Pure Rubbish…

Rarely does an educational article/editorial get published where I disagree with 100% of the author’s points, but First Person: School Facilitators Flunk the Test (as published in the Seattle Post) seems to fit this criteria… and quite frankly, the article and its comments just make me sad.

The author begins his piece by asserting his qualifications for writing the article and his tone comes across as bitter and exaggerative.

“Ban facilitators, the word and all its forms, and put on probation anyone caught in a classroom still claiming to be one. Re-establish the traditional teacher-centered classroom, and soon we won’t need a WASL to demonstrate progress.”

Well, I guess I should take back my statement that I disagree with 100% of what the author says; I do agree that we do not need standardized tests to demonstrate progress because they are artificial and too often test knowledge that is unnecessary out of the walls of high school. I would rather see a portfolio-based system… and yes, I would facilitate the creation, organization  and evaluations of these portfolios.

“To inculcate discipline in others, a leader must model excellence and self-discipline. Traditional teacher-centered classrooms had such leaders. By contrast, student-centered learning allows the inexperienced and the undisciplined to become the standard.”

Certainly, a leader must set a good example, and in a student-centered classroom, the teacher is still involved and still leading the class.  The difference is that instead of sitting and listening to the teacher lecture and treat the students as empty receptacles in which to pour in learning, the teacher focuses on individual student needs and abilities; the students are encouraged to take an active role in their education instead of a passive one.  Students are allowed to learn on their own (through discovery, inquiry, etc.), from each other and from the teacher.

“Instead of turning to a traditional subject-expert in a teacher-centered environment, students now turn to their friends.”

Yes, the student can turn to their friends for assistance, or the teacher, or a book, the Internet or a host of other resources… again actively searching out the answer instead of waiting for the teacher to give it to them (or tell them that their response is wrong).

“When teenage minds become convinced they know as much as or more than the adults in charge, contempt for authority is the blatant byproduct.”

I don’t understand the author’s use of this argument. How does a student-centered classroom convince students that they know as much or more than adults? Is it simply because as the teacher I am not continually lording my knowledge over them but encouraging them to think and reason on their own?

“Most real learning requires real work. No one ever became an expert by being lazy.”

Yes, REAL learning does require work, and as any student who participates in a student-centered or project-based environment will tell you… actively be engaged in your education is much more difficult than letting the teacher make all of your decisions. Creating a quality project requires much more time and effort than taking a test.

“Facilitators are too wimpy, too passive to push anything or anyone.”

I don’t understand where the author gets his view of facilitators. A facilitator is active by definition. The facilitator’s job is to push learning, to guide by questioning and to direct students to resources as needed. Facilitators do not just sit in the room and watch as students do whatever they feel like doing whenever they want.

So, after reading this depressing opinion piece, I decided to skip down and read a few comments and was completely flabbergasted when I came across some of the statements people made.

“They [students] are ENCOURAGED to talk to each other.” – OMG! NO! Students are encourage to talk to each other. Next they might be encouraged to HELP each other.

“When I was in school we worked on a page of math problems by ourselves.” – And how has that prepared you for life outside of school?

“‘Everyday Math’ (a math textbook used by many elementary schools) tells 4th grade teachers not to spend too much time teaching long division because students can just reach for a calculator.” – Maybe I am missing something… are students growing up in a world where there are no calculators, computers, dictionaries, spell check? Shouldn’t we be teaching them to use these tools to solve problems?

If learning is going to be real and lasting, there has to be a mix. Teachers have classes of 30 students or so and those students learn best in a variety of ways – some from lectures, some hands-one, some by reading, etc. Teachers have to vary activities and allows students to make some choice for themselves. Yes, you are their teacher and your job is to help them learn, but they are not stupid… give them some credit and let them take part in their own education.

We need to get away from the mindset that because I was taught something a certain way, that it is the best way for everyone to learn… it isn’t.  I “learned” vocabulary in school by looking up the definition and writing it, but I actually learned it as I needed it in my own writing to convey a certain feeling or point, or when I read and didn’t know what something meant. I “learned” percentages when I completed math worksheets, but I actually learned it when it meant something to me – figuring sales tax, how much to tip a waiter or the discount on a sale item.  If we are honest with ourselves, true education and learning rarely comes from a teacher-centered environment, it comes from trying and failing, discovery, inquiry, reflection, creating and collaborating.

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7 Comments on “Pure Rubbish…”

  1. Mark Ahlness Says:

    Although I’ve only been teaching for 27 years, and not the 36 of the author of that editorial, I believe pretty much everything said there is bunk – with the exception of doing away with the WASL – not because I disagree with standardized testing, but because the WASL is NOT standardized testing, and it’s just not a good test.

    People who think student centered learning means basically letting the kids take charge, well, they just do not understand enough about constructivist learning to be in a meaningful debate over it.

    Yes, I am saddened by the article, and even more by the anonymous comments. Deep breath, time to move on… Mark

  2. John Brown Says:

    I agree with Mark. The comments are even more worrisome than the article itself.

    As usual, I find your comments regarding the article well stated and on target!

  3. Margaret Jackson Green Says:

    dude – 100% rubbish, BUT look what it inspired: you wrote a brilliant response to the author’s small-minded opinions. way to go! keep on writing!!!

  4. I agree with Margaret. Your counter points are excellent and are something I can draw on when I encounter similar negative views.

    And as for this…“When teenage minds become convinced they know as much as or more than the adults in charge, contempt for authority is the blatant byproduct.” So we are talking about students who have a sufficient understanding of a topic to become confident enough to challenge the views of others? What’s wrong with that?

  5. I appreciate your comments and support. I get frustrated by educators (and parents, media, etc.) who want to keep education as “it was when I was in school.” Things have changed, education has progressed and we need to allow our teachers to effectively serve the students in their classrooms.

    It makes me happy to know there are others who feel the same. 🙂

  6. Connie Cooley Says:

    Excellent rebuttal, Angela!

    We are in the 21st century, arnen’t we? Students should take charge of their learning and we should be their tour guide!

    This article reminds me of a piece I read for the Instructional Leadership course I am in. Marc Prensky talks about how teachers, such as this teacher, are stuck in their digitial immigrant ways and therefore cannot or refuse to adapt to the students of today, the Digital Natives (Prensky 3-4).
    I think you would enjoy the article. You should read it….the author of this piece should for that matter!

    Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants: Part 1. On the Horizon, 9 (5), 1-6.

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