Archive for category teaching + learning

New York public schools do not enforce discipline

David Roemer writes:

I was a teacher at three public high schools in New York City. Students got an excellent education at two (Edward R. Murrow and Midwood) and a poor education at one (Erasmus). The reason was that there is in NYC a two-tier system. At good schools high demands are made on teachers and students. At poor schools low demands are made on teachers and students. The following is testimony I gave about discipline in NYC public schools to the New York State agency governing public schools:

Read more: The Trouble with No Child Left Behind — Mises Economics Blog http://blog.mises.org/12283/the-trouble-with-no-child-left-behind/#comments#ixzz0j2uFiWAu

In his testimony, Roemer accuses the public schools of failing to maintain order by not suspending or expelling delinquent students (contrary to the State’s Discipline Code). After distinguishing between “two types of offenses: violent and non-violent” he states (my emphasis), “A school is disorderly because the administration is unwilling to prohibit non-violent misbehavior. Enforcing the rules of civility and decorum will immediately cause students who come to school only to fool around to stop coming to school. This type of student is one of the main sources of disorder and violence in lower-tier schools.

In other words,  non-violent misbehaviour not summarily or effectively dealt with by the school begets violent behaviour: The fault, as I have been saying, isn’t the “behavior of a small percentage of students” but the policy and practices of the Board of Education’s superintendents and principals… violence can be eliminated in schools by enforcing the various rules that require students to behave in a civil and mature manner.” This is exactly the point repeatedly made by a secondary school teacher in Britain who blogs at Scenes from the Battleground.

Roemer gives the specific example of students cutting class, and what one particular school  failed to do about it. After 80% of the faculty at a poorly performing school petitioned the Chancellor about lax discipline, the Chancellor’s response was “We are all committed to enforcing the discipline code so that our schools are conducive to learning.”

Roemer points out that “[t]here is a strong correlation between failing a course and the number of days absent from class”, then provides the evidence:

A computer printout of the names of students at Erasmus Hall High School who cut class in a two week period in May of 1994 shows that 1365 cut class at least 3 times. Since the average daily attendance is around 1500 this means that the overwhelming majority of students cut classes repeatedly, week after week… The extent of the administration’s response to cutting is to send a postcard to the child’s home. This means the burden of disciplining students who cut classes falls entirely on the parents of the child. This state of affairs is not consistent with the Discipline Code…

Roemer makes the issues at stake crystal clear (my emphasis). He points out that the rules necessary to maintaining discipline are already in place, but they need to be enforced; in addition, he explains why they are likely to work if they are enforced (my emphasis):

After repeated reprimands and counseling, a school should summon the parents for a disciplinary counseling session. Such a demand for a conference creates a family crisis…The family crisis a summons to school creates is one that enhances the parents’ standing with the child. The letter or summons means the child is in trouble with the school authorities. This places the child in the position of needing its parents to get him or her out of a predicament. If the parents refuse to go to school, they are giving the school its tacit approval to take what ever disciplinary action the school wants, for example, an out-of-school suspension.

The prospect and threat of suspension is a strong deterrent for cutting and will help children make the right decisions. Children want to be successful in school and know, or should know if they are being properly counseled, that cutting will diminish their chances for academic success. Students cut, nonetheless, because they are human beings and do not always follow their best inclinations and desires. Many are tempted to cut by the example and urgings of their peers.

…While disciplining a student for cutting, all members of the staff must be able to say truthfully that: “cutting is against the rules.” This does not mean that cutting is not recommended, it means precisely that a student who doesn’t obey this rule cannot attend school.

The whole thing is well worth reading. Roemer has prepared a very thorough testimony.

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Book Notes – The Shadow University (2)

Following on…

Catherine MacKinnon and Stanley Fish… are explicit in their disdain for the First Amendment‘s absolutist and noncontextual approach. In her influential book Only Words, MacKinnon, a feminist legal scholar at the University of Michigan, introduced her chapter “Equality and Speech” with the blunt statement that “the law of equality and the law of freedom of speech are on a collision course in this country.” (p. 76).  … MacKinnon noted that … Claiborne Hardware [v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] brought the dichotomy between speech and action into the service of saving the nation’s oldest and best known civil rights organization. She claimed that it was unjust  to accord the two groups the same protection under the First Amendment, as properly interpreted. For MacKinnon, it was not problematic to define a principled basis for treating the NAACP and the Klan differently under the law: “Suppressed entirely in the piously evenhanded treatment of the Klan and the boycotters – the studied inability to tell the difference between oppressor and oppressed that passes for principled neutrality in this area as well as others- was the fact that the Klan was promoting inequality and the civil rights leaders were resisting it, in a country that is supposedly not constitutionally neutral on the subject.” As with Marcuse, the crucial distinction was between the “regressive” and the “progressive”. Stanley Fish’s attitude toward the current judicial interpretation of the First Amendment is refreshingly overt in the title of his 1994 book There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech… And It’s a Good Thing Too.(p. 77.)

