Thursday, June 5, 2008

Please visit an actual classroom before you make recommendations

One of the biggest obstacles to rescuing our classrooms from the impoverished reforms that education experts have enacted is lack of public awareness.  
One culprit:  the many public intellectuals who speak out as if completely unaware of what's changed, perpetuating long-outdated stereotypes of public school classrooms.  

Worse, echoing the education experts, some of these wise men don't hesitate to make recommendations based on such stereotypes.

Here, for example, is what best-selling cosmologist Brian Greene has to say, in this past Sunday's New York Times Op Ed., about science education:

A great many studies have focused on this problem [of children losing their interest in science], identifying important opportunities for improving science education. Recommendations have ranged from increasing the level of training for science teachers to curriculum reforms.

But most of these studies (and their suggestions) avoid an overarching systemic issue: in teaching our students, we continually fail to activate rich opportunities for revealing the breathtaking vistas opened up by science, and instead focus on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details.

Greene claims that:

...our educational system fails to teach science in a way that allows students to integrate it into their lives.

His conclusion:

We must embark on a cultural shift that places science in its rightful place alongside music, art and literature as an indispensable part of what makes life worth living.

If Greene were to enter any number of today's grade school science classes, he wouldn't see a focus "on the need to gain competency with science’s underlying technical details.” Rather, he'd see a botched attempt to implement precisely what he suggests.

As practiced in actual classrooms, this means things like having 5th graders read Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax" (with its "breathtaking vistas" of Truffula trees), choose something they care about as much as the Lorax does his trees (thus integrating "science" into their lives), and give presentations in which they speak for that something, complete with colorful props and costumes (thus placing science alongside art and literature).

Perhaps if schools did focus more on science competency, students would be more interested in science, more filled with scientific wonder, and more able to take college and graduate level classes which tackle the big questions.

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