Thursday, August 25, 2016

Etc., etc., etc

So, in addition to the Prussian military and the factory training caricatures of schools, we have one more: the mindless robotic regurgitation model.

Of course, all three are related: desks in rows; authority in front; facts, facts, facts; filling in bubbles on multiple choice tests; the privileging of some answers and strategies over others; and the privileging of book-learning, and especially textbook-learning, over hands-on, group-centered discovering learning.

All this, supposedly, is totally anachronistic, not to mention dehumanizing, in the brave new 21st century. Nowadays, apparently, all jobs are collaborative, and all fact-learning and procedure-following, best outsourced to computers.

The most valid case to be made against desks in rows, authority in front, facts, facts, facts, etc., etc., etc., is that this isn't well suited to the youngest students--especially if we deprive them, as we currently do, of reasonable amounts of recess and running around, and (via homework) of free time outside of school.

So if Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek had qualified what they say in their new book as applying, specifically, to children younger than, say, 7, more of their points would be reasonable.

But there’s a rub. The problem with so much of today's popular education advice--and with popular advice in general--is that what's new isn't reasonable and what's reasonable isn't new. Or, rather, all that's new and (at least arguably) reasonable are the coinages—serving, though they do, mainly as branding mechanisms for book sales, TED talks, and the occasional MacArthur Genius award. These coinages, when they don't simply hijack old words for new buzz ("grit"; "growth mindset"), often spell cute acronyms (STEAM, RULER) or ring with alliteration, as with Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek's collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation and confidence.

Other branding mechanisms include complex but objective-looking metrics. What G & H-P offer is a 24-cell grid derived from these "6 c’s" and the four "Levels" that each one has. Using this, you can find out, for example, "who am I as a collaborator? Am I an on-my-own kind of girl [Level 1] or a side-by-side [Level 2]?" (Level 2, naturally, is higher than Level 1; Similarly, telling “a joint story” is better than “just reading the book and getting it over with.”).

Here are some additional insights from G & H-P:

G: We live in a crazy time, and parents are very worried about their children's futures. They're getting all kinds of messages about children having to score at the top level on some test. The irony is, kids could score at the top and still not succeed at finding great employment or becoming a great person.
When was the last time we didn’t live in a crazy time, didn’t worry about our children’s futures, and didn’t get messages about the importance of high test scores? When was the last time that top test scores did guarantee great employment and/or a great personality?
H-P: what [computers are] not going to be better at is being social, navigating relationships, being citizens in a community.
Is she suggesting that the devise on my lap isn’t sociable and civic-minded?
G: So, if you're going to have a kid who engages in critical thinking, you're not going to shut them down when they ask a question. You're not going to settle for "because." You're going to encourage them to ask more. And you want them to understand how other people think.
So when my child asks why the moon doesn't fall to earth, I shouldn't just say "because”?

Maybe some parents need to hear all this, but probably not the ones who are reading books like G & H-P’s ("Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children") or listening to interviews about this topic on NPR.

Here's another tidbit from the NPR interview:
Interviewer: Perspective-taking, which I think of as a component of empathy, you're saying is also foundational for critical thinking.
Hirsh-Pasek: Yes, theory of mind is important to be able to do critical thinking.
Yes, I’ve heard this one before, too. It’s one of the many ways in which neurotypicals underestimate the critical thinking skills of kids on the autism spectrum: all those kids who are stuck at Level 1 or Level 2 of  G & H-P’s first “c”.

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