Posts Tagged ‘Art of teaching’

Three Conservative Principles for Education that Make Sense… Too Bad the GOP Has Abandoned Them

March 7, 2021 Comments off

In January, conservative writers Frederick Hess and Michael McShane wrote an op ed piece for Newsweek that presented three conservative principles for education that resonated with me and could serve as the basis for bi-partisan legislation that would change the dialogue on schools. Given the writers’ ultimate goal of expanding school choice, I am not sure that is the direction they are hoping to head… but it IS a direction their principals COULD lead. The three principles they set forth are: 

  1. The Family is the Foundation
  2. Schools are Formative, Not Performative Institutions
  3. Conservatives Should be Confident Pluralists

The first principle– that families are the foundation of good schooling– is irrefutable. Children who succeed in school do so in large measure because their parents are engaged in their learning in and out of school. The writers accurately observe that “…the family in America is struggling (and) conservatives should fight to make child-rearing easier.” But the authors solution is “…to put parents in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing the best options for child care, preschool and K-12 education.” That “drivers seat” is wonderful for parents who AREN”T struggling. The parents who live in a decent home, have enough money to provide food for their children, and have the time necessary to give their children the attention they need, and the have access to the “options for child care, preschool and K-12 education”.  If conservatives want to fight to make child rearing easier, they could join their colleagues who want to provide affordable housing and put an end to food insecurity. If those two steps were taken would make child rearing easier for homeless parents and the 13.6 percent of households who experience food insecurity. 

The second principle about the nature of schooling was surprising. The writers believe, as I do and most progressive educators so, that schools are “…supposed to shape students into young adults who can reason, think and grow into responsible citizens.”   Given that desired outcome, it is a mystery why there is bipartisan support for standardized testing, which focuses on convergent thinking. The writers, though, are more concerned with the alleged indoctrination that occurs in schools. Instead of being concerned with the narrow curriculum that results from the focus on test scores and the obsession of schools to prepare students for work, they are concerned with the preponderance of teachers and professors who orient the zeal of young students “… to advance personal and ideological agendas.” If conservatives want to focus on the FORMATIVE aspects of schooling, they should be joining their colleagues who want to abandon SUMMATIVE testing and restore the focus on individual progress— FORMATIVE development– that is best measured and monitored by classroom teachers. 

The third principle, a focus on pluralism, is clearly aligned with the direction progressive educators would like to head. Indeed, this section of the essay could come from any advocate for pregressive schools:

There may be optimal strategies for teaching youngsters to read, but the vast majority of what happens in schools and classrooms can be done effectively in many different ways. We should allow parents and educators in varied situations and different communities to create the schools that best meet the needs of their children. Public dollars for education should equitably support a wide array of options.

That is the “pluralism” part. The “confident” part means taking a stand for what we think is right. Saying that the government won’t discriminate against a particular viewpoint doesn’t mean that we endorse it. We should still critique it and offer better alternatives. But a choice-centric, pluralist vision requires an environment that welcomes many different visions, even those we find wrong-headed.

This position is difficult to reconcile with the GOP’s thinking on phonics only, the rejection of the 1619 curriculum, the advocacy for the 1776 curriculum and their laments about teachers who want to share their “…personal and ideological agendas”. The “choice-centric, pluralist vision” the writers seek is not within the context of a pluralistic public education system. They want the opportunity to have, say, an opportunity for those who share common views to choose a school that aligns with their way of thinking as opposed to having a school that offers students a wide range of perspectives that they can learn from. 

The essay by Mr. Hess and Mr. McShane DOES reveal some common ground, though. Instead of focussing on the differences of opinion that emerge as one elaborates on the principles, MAYBE the political parties can engage attempting to build on their commonalities. 

NH Legislature’s Preposterous Law Banning Instruction on Systemic Racism and Sexism Does the GOP Assume that NOT Teaching About it Will Make it Go Away?

March 2, 2021 Comments off

The headline of a recent NHPR report on a bill before the NH Legislature made me realize how preposterous it is to believe that NOT teaching a subject will somehow make it irrelevant or unknown to the general public. The headline read:

Lawmakers Debate Banning N.H. Schools From Teaching About Systemic Racism, Sexism

It dawned on me as I read that headline that I was NEVER taught about systemic racism and sexism during my time in public schools… but the fact that I wasn’t taught about them in the 1950s and early 1960s didn’t mean that it didn’t exist at that time and clearly didn’t mean I didn’t learn about it later in life. Indeed, the social studies lessons I was taught throughout my schooling would match the curriculum Donald Trump’s 1776 Commission sought. Here’s the problem, though: what I WITNESSED and what I read about AFTER I left school brought me to the conclusion that systemic racism and sexism DO in fact exist and, knowing that and finding it distasteful, I hoped to see laws passed and hearts changed so  that it would be put out of existence. So to my GOP friends in the NH Legislature… please do not think for a minute that banning the instruction of a subject will make it go away or make voters fail to learn about it.

Another Pandemic Positive: The Expansion of Outdoor Education

December 31, 2020 Comments off

Students in Portland, ME may not be getting the academics they need but, as AP’s David Sharp reports, thanks to an expansion of outdoor education, they ARE getting a great education on nature and an imaginative means of coping with the challenges posed by the pandemic. 

Portland ME is offering outdoor education in December? What happens when it is cold and it snows? When Mother Nature gives you cold you learn how to bundle up and when it gives you snow, you study snowflakes! As Mr. Sharp notes, Portlands littlest students, the Pre-K and Kindergartners, take their naps “…in hammocks in wool-lined sleeping bags filled with hot water bottles” and the teacher are finding that the students are begging them to go outdoors. And why not? 

“It’s the healthiest, safest place for us to be right now. Anything that we can do to get kids outdoors for longer periods of time is vital. This is where we need to be right now,” said Anne Stires, an outdoor learning consultant and advocate in Maine.

And what happened in a recent snowstorm? 

Cindy Soule’s fourth graders in Maine’s largest city have studied pollination in a community garden. They solved an erosion problem that was damaging trees. They learned about bear scat.

Then came a fresh layer of snow and temperatures that hovered around freezing — but her students were unfazed.

Bundled up and masked, they scooted outside with their belongings in buckets. They collected their pencils and clipboards, plopped the buckets upside down in the snow, took a seat and went to work.

The lesson? Snow, of course, and how snowflakes are formed.

As Mr. Sharp’s article indicates, Maine is not the only State embracing outdoor education no matter what challenges the temperature or weather presents. Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and— based on personal knowledge– Vermont are all offering support for outdoor education… and Portland found that the public enthusiastically provided warm weather gear for their neediest children when they put out a call. 

What will happen when the pandemic ends? If the experience of Portland educators is any indication it will remain:

This is Portland’s first widespread use of outdoor learning, and the goal is to keep it going even after the pandemic.

Teachers are encouraged, but not required, to take their classes outdoors, and a school survey shows about half of teachers doing so.

Soule said her students will never forget the pandemic’s hardships. But she hopes studying in nature will be among their good memories of 2020.

They’re seeing the outdoors around them and it brings relevancy to what they’re studying,” Soule said. ” They will remember that forever.”

Given Portland’s daunting weather it doesn’t seem like bad weather should be an excuse for ANY school district… and given the relative ease of maintaining social distancing and mandating masks (what student ISN’T willing to cover their face in sub-freezing weather?) it seems like a natural way to return to school AND learn some practical life long skills. It seems far more energizing and memorable than starting at blank boxes on a screen!