I’ve have often written that contemporary K-12 education is fad based. These fads are virtually always enormously costly, and worse, extremely damaging to kid’s educational opportunities. There are fortunes to be made in producing and selling new fads, and careers to be furthered. I speak not of slightly different ways of doing things in this school district or that, but of “transformational” fads that sweep across the country, lasting at least a decade once they reach ubiquitous infestation levels, and sometimes, a generation.
There are so many current fads, it’s hard to keep them straight. The blizzard of ever-changing acronyms and eduspeak is brain cell destroying. Principals and administrators, seeking to make their mark as brilliant educational innovators, often simultaneously impose multiple fads, leading to confusion, stratospheric stress levels in teachers and students, and denying the children they purport to benefit the chance at a competent education.
At issue is alternate reality vs. reality. I do not speak of string theory, but of a socialistic state of mind. Reality teaches that socialism does not work. It does not work because it denies human nature, and it cannot be falsified. Even when it horribly fails every time it is tried, costing 100 million or more lives in the last century alone, and additional lives in this, its boosters proclaimit has not failedbecause real socialism, true socialism, has never been tried!
What is the difference between real, true socialism and the socialism that has always catastrophically failed, creating mountains of corpses? This time,the real, true socialists are uniquely brilliant. They are intellectually and morally pure. They alone have the ability to implement pure socialism and achieve utopia where all before them have failed. And they cannot fail, because socialism cannot be falsified. It can never be wrong, and is the answer to all of mankind’s woes because the real, true socialist will create a new socialist man, a race unaffected by mundane human nature. With such brilliance, human nature can be ignored, overcome, perfected.
The same is true of education innovators, whose fads can only be implemented with the same kinds of lies, propaganda, and absolute control necessary for the implementation of real, true socialism. All of this is done, of course, for the good of the unenlightened masses, too intellectually inferior to know what is good for them. These innovators become fabulously wealthy along the way, but that’s acceptable because of their brilliance and altruism. They seek only the best for the new socialist man they alone can create, a new, socialist man that will be eternally grateful for allowing them to transcend human nature and reality.
An illustrative example is the Open Classroom concept, which began more or less in the 1970s. The alternate reality went like this: schools are boxy, stuffy, old-fashioned places, with outdated “classrooms” where dim witted teachers force brilliant young minds to do old-fashioned things like reading and writing and spelling. We must let teachers and students cast off the chains of convention, so we will build schools without internal walls! This will free teachers and children to innovate, to discover new heights of achievement! It will transform education, and with it, society.
Schools were built across the nation at great expense, and these buildings ignored human nature and the common sense that comes from understanding it. As always with fads, mere teachers were not consulted, and any daring to venture opinions were ignored, and if necessary, silenced. What do they know about education? They’re only teachers.
Almost from the first day, problems common sense would have prevented cropped up, and were, for years, ignored. Schools have individual classrooms because it is necessary to maintain order, to have the relative peace and quiet that will allow teachers to teach and students to develop the skill of paying attention, without which, learning is impossible. Vast open areas with clutches of children here and there are chaotic. The distractions are endless. What’s happening in Mrs. Smith’s class bleeds over into Mrs. Jones’ class, which mixes with Mr. Tate’s class, and it is impossible to keep order and concentrate. Human nature asserts itself regardless of the brilliance of education innovators who believe they can ignore or remake it.
Electrical outlets had to be stuck, here and there, in the floor or distant boundary walls, sprouting extension cords everywhere like rain forest vegetation. With no exterior windows, heating and air conditioning issues closed schools for days on end. And teachers, who need secure spaces, privacy for meeting with students and parents, and a sense of control over their charges and their professional lives, became terribly stressed.
The first pseudo admission came when billions were spent installing office sectional barriers, which made it a little harder for kids to see five classrooms away, but which did nothing to deal with the noise. If Little Johnny was more interested in what was going on over the barrier, his teacher was helpless to refocus his attention. It was impossible to play movies or music–everyone in the building heard it. Eventually, when brilliant innovators who wasted millions for unserviceable buildings were chased away or retired, additional millions were spent installing real walls in buildings not designed for walls, creating–you guessed it–old-fashioned classrooms, but irregularly shaped classrooms with horrible electrical, heating, cooling and other problems.
Old-fashioned schools, it turned out, remain the most efficient and useful way to educate many different groups of kids. In other words, buildings designed in defiance of human nature don’t work, and waste untold billions that need not have been spent. And what of the kids who never learned to pay attention, and missed much of the educational opportunity of their formative years? That was a small price to pay for educational innovation and transformation that never happened. They can drown their lack of ability with legal marijuana and stay face down in a smart phone. Their offspring? Oh dear…
A lucrative contemporary fad is “student-centered learning.” It is sweeping the nation and is perhaps the most destructive fad ever imagined. The rationale is the idea of “the sage on the stage”–teachers actually imparting knowledge and guiding students as they learn useful information and skills–is outmoded. Contemporary students are so advanced, so technologically brilliant, they learn in ways never before imagined, and common teachers are simply not catching up with their brilliance.
