October 28, 2006

In their own words

It seems to me that one thing educational theory has been unable to address is the possibility of multiple theoretical perspectives, the possibility that there is no one taxonomy, set of standards, methodology, etc., that will define The Way to do education.

Certainly, any approach to learning theory that suggests that an experiment can be conducted in (say) a double-blind model in order to test hypotheses in terms of (say) achievement of learning outcomes in my view demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the enquiry.

We need to move beyond consensus, beyond sameness.
Courtesy of Half and Hour.

This is the sort of rationalization you get from a non-professional in a pseudo-profession with no standards of accountability who wants to continue practicing proven, unsound methods no matter the results.

Imagine walking into a doctor's office with a migraine and doctor Killpatient wants to put you on a regimine of anal leeching. When you question his methodology and suggest that the medical research has shown that a triptan class of medications is the most effective course of treatment, the good doctor informs you that there are multiple theoretical medical perspectives and that there is no standard that defines how to do medical treatment. As he's pulling out the leeches, he informs you that any theory that suggests that double-blind experimentation that tests the achievement of medical outcomes is a fundamental misundestanding of the nature of the medical inquiry. It's time to move beyond consensus.

At this point, most sane people would be out the door already, leaving the little cloud of smoke like in the roadrunner cartoons.

21 comments:

NYC Math Teacher said...

What troubles me about ed-school classes is that the students blindly accept the nonsense without even asking for proof. You can't even challenge them, though, because they tell you that you can't use tests because they do not tell you the whole picture, are racist, biased, etc. So...we are left with whatever cockamamie instructional and assessment theories that the "theorists" put out there and teachers can claim "success" because of their self-fulfilling "assessments".

Me? I just teach math.

SteveH said...

"...the possibility of multiple theoretical perspectives..."

You mean opinions and assumptions. Perhaps these opinions are the only theories that Ed Schools have. If you make certain assumptions, it doesn't mean that proper testing methodology cannot be applied. It just might not tell you much about the assumptions. If you don't (want to) agree on proper "learning outcomes", the testing can still be valid, but people will disagree on how to use the results. Some might even argue that there is no one valid learning outcome. None of this makes a proper testing methodology invalid.

"We need to move beyond consensus, beyond sameness."

OK, if it's all about opinions and assumptions, and not about consensus, then that's the best argument for full school choice I have heard.

Creatively Ironic said...

The second part of the "Half an Hour" post that you linked to (after the ps) made the point that it is the differing motivations that "demonstrates the misunderstanding" of trying to find a single approach. This is where your medical analogy is lacking... The human body doesn't need motivation or even reinforcement to heal after given the proper medicine or treatment (although placebo effects can hamper). Human learning, on the other hand, requires willingness to attend and respond to the presentation. This motivation is somewhat different in all learners - though I don't agree that they are so different that an optimal teaching method is out of reach.

Jessica said...

That little pearl of eduperspicacity stems from the misguided and scientifically unsupported maxim that is ubiquitous in education, the one that says "all children learn differently" and "children learn in different ways".

Can you imagine the medical profession saying all people heal differently, and then using this premise as a basis for choosing medical interventions on what essentially boils down to notion and whim?

rightwingprof said...

"eduperspicacity"

What a wonderful coinage!

KDeRosa said...

Human learning, on the other hand, requires willingness to attend and respond to the presentation

Which in turn greatly depends on the quality of the presentation.

It is the rare kindergartner that can't be motivated to learn. And, it is the rare successful student in later grades that aren't motivated.

Motivation is a function of acedemc success which is a function of the quality of the teaching presentation.

Anonymous said...

What is missing in education, it seems is evaluation. Assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementing and evaluating are all part of what a good doctor will do.
For example, if you go to a doctor, and you have high blood pressure, he'll think about putting you on medication. You'll come back to see him. If your blood pressure is still elevated, he'll change the plan(add new medications, increase the amount of the original medication etc.) Then you will come back to see the physician again, until they find a plan that works.

I don't get that teachers keep going with the same plan without modifying it if it doesn't work.

jessica said...

"What is missing in education, it seems is evaluation. Assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementing and evaluating are all part of what a good doctor will do."

Speaking as the parent of a child with autism, I can personally attest to the fact that this is not only NOT happening in general education, where it ought to be happening -- but it is especially not happening in special education, where it is mandated by LAW to be happening.

If schools don't do what they are required to do under federal and state law, and moreover promise to do by accepting federal funds... what on earth makes us think that there is even a glimmer of hope they will ever do this with gen ed kids?

allen said...

nyc math teacher wrote:

What troubles me about ed-school classes is that the students blindly accept the nonsense without even asking for proof.