Justice Felix Frankfurter, himself the member of a religious minority…recognized that the issue in the case [Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 1940] reflected the “profoundest problem confronting a democracy – the problem which Lincoln cast in a memorable dilemma: “Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?” Posing the question that way virtually assured the answer that liberty was going to have to be compromised…. A mere three years after Gobitis… the Court reviewed another flag pledge case… and this time, by a vote of 6 to 3, even with America herself at war, the justices disavowed Gobitis. ….. In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)… (w)riting for the majority, Justice Robert Jackson had not quarrel with West Virginia’s requirement that certain courses be taught, nor with its attempts to inspire patriotism by exposing students to national history and traditions. However, the board’s flag salute requirement was different, because it compelled a student “to declare a belief [and]… to utter what is not in his mind.”(p. 188.)

The Court now found that what underlay its decision in Gobitis – the supposed conflict between liberty of conscience and the state’s ability to survive – was both an exaggeration and a distraction from the core constitutional question. The issue was not weak or strong government, but see the strength of America in “individual freedom  of mind” rather than in “officially disciplined uniformity for which history indicates a disappointing and disastrous end.” … Jackson explained why even men of good intentions should not possess the awesome power to compel belief. Both the good and the evil had attempted “to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential.”… In short, Jackson wrote for the majority of the Court, “compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard…. the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”(p. 189.)

I would amend that last sentence to read “The strength of America lay in her “individual freedom of mind”, and not in strong government; and that confusing the one with the other paved the way open (as it inevitably would) to overbearing and interfering government and eventually tyranny”. In a word, the road to serfdom.

“The purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution”, he concluded, was precisely to protect “from all official control” the domain that was “the sphere of intellect and spirit.” Barnette, not Gobitis, became the landmark, defining the constitutional and moral norms: the primacy of individual conscience over the social benefits of conformity, the need for each individual to enjoy liberty in order for a common liberty to exist, and the intolerability of restricting even one person’  liberty in “the sphere of intellect and spirit” in an attempt to create some better world. (p. 190.)

Colleges and universities have accepted a new “compensatory” version of separate but unequal. Whites obviously could not veto the presence of nonwhites in a college dormitory. Such inequality arises from the universities’ belief that its students are not individuals, but instances of blood and history. (p. 201.)

If one truly believes in the liberty of gay and lesbian students, of course, the real struggle is not for special privilege, but for equal rights. (p. 203.)

The academic mania for group identity presupposes what free individuals must decide for themselves – the nature and compound of their own individual lives. Blacks are free to be , by their own individual choices, radical, moderate, conservative, or apolitical; separatist or assimilationist; Afrocentric of South Carolinian. They do not need universities to assign them identities. (p. 204.)

On December 6, Robert Chatelle replied on the sexual-minority listserve of the National Writers Union, observing that “gay men are no more or less ‘vulnerable’ (or ‘sensitive’ of ‘artistic’) than any other class of citizens.” Indeed, Chatelle noted, Pearson “was engaging in negative stereotyping,” which, “ironically enough … is forbidden under the speech code she was defending.” “Scratch a defender of ‘political correctness’,” he observed, “and you’ll find some variety of bigot. For Chatelle, “defenders of ‘political correctness’ subscribe to two myths that are damaging to the rights of minorities: … vulnerability and .. interchangeability.” The “myth of vulnerability,” Chatelle observed, is based on the patronizing belief that “members of minority groups are so damaged by discrimination that we become incapable of speaking for ourselves… We are not. We want equal rights. But it is difficult to make that argument convincing when people like Sue Pearson are going around and stating that gay men are ‘vulnerable’ people who need ‘special’ protection.” The “myth of interchangeability,” for Chatelle, was equally dangerous. It “holds that there is such a thing as ‘the women’s viewpoint,’ the ‘gay/lesbian viewpoint,’ [or] the African-American viewpoint.'” (p. 205.)

This mentality, or the “myth of interchangeability”, sounds like polylogism, from which, perhaps, it originated: Marx and the Marxians, foremost among them the “proletarian philosopher” Dietzgen, taught that thought is determined by the thinker’s class position. What thinking produces is not truth but “ideologies.” This word means, in the context of Marxian philosophy, a disguise of the selfish interest of the social class to which the thinking individual is attached. It is therefore useless to discuss anything with people of another social class. Ideologies do not need to be refuted by discursive reasoning; they must be unmasked by denouncing the class position, the social background, of their authors. Thus Marxians do not discuss the merits of physical theories; they merely uncover the “bourgeois” origin of the physicists.

A perverted, but very common, form of this is hilariously illustrated by C.S. Lewis in his allegorical story, “The Pilgrim’s Regress“:  to refute the “argument” that two plus two equals four, the “correct refutation” is “You only say that because you are a mathematician!”

The assumption is that the identity of individuals at our universities is inseparable from those official categories that the university recognizes, quite independently of how such individuals view themselves. Diversity means the acceptance of those distinctions by blood and history. Multiculturalism means the acceptance of the view that individual students exist not as individuals, but as instances of group identity useful to some partisan  understanding of the history of oppression. (p. 206.)