Therefore, teachers must become “facilitators,” people who are present only to provide a bit of guidance, keep the kids from killing each other, and allow them to lead, develop curriculum, actually tell teachers what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, teach it themselves and control all facets of the education experience.
You think I exaggerate, gentle readers? Consider these excerpts from an article in Edutopia.org. It’s virtually identical to hundreds of articles on the concept one can easily find: the concept constructs an alternate reality, completely ignoring human nature.
Allow Students to Share in Decision Making
Placing students at the center of their own learning requires their collaboration. They need a voice in why, what, and how learning experiences take shape.
Why is about relevance. Learners need to understand the value of the subject, vocabulary, and skills before they are willing to invest effort. [skip]
Reality-Based Response: many students could not care less whether a curriculum is essential to their futures. The idea of letting kids decide what is good and necessary for them and how to behave demonstrates no knowledge whatever of human nature. Competent teachers always consider the needs of their kids and listen to them. They just don’t find them sufficiently educated or experienced to teach themselves, or anyone else.
What is learned involves students choosing the focus of content. Let their interests drive the content that teaches skills and concepts. For example, when learning how to write persuasively, some students may want to deconstruct commercials, product reviews, op-eds, and/or social issue points of view. The best strategy is simply asking what students want to explore. Start with a brainstorm of what they like to do, and dialog together to match their interests with the skills and concepts.
Reality-Based Response: Their interests? “Deconstruct commercials?” Ask them what they want to explore? Ask what they like to do? Match their interests with the curriculum they choose? Great. Video games, texting, vaping, the opposite sex, smoking pot, listening to music, watching porn, the possibilities of harnessing the power of kid’s interests is unlimited. This will leave no time for great literature, developing academic and social skills necessary to survival in the real world, but student centered learning is far more important than such stodgy concerns.
How learning will be demonstrated depends on the different ways that students processes understanding. Offer a variety of product options based on what you know about your students. A safe approach is to offer three options. The teacher designs two options based on what most students may like to do. The third choice is a blank check — students propose their own product or performance. If a proposal meets the academic requirements, perhaps with some negotiation, the student gets a green light. Some examples include using Minecraft to design models and prototypes, presenting through social media tools, or writing in a professional medium.
Reality-Based Response: what students like to do has little to do with reading, thinking, and demonstrating practical and academic skills. There are some kids that like to learn, and appreciate the knowledge and abilities of teachers, knowledge and abilities they lack and will never develop if left to their own devices. A teacher’s most important resource is time. Giving students the responsibility for curriculum design and instruction reduces actual learning time to almost nothing, while ignoring millennia of effort that allows teachers to impart the wisdom of the ages. This is particularly telling:
Give Up Need for Control
My fifth-grade son shared these words of wisdom regarding school vs. home activities: ‘Why do they (teachers) keep talking about the real world out there? This is my real world.
Indeed. Why would anyone think teachers need to be in control of their students? The student’s real world is very different from reality. And if they are ever to be prepared for real rather than alternate reality, they need to move beyond–far beyond–their “real” world. They are not capable of doing it themselves, which is why we have schools, staffed by people with at least an undergraduate level education in their disciplines, people who have the experience of reality–not alternate realities–necessary to teach, not facilitate, and guide their charges to the step by step brain development that will one day allow them to become functioning adults capable of keeping our Republic, as Benjamin Franklin hoped we might.
Student centered learning is the very definition of dumbed down education. It is fraud, perpetrated not only on the tax paying public who think their children are getting a competent education, and on the kids, who don’t know what they don’t know, who don’t know what they need to learn. That’s why we have teachers, so kids don’t remain forever in the world of their 5thgrade alternate reality.
This may be the lesson that most horrifies alternate reality socialists:learning can be fun–good teachers make that possible–but it always takes hard, focused work over time. Often, what are learned through not particularly fun, hard, focused work, are the most valuable lessons. Some things are simply necessary, even if they are not particularly fun. That’s life. That’s reality. It won’t look good on an educrat’s resume, but it will give kids the best possible educational opportunity.
As I recently noted in IQ: For Our Sake, There is evidence we are actually becoming less intelligent. The pedestrian technology so beloved of contemporary educational faddists–it’s an integral part of student centered learning–is far more a curse than an aid, a destroyer rather than an enabler.
The last bit of reality for this article is simple: we are nothing special. We learn in exactly the same ways human beings learned in the time of Socrates. One need only read their writings, and study history–not the socialist, revised versions–to understand that with stunning clarity. Times and tools change; human nature does not. The reality, human nature based educational methods that built the most advanced and prosperous nation in history, work. We ignore them–and embrace expensive, foolish alternate realities– at our peril.