Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Which stories attract readers, and how the press becomes complicit in right-brain teaching fads

As I've noted here, here, here, here, and here, newspaper stories are forever gushing over right-brain classroom practices like group learning; unstructured, child-centered discovery; holistic, interdisciplinary learning; emotional epiphanies; and art and poetry in math and science class.

How come we hardly ever see a story about a teacher that has bucked this trend, planting himself or herself firmly in front of the classroom, chalk in hand, walking students through a series of complex steps towards the solution to a logically challenging problem, and then calling on them to produce the single correct answers to similarly challenging problems on their own?

"I can tell you right away, it just won't fly with editors," a neighbor, who is also a science reporter at one of the city's two major newspapers. "What you're trying to get across is way too complex and subtle a message for most readers."

"What about if we sensationalize it a bit, with an exciting buzzword like 'grade reversal,' and a discussion of how the brightest math buffs are often getting lower grades than other classmates?"

"Only a tiny percentage of readers would be concerned about this issue."

All that may well be true. But the result feels very much like a totalitarian system, in which not just the ideology-makers (the education schools), the policy-makers (the various departments and boards of education), the funders (the education division of the NSF), and the implementers (from the all-powerful textbook companies and education consultants all the way down to the lowly classroom teacher) are complicit, but also the one institution that could expose to the public what all these other parties are up to.


Mrs. C said...

I'm not going to argue that picture stories and that sort of thing don't work best for some children, as I have plenty of special-needs kids in my own family.

I'm going to argue, though, that in my opinion most elementary teachers are not highly trained in math and schools pick out the curriculum according to what's easiest to teach and grade, or what works on the MAP test (or whatever test!). NOT what is going to be best "for the children" when "the children" can all have 20 different needs in a class of 20 students.

All that to say... education is a business. That doesn't necessarily mean it is always BAD for the children to go to school in every case, but that "the system" doesn't really have the interests of the children at heart no matter what the parent newsletter or the NEA website would have you believe.

Off-topic slightly, reading about making parents "accountable" to the schools is a discussion that is more than a little chilling to me. I'm not sure if that's too "political" or not, but as I've written before, to me it is all interconnected. They should be accountable to us! :]

Anonymous said...

The journalism is spoon-fed to the newsies via the Hechinger Institute at Columbia University.

The McGraw Seminar for Reporters New to the Education Beat
July 17-19, 2009
Teachers College, Columbia University: New York City
The Hechinger Institute's annual seminar for reporters new to the education beat will expose you to the hottest and most current K-12 topics.

socialist humanism requires dull minds for exploiting...