
Do you see, gentle readers, how these processes will revolutionize education? Do you recognize their brilliance? Do you see the heights to which children educated in these advanced, “research-based” processes, will elevate our society?
Neither do I.
As I pointed out in the original article, by the time Mrs. Smith is done with the mandatory data gathering, formative assessments, exit tickets, and obtaining the pedagogical wisdom of her students, she will have approximately 20 minutes to teach whatever the processes allow her. Actually, she is expected not to teach, but to “facilitate” the innate brilliance and unquenchable thirst for knowledge of her students. As I also pointed out last time, five minutes lost from a class each day amounts to 20 full class periods—one month—per year. Twenty-five minutes each day lost is 100 periods, five months of teaching time, leaving about four months, requiring a more than 50% reduction in any curriculum. Add in all the usual disruptions infecting schools, and teachers will be lucky to manage 1/4 to 1/3 of a proper curriculum–if the kids allow it.
Educrats will complain that I exaggerate the impact of these processes on teaching time. Fine. Say their processes and student-centered approaches displace only 40 periods. Is losing two months of curriculum to what amounts to navel gazing that does nothing to increase a student’s knowledge or ability acceptable?
To be fair, these people drank the entire bathtub of Kool Aid. By definition, they believe everything they think and say to be absolute truth. They believe the processes to which they have hitched their career wagons cannot possibly be wrong, so they cannot possibly be wrong. Either that or they know it all to be fraudulent and do it anyway. Which is worse?
To best understand the issue, consider this: all of these processes are recent innovations. How could teachers possibly have understood how their students were learning, how could they know how and what to teach, prior to the invention of these processes? How could they possibly have done anything right without the brilliant guidance of kids who can’t capitalize, use punctuation, or indent paragraphs? How too could we have built the most technologically advanced, prosperous society in history without these processes?
Most importantly, consider how we can possibly maintain that society and prosperity with people who lack more than 50% of the knowledge and ability of their forefathers but know their role in useless processes well?
The process mindset ignores human nature, imposing instead it’s own reality which presupposes the infallibility of the process and its inventors. In any class, a small number will be self-motivated, believers in the importance of learning. Most will suffer from various levels of laziness, and some could not care less about school. Even many of those in the middle group will do only what is necessary to pass with a minimum score.
School districts that live by the process, impose it beginning in Kindergarten. Kids reaching high school–no one is held back anymore–know so little. They can slavishly do what the process requires, but because more than 50% of the curriculum has been denied them, their vocabularies are miniscule, they have little of the cultural knowledge necessary for the maintenance of a coherent, representative republic, they know narrowly, what to think and say, but not howto think or speak with precision. They are not readers. Many can barely read, more don’t understand what they read, or are unable to understand anything of any complexity, and virtually all don’t read. Their writing skills are stunted, and the neural connections that would have made them fully functional adults were never made. There just wasn’t time.
Believers in the process think it makes all learning and teaching–opps! Facilitating–effective. Actual teachers know that most kids are not readers, and don’t understand what they read. They know if they assign a novel, most will not read it at all, some with read a chapter or two, and only a handful will actually read the book. Therefore, if the kids are to have any exposure to great literature, it must be read aloud, in class. This takes a great deal of time. The processes take away that time. Kids are exposed to little or nothing. This is the human nature that process true believers must deny.
Long before reaching 10thgrade, most kids have long since lost any burning desire to please their teachers. They have no intention of seriously taking part in processes they know to be useless and annoying. Most will make a minimal effort to look like they’re participating, but their suggestions to Mrs. Smith will not be anything remotely serious or useful, likewise, they will quickly scrawl down whatever they think she might want to hear about what they’re learning, and many won’t even do that. Most know how to play the game–they’ve been doing it since kindergarten–without getting into too much trouble.
When poor Mrs. Smith tries to interest the kids in data, they roll their eyes and groan, and most don’t pretend to be interested in the data it took Mrs. Smith many hours to collect, tabulate and write for their supposed benefit. Most just want to know what the next assignment is, what grade they earned, and whether they’re passing.
The effects of the processes on teachers are equally bad. Told they have no idea of their student’s progress without implementing processes, teachers are initially amazed—how could anyone be that stupid?—and then, insulted. Teachers, particularly English teachers, are equally insulted when educrats “teach” them the processes by giving them handouts and, with the aid of Power Point, read the handouts to them. English teachers know how to read, and tend to understand it.
Competent teachers know precisely what they should be teaching, and despair every encroachment on their precious class time. English teachers grade hundreds of papers a week. Any increased paperwork burden decreases their time to prepare for teaching and to provide feedback to students. They’re dedicated, but they have lives.
Teachers go into teaching not because they are incapable of doing anything else, but because they love their disciplines, know them well, believe they can teach them well, and are dedicated to that task. Surely, there are poor teachers. We are limited in teacher recruitment to choosing exclusively from the human race. However, most believe they have something to offer, to impart, beyond the contents of the curriculum, so they forego better paying jobs.
When teacher evaluations depend almost entirely on rigid adherence to process and the production and display of data rather than on knowledge, dedication and skill, competent, dedicated teachers—the very people sane people want in classrooms—have few choices. They drink the Kool Aid and become process true believers, willfully abandoning most of their curriculum, participating in an evil fraud. Some make as good a pretense of being true believers as they can, struggling to actually teach as much as possible. Others, knowing they can no longer teach, that they are required to defraud the public and are prevented from providing the best educational opportunity possible, quit in despair.
This opens many facilitating opportunities for true believers, and crippled learning opportunities for generations.
It is, in many respects, too late for a generation damaged by possibly well-intentioned but drastically wrong adherence to process rather than learning, but it is not too late for future generations. Fortunately, the solution is simple, and far less expensive. Return to ancient Greece, and understand people learn today exactly as they did then. Embrace various technologies when they support learning, but never use them for the sake of using technology.
Hire the best teachers possible and let them teach. Do nothing to take their all-too brief class time. Competently supervise, fully supporting them, and helping them improve when necessary.
Actual reform—not what passes for reform—requires that people understand the nature of the problem, and develop a desire to change it. Perhaps my scribblings here might help inthat process.