Monday, March 31, 2014

The problem with ideology in education: not brainwashing students, but failing to educate them

As I wrote earlier, what worries me in terms of ideology about the CCSS and other recent educational fads isn’t the ideology per se, but how that ideology affects pedagogy. When the dust settles, will kids end up learning a systematic body of core knowledge that they will be able to recall and make use of in the long term?

Take one fad: namely, multiculturalism. One of the effects that I’ve seen played out in schools is a piecemeal approach to social studies. One girl I know who attends a small, self-styled progressive school spent a whole month learning all about North Korea—its geography, its history, its culture. Then the class moved onto some other part of the world, and later on, when I last visited them, they'd just begun a unit on West Africa.

“It’s so incredibly random and piecemeal,” her father observed.

I asked him how well he thought she remembered the earlier units.

“I doubt she remembers anything.” he said, and summoned his daughter.

“D,” he said. “What do you remember about North Korea?”

“Nothing,” she said.

“Nothing at all?” he asked. “Nope.”

If the facts she briefly learned about North Korea had been integrated into a systematic (well-organized, chronological) world history curriculum, in which each country is repeatedly revisited over time, maybe she’d have remember something.

We also see this piecemeal approach in the CCSS-inspired approach to “helping” special education students achieve one of the more elusive of those one-size-fits-all-goals that. As I discuss in my recent Atlantic article, instead of teaching general (in this case unattainable) skills, teachers resort to handholding, spoon feeding, and an an ad hoc, situation specific giving away of answers. Again, the ultimate takeaway is close to nothing.

This piecemeal approach—along with Lattice Multiplication and explaining your answers to math problems--is what worries me most about the Common Core. No, Ms. Boylan, I’m not worried that the CCSS will prevent my kids from becoming carbon copies of myself, or cause them to become black-to-white, white-to-black photographic negatives of me--or any other deviance within the shades of gray between carbon copy and negative. First of all, I’m not particularly into carbon copies of myself. Second of all, the CCSS (just like all those purportedly character-building, kindness-inducing, grit-inspiring social/emotional curricula) aren’t anywhere near as personality transforming as Boyle and others would like to believe. Nor are the CCSS anywhere near as personality transforming as Boylan would like to believe its detractors fear.

And no, I’m not worried that the CCSS will make my kids smarter than me or cause them to have original ideas. Instead, what worries me, along with many, many other CCSS opponents, is pretty much the exact opposite of that.


C T said...

The anecdote about the girl forgetting everything she learned about North Korea is sad. It's such a fascinating country (and it is even more so if one is mature enough to have read at least part of 1984).
During the summer, our family learns about different countries in a piecemeal way, a week or two per country. However, we are also working our way through Year 4/Volume 4 of Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World. My children retain a respectable amount of what they learn about the various countries because they have a narrative to connect it all to.
Boylan thinks that parents object to Common Core because of the possibility that controversial novels will be read in class (as if that weren't already happening...). Hopefully she reads what all the commenters on her article have said and comes away a bit wiser about the many other objections people have to Common Core.

Adelaide Dupont said...

Summery learning and STORY OF THE WORLD.

Every three or four months I seem to revisit a region of the world, apart from the ones in which I have deep involvements.

I may add to an existing narrative. I may strip things away (like misperceptions and misconceptions).

For example, with West Africa, I was following Father Christmas up Senegal.

Now I am reading about the various virii in southern Gambia through Israel's 24-hour-news channel. And how they travelled through the capital.

And there's still so much about Mali, Malawi and the Ivory Coast.

Last immersion North Korean experience was the UNHCR Human Rights report on that country - led by an Australian and an Indonesian. SO many notes and stories on the afternoon of the 24th February. Based on the framework of the Declaration of Human Rights like "right to return to one's own country or right to family" (didn't some soldiers from South Korea get brought back, but none from North Korea? This was the whole honour and war element, and the "Never Surrender" from Japan, Myanmar [1941-45]). and "deaths in custody and lack of respect for the dignity of the dead". And boiled rotten cucumbers! And kidnapped young women. And abducted children [par 1007] and two paragraphs later left behind.

Did read 1984 first of all in 1997-98, after a few years of cultural references.

Another great reference is a film called AIM HIGH IN CREATION which is about how someone uses North Korean progapanda technique to make a "Stop Coal Seam Gas" campaign in Sydney.

The narrative approach in human/cultural geography is an interesting and important one.

FRONTIERS IN (the open science journals) ... have some good resources. The theme was "how children learn from books" and some articles from the last two years were collected. So maybe "Frontiers in Geography" or "Frontiers in Anthropology", to analyse and synthesise some current material.

Feedback is important. Ideology may shut down that or those channels.