Monday, November 21, 2011

On edworld double speak

For years now I've found myself increasingly nauseated by phrases like "higher level thinking", "be creative," "conceptual understanding," "critical thinking," "reflection," "multi-culturalism," "discovery learning," "open-ended problems," "community of learners," and "life-long learning." My now-automatic (and, admittedly, hyperbolic) mental translations include:

high-level -> fact-free
discovery-based -> instruction-free
reflection -> navel gazing
open-ended -> anything goes
creativity -> color & glitter
multicultural -> bromides plus "non-Western" trivia

Before I knew anything about current trends in education, I associated these phrases with many of the things I valued most; with what my ultimate goals were for myself as both a student and a teacher. Things like rote calculations and memorization of facts and procedures were things I valued far less, dismissing them as mere tools, rungs, or building blocks for helping you attain what really matters--and dismissing certain classmates of mine as excelling in regurgitation and rapid computing (things I myself have never excelled in), but not in conceptual understanding or creative synthesis (which I hoped were my relative strengths).

But now that I've seen how many of these tools, rungs, and builing blocks are missing from today's classrooms, I find myself appreciating them as never before, and harping on them as I never in a million years would have imagined myself doing.

Equally baffling to my ealier self, when I hear "higher-level" thinking and "conceptual understanding" I no longer think of a substantive synthesis or analysis of a richly interconnected body of (internalized) knowledge, but of a lack--of substance, of teaching, and of learning; and, ultimately, of all the good these words used to connote.


Barry Garelick said...

"Mere facts" and "mere procedures" are the diminutives that I've heard professors use when referring to math education and other subjects. I heard a teacher admonish her algebra class that "You have to learn how to apply your knowledge to new situations", as if this is something that one can consciously do without the necessary undergridding leading up to problem solving.

Lsquared said...

"For years now I've found myself increasingly nauseated by phrases like "higher level thinking"..."

Yeah, looking at "standards based curricula" will do that to you.

kcab said...

I've had a similar change in response to those catch phrases. This is exactly what I was thinking about when I commented on the "Why we can't trust STEM profs" post. After all, who in the world wants to be against conceptual understanding or creativity (as they are defined outside of the ed-world)?

kathyiggy said...

What about "taking ownership of your learning"? That one annoys me to no end. They are also using that ownership stuff in professional development courses at work too.