Check out the Milgram experiment. But it isn't just the power of authority that's in operation. Much of what's taught also appeals to quite human conceits and plays on common human desires.

Whole language encourages creativity without recourse to dreary, repetitive drill, i.e. you wouldn't want to be accused of using old, outmoded, creativity-discouraging techniques that the most modern, daring teachers wouldn't be caught dead using, would you? You want to be hip and use the secret language of the professional. The look of confusion on someones face when being pelted with the jargon is reason enough to be conversant in the tongue. Etcetera.

What should trouble you more then the student's acceptance is that ed schools operate in an environment in which the tendentious edu-crap peddled by the professors is valued.

Think about that.

Worthless, unproductive nonsense has a higher value then the stuff that aids the education of kids. Practical, useful skills are denigrated in favor of meaningless, unsupported theories that when reduced to practice are uniformly failures.

You have to wonder what rules govern the institutional life of an ed school to promote these practices and attitudes. What is it about the world in which the ed school "lives" that is so ordered as to reward what common sense commands should be punished and ignores, when not actively discouraging, what out to be rewarded?

rightwingprof said...

"Much of what's taught also appeals to quite human conceits and plays on common human desires."

They're academics. They don't have that luxury.

Creatively Ironic said...

It is the rare kindergartner that can't be motivated to learn.
I agree with you, but how rare is it? Both my kids, unfortunately, are in this category (autism). We have to manage their motivation outside of school structure. I agree with Jessica, though, "Assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementing and evaluating" are not happening even in special ed.

NYC Math Teacher said...

Allen,

It's a matter of conjecture, of course, but I think most of my ed-school colleagues are predisposed to agree with the professors. Many others are too young and have too little life experience (and no children of their own) to really examine the idiocy of these "theories". (And I bet most of them have never laid eyes on an Everyday Math book...but it sounds so good!).

These sheep are "teaching" children here in NYC.

SteveH said...

"Human learning, on the other hand, requires willingness to attend and respond to the presentation. This motivation is somewhat different in all learners - though I don't agree that they are so different that an optimal teaching method is out of reach."

You're talking process here, not content or skills goals. We all know what feeling normal is. My doctor might use different ways to fix me up. I care only that it is scientifically valid and I am involved with the decision. There is a well-defined and testable goal. This is apparently not the case in education.

All good teachers are skilled in knowing different learning trouble spots and have many ways to deal with the problems. However, modern educationalists seem hell bent on cramming all learning into very mixed-ability, child-centered, thematic, real-world, spiral-discovery learning. On one hand, they talk about there being no one way of learning (multiple intelligences), and on the other hand, say that teachers should only be guides on the side. Apparently, there are many ways of learning, but only one framework for teaching.


I don't like talking about things like this unless we first start with basic competence. It's no use arguing about anything theoretical if the implementation is all screwed up. My son's school uses Everyday Math, the darling of the NCTM set. It's the best of what they got. However, there are kids in my son's fifth grade class who still use their fingers to subtract 7 from 15. How on earth did they get to fifth grade? Even EM is not that bad.

Schools do not want to take any responsibility for learning. They believe in what they are doing, so, if a student doesn't learn, it must be the student's fault. They rationalize it by looking at all of the kids who are doing well. However, why are these kids in fifth grade?

SteveH said...

"(And I bet most of them have never laid eyes on an Everyday Math book...but it sounds so good!)."

On first glance, there is nothing wrong with Everyday Math. The breadth of coverage is wide and it's not stupid, like having the kids write about their favorite number. On second glance, you notice that they don't stay on a topic for very long. My reaction was that the authors think kids have the attention spans of nervous chipmunks. On third glance, you realize that the mastery they don't require on the first loop of the spiral may never get done. There is no mechanism for doing this. Finally, you realize that by 6th grade, you're way behind other world class math curricula.

We're not talking about theory here. We're talking about no well-defined testable goal.

allen said...

nyc math teacher wrote:

It's a matter of conjecture, of course, but I think most of my ed-school colleagues are predisposed to agree with the professors.

That's the attraction of those human conceits I mentioned. If you've got a choice between helping to make a just, tolerant, equitable, compassionate, environmentally responsible society and "just" teaching kids mere facts which one gets the nod?

Many others are too young and have too little life experience....

And the power of authority overcomes any reservations about the idiocy of those theories.

Either, or both together are pretty powerful forces for a proto-teacher to overcome. I would be surprised if the bulk of ed school students didn't buy in, to one extent or another, to those edu-theories. And then there are the more practical considerations like not antagonizing your instructors so you can graduate on time and get a job.

So those students have plenty of good reasons to not make waves and damned few reasons to make waves. Then, when they get out of the schools and get teaching jobs who do they work for? An agency of government. Not, in general, notable for the encouragement of innovation but even less welcoming of iconoclasts or the exceptionally brilliant employee. Doesn't leave a whole lot of opportunity in the profession to shine, hey?

