July 19, 2008

Tom Hoffman Attempts a Defense

Tom Hoffman of Tuttle SVC tries to defend SLA'a Dred Scott project that I recently critiqued. Hoffman attempts the old smoke and mirrors defense by attempting to portray the student's response as "deep understanding" of other stuff. You can be the judge of whether he's succeeded or not. I think he unwittingly proves my point as I indicate in the comments.

Hoffman's argument is another good window into the mind of the progressive educator. Deep understanding has been redefined to mean the amount of understanding you can achieve without knowing much content. To the rest of us, this is superficial understanding. History without historical facts or understanding of those facts. See the way that works?

I hope Hoffman will never try to "get my back" like he did here.


Catherine Johnson said...

Deep understanding has been redefined to mean the amount of understanding you can achieve without knowing much content.


It is ludicrous to talk about "deep understanding" of a field you know very little about.

About the best you can do in terms of understanding an unfamiliar subject is to reason logically about the 3 or 4 facts you can hold in working memory.

Being a free-lance writer, I know this from experience. I write books and articles about subjects I'm not expert in (although I do tend to have a specialty as a writer).

Time and again, I find that I can't write until I've studied my research materials enough to have committed a great deal of it to memory.

Last year I had to write a chapter on stereotypies in captive and domestic animals. Stereotypies are apparently purposeless repetitive movements, such as a tiger pacing his cage.

I knew virtually nothing about the subject, which is quite complex.

I couldn't even begin to write anything until I'd re-read my notes so many times that I had acquired a knowledge of stereotypies (i.e. facts organized in a schema stored in long-term memory), not just an understanding of stereotypies (i.e. being able to understand anything I read about stereotypies as I read it).

This has been true for me over and over again. The only way I can think about a topic well enough to write about it is to study the subject until it has entered my long-term memory in an oganized and coherent form -- i.e. in a schema.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ken - I'm emailing you a copy of a new Head Start study that's going to need your attention -- be sure to check your junk file if you don't see it.


CrypticLife said...

An essential part of Tom's claim is that a deep understanding is difficult or impossible to achieve. The 9th grader's essay looks rather typical to me of an adolescent (albeit grammatically correct overall and with proper spelling). I don't think Ken entirely disagrees that this would be a typical sample; he has continually exhorted the need for reform in education.

I must say, I'm somewhat disappointed it's not better. This is a magnet school, and as such has entrance requirements. Schools get no special points for producing above-average results with above-average students. Chris should be aiming for stunning, breathtaking results. As such, his objection that the level of analysis would be two or three grades ahead is hollow: for a magnet school with bright children, you'd expect them to be two to three grades ahead.

Looking further, I find his proposed "bargain" -- to refrain from arguing that KIPP creates a bunch of automatons if Ken refrains from attacking SLA -- offensive. If Chris thinks he has strong evidence KIPP creates a bunch of automatons, he should argue it, it's negligent of him to fail to argue the point.

Personally, I think if high schools want to teach deep understanding of anything, they should go back to things the students already know at least superficially, to things they already know by rote. Give a deeper understanding of vocabulary by studying etymology, give a deeper understanding of geometry by teaching them various proofs for the Pythagorean theorem. Or, get them to spend the time to really gather the knowledge they need for a deeper analysis.