January 24, 2007

Empty Rhetoric

The Bereiter-Engelmann Preschool opened in the mid 1960s. There they honed many of the techniques that later found their way into Direct Instruction.

Despite the academic success of the students, the preschool was highly controversial and despised by educators of the day. It might as well have been yesterday, because the views remain the same.

Near the end of the first year, a group of child developmentalists from New York City visited the project and expressed strong disagreement with our practices. After they observed the groups being taught, one of them gave a speech on how a teacher must get on the same level as the child and share the child’s feelings and goals. She concluded by saying that we had no regard for children’s inner feelings.

Such opinions continue to be the prevailing wisdom today. It was empty rhetoric then and it's empty rhetoric today.

I told her that if she was so knowledgeable about children’s feelings, she should have no trouble identifying which of the seven children in the math group she just observed witnessed his father being shot to death on the preceding evening. Of course she couldn’t do it because all the children in the group responded with alacrity, laughed, and won all the challenges I said they couldn’t possibly win.

It doesn't get much worse than that does it? Witnessing a parent being shot and killed. Seems to be on par with the typical excuses we hear from educators excusing their lack of performance: toothaches, hunger, bad home life, poverty, etc., etc.

And yet, the child was able to do his schoolwork that day just like the other kids. His performance did not have to be excused. He was being effectively taught. And that makes all the difference in the world.

I explained that we understood how that boy must feel, and we expressed our sorrow. But then we provided the boy with relief from his anguish by putting him in a familiar routine that took his mind off his grief and gave him an opportunity to do something energetic and consuming. Rather than thinking about the horror of the preceding night, he thought about math.

Because in the end what matter most is that these children get a proper education despite the obstacles they face. I'm sure little Johnny would rather have a decent education at the end of the day rather than a litany of excuse he could recite explaining why I didn't get one. Well, son, you can't read, write, or do arithmetic very well, but that's not you're fault, you never developed properly due to your learning disability, poverty, and bad home life. The world awaits you, get to it.

1 comment:

1citizen said...

Doesn't really fit here but I thought you might like an end of week chuckle.

"The MicroSociety program would create a mini-society where students have input in the learning process, help settle problems with their peers and do more activities that connect them with the community.

"They become a microcosm of their greater community," Bourff said"