SteveH said...

"So those students have plenty of good reasons to not make waves and damned few reasons to make waves."

Generally, it's not a good idea to question your boss if you are a new employee, but then, how many of them want to?

My own experience is that many of the teachers (older ones too) really, sincerely, buy into these ideas. They don't just say that this is their opinion and that others might have their own ideas. "Mere facts" and "superficial knowledge" come out of their mouths with the greatest of ease. There is also a big dose of arrogance.

Why is there this overwhelming agreement in philosophy? do Ed Schools attract and give tenure only to a certain type of professor? Do these schools attract only a certain type of student?


"If you've got a choice between helping to make a just, tolerant, equitable, compassionate, environmentally responsible society and "just" teaching kids mere facts which one gets the nod?"

As I said before in my "fable", this is my best guess. Content and skills just aren't that important to them. If there are problems with their methods, they just blame it on the implementation, not bad assumptions and opinion.


"Doesn't leave a whole lot of opportunity in the profession to shine, hey?"

They must think they ARE shining, because they have plenty of opportunities to do something else. They could decide that charter schools are a great idea for testing new ideas. There is a moratorium on charter schools in our state and their union fights charter schools tooth and nail. Our public schools say that no child should be allowed to go to a charter school because our schools are "High Performing" on the state's very low cutoff standardized test. They watch so many kids leave the school for higher expectations.

They try desparately to convince others that what is best for the teachers is best for the students. What is best for them are no choice and seniority rules.

CrypticLife said...

"...On second glance, you notice that they don't stay on a topic for very long. My reaction was that the authors think kids have the attention spans of nervous chipmunks. ... Finally, you realize that by 6th grade, you're way behind other world class math curricula."

StevenH,

This entire paragraph is brilliant (sorry for editing, I just don't want to bore people with long rehashes). My Japanese wife teaches my son mathematics at home, and has for the past year (since the beginning of 2005) from a Japanese elementary text. So far he's nearing the end of grade 2 in their curriculum. He's so far beyond American kids in this area it's ridiculous, but that isn't my main point.

He started first grade this September, and my wife was shocked by the math text. Not because it was slow, but because it flew through topics. Within four or five weeks, it was on adding three integers to sums over 10. If you're using blocks to aid this, and are immediately going on to the next topic, kids aren't going to develop the ability to do immediate mental calculations.

This is not a new phenomenon. When I was in junior high school in the mid-80's, I was put from the second-highest level of math to the second-lowest (I had a teacher who was quite insistent on formulae, and I was quite poor at memorizing such things). Because once tracked, one stays that way, I stayed in a slightly-below average math class for the next four years, where I repeated topics ad nauseum. However, by 11th grade I was correcting the teacher. In 12th grade, I was going to school an hour early, learning calculus in casual chats with the calc teacher, and then wandering the halls and helping the calc students with the homework they hadn't done because they didn't understand it.

CrypticLife said...

Anyway, the point of the above being that techniques for teaching math need to change. A very, very solid grounding is far more important than introducing kids to every topic under the sun.

SteveH said...

"Anyway, the point of the above being that techniques for teaching math need to change. A very, very solid grounding is far more important than introducing kids to every topic under the sun."

What is obvious to you (and me) has not been obvious to those who teach math. However, the NCTM has finally backed down after 20 years of drill-and-kill bashing to finally ask for more emphasis on the basics. They say it's just a slight change of focus. I'm not optimistic that it will have any major effect. What we'll get is Revision III of Everyday Math with supplementation.

Stephen Downes said...

Thanks for commenting on my post on Half an Hour.

My arguments are not without foundation and evidence. What I am criticizing (as one who knows the field understands) is a particular approach to testing and evidence that has been subject to widespread criticism both inside and outside the sciences.

But this is, of course, for you to make up your own minds on. That said, people who are serious about wanting to criticize my perspective ought to look at some of the work I have done in the field, rather than to rely on one quoted paragraph and a politically motivate drive-by criticism.

My main website is at http://www.downes.ca and if you Google, look for 'Stephen Downes'. Thanks, and I'm always interested in your opinions.

KDeRosa said...

Thanks for commenting Stephen.

It's not that your arguments lack foundation, but rather that your foundation lacks foundation, but that's only because I don't count unsupported opinion and bad science as foundation, although I recognize that many educators, like you, are not as demanding.

I'm not sure what you're basing your "politically driven drive- by criticism" comment on, but I suspect my criticisms are no more politically motivated than your original comment.

Impressive bit of self-promotion, by the way. (So, we apparently can agree on at least one thing.)

Feel free to stop by any time.