Monday, August 22, 2016

Might sitting in rows and spitting out facts also be a prerequisite for learning?

In an earlier post, I talked about how certain "education reformists" malign traditional education as being

based on a 19th century Prussian model, or an early 20th century factory model, designed to foster obedience to political, military, or capitalist authority. 
These people, I  noted, are conflating political, military, and workplace authorities with educational authorities, and obedience to political, military, and workplace authorities with obedience to educational authorities.

There are some things, I noted, that contribute to this conflation:
all that lining up, all that waiting in silence, all that being yelled at for fidgeting during class or losing track of your belongings or daring to play tag or climb trees during recess. 
But other requirements--requirements like not disrupting the class, and attending to the educational authorities (competent teachers, decent textbooks)--I argue, are essential to learning.

Now a recent NPR segment on new book, "Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children," has reminded me of two things I left out--things that authors Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek join other would-be reformers in disparaging:

--sitting in rows

--spitting out facts

Here's Hirsh-Pasek:
If Rip Van Winkle came back, there's only one institution he would recognize: "Oh! That's a school. Kids are still sitting in rows, still listening to the font of wisdom at the front of the classroom."
We're training kids to do what computers do, which is spit back facts.  
How quickly people forget the virtues of row seating--even as they sit in rows in movie theaters or, say, during TED talks in which education gurus disparage row seating. Desks in rows is the only way to arrange a classroom so that a dozen plus kids can easily attend to the teacher, see what's being written on the blackboard, and take notes while using a hard surface (the surface of their desks) rather than their laps.

And how quickly people forget what it takes to learn things. "Spitting out" facts, while it should never be the be-all and end-all of education, is a key component of learning bodies of knowledge. The task of retrieving and articulating facts, when implemented well by competent teachers, is not a meaningless, rote repetition of disembodies chunks of information, but a way to strengthen long term memory of meaningful systems of integrated knowledge--knowledge that is crucial to personal success and societal progress.

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek compares the challenge of raising children to climate change.
What we do with little kids today will matter in 20 years. If you don't get it right, you will have an unlivable environment. That's the crisis I see.
I agree.


Anonymous said...

A crisis she and others like her are perpetuating. This is why our educational system is such a mess. Either one wants kids to learn or they don't? From my experience as a sub, there is a definite lack of knowledge in the curriculum. Students need to be taught facts in order to understand broader concepts. This kind of thing is not taught anymore. The consequences have been dire. It's all around us if anyone is willing to admit it.

Bookish Babe

C T said...

Memorizing facts allows a person to possess, possibly forever, knowledge about something and to benefit from it personally. Not memorizing facts, however, leaves a person subject to being swayed by whatever the current gatekeepers (Facebook, Google, various media outlets, wikipedia, etc.) want him/her to hear and be swayed by. This might seem desirable to a gatekeeper with an agenda to push, but unless the gatekeeper is omniscient, mistakes will be made, and the wider the influence, the bigger the mistake.

Refusing to teach facts doesn't just "dumb us down." It disarms us in the war of ideas leaving us only epithets to throw at each other.