To understand the moral consequence of academic official group identity, consider the appalling predicament of students from multiracial families. At Penn, in 1995, students formed an organization with the sardonic name “Check One”… [which] “takes its name from the fact that one is asked literally to check one race or ethnic group when filling out standardized forms… We are largely an ignored people, and segregation, which preserves and reinforces culture, can also serve to exclude us.” Members were not “half-and-half”… because they were not made up “of segmented parts… distant and separate pieces.” (p. 208.)

This resonated with me: in Japan, children of mixed marriages are dubbed “half”. I could never understand the American predilection for checking off one’s racial identity; what if you did not belong neatly into any of the categories offered? And why is it so important for the authorities to know?

At Standford, Carl Hicks, a Korean and black senior, formed, with other students uncomfortable with Standford’s official group identities, an organization called Prism. He understood the immoral and intended consequence of current academic multiculturalism and anti-individualism: “When I got to Standford I didn’t think of myself as black or Korean or white. I thought of myself as Carl Hicks. But everyone kept labeling me.” (p. 209.)

Out of the mouths of babes…

Attendance at group-identity organizations is often minuscule as a percentage of the intended population, and militant leaders complain endlessly about “apathy.” Whites don’t feel particularly guilty about being white, and almost no designated “victims” adopt truly radical politics. Most undergraduates unabashedly seek their portion of American freedom, legal equality, and bounty. What to do with such benighted students? Increasingly, the answer to that question is to use the in loco parentis apparatus of the university to reform their private consciences and minds. (p. 211.)

Penn [State University] simply set about to control the ways its students thought about and valued the world. It viewed incoming students as incapable, on their own, of sorting out their differences and their common humanity, of understanding how to live decently, and of thinking critically about America. Above all, the university viewed its students as ignorant of the real nature of their group identities. One student on the subcommittee on “Diversity Follow-Up Program” complained in a memo about the planners’ contempt for individualism and individual identity, their “desire… continually to consider the collective before the individual.”… A fellow committee member, an administrator, underlined the word “individual” on the student’s memo, and replied that “This is a ‘RED FLAG’ phrase today, which is considered by many to be RACIST.” “Arguments that champion the INDIVIDUAL over the group,” he informed her, “ultimately priveleges [sic] the ‘INDIVIDUAL’ belonging to the dominant group.” Indeed, he concluded, “in a pluralistic society, individuals are only as significant their groups.” (p. 213.)

There are core beliefs of current thought reform. An individual is not an autonomous moral being, but a member of a racial and historical group that possesses moral debt or credit. There is only on e appropriate set of views about race, gender, sexual preference, and culture, and holding an inappropriate belief, once truth has been offered, is not an intellectual disagreement, but a act of oppression or denial. (p. 215.)

Katherine Balmer, assistant dean for freshmen [at Columbia University], said, “You can’t bring all these people together and say, ‘Now be one big happy community,’ without some sort of training [ emphasis added]” (p. 218.)

Northwestern University, for the planning of its New Student Week in 1989, formed a Cultural Diversity Project Committee…  One pleased committee member told the reporter, “It’s basically a white guilt organization.” The next day, New Student Week began, and the keynote speaker informed fifteen hundred freshmen that there were not to blame for the “customs and habits of thought” inherited from their parents and communities, but that they now must remake their lives, ridding themselves of “the ugliness, the meanness, …[ the] narrowness and[the] tribalism.” Students then had to discuss the lecture, led by the “facilitators” who had been trained the day before. (p. 221.)

The shame is that it does not require deep courage to resist the sacrifice of liberty and legal equality for peace. There are nations in the world where a college president indeed would risk his life by standing up for academic freedom. That is not the situation in the United States today. What is required is not so much courage as dedication to liberty and legal equality supported by just a bit of backbone. The fact that our academic leaders are not up tot his task is alarming. The fear of disruption, of causing offense, of being associated with controversy, linked to careerism, has produced a hollow, unprincipled cowardice. (p. 329.)

And speaking of the Supreme Court’s upholding the First Amendment against the rising tide of political correctness, just one month ago,

Today, the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Citizens United v. FCC, voting 5-4 to stand by the Constitution and protect our First Amendment right to free speech. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court, said, “We find no basis for the proposition that, in the context of political speech, the Government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers.”

Penny Young Nance, Concerned Women for America’s (CWA) Chief Executive Officer, said, “The Court correctly concluded that judges should stop playing semantics with our Constitution and read the text as it is written. The government should not be limiting political speech because someone is rich or poor, or because they disagree with a particular point of view.”

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Book Notes – Deschooling Society (2)

Degree ceremony at the University of Oxford. T...
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Following on…

For most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school. ((From the introduction.)

the existence of the university is necessary to guarantee continued social criticism (p. 37)

The man addicted to being taught seeks his security in compulsive teaching. (p. 39)

once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all non-professional activity is rendered suspect. In school we are taught that valuable learning is the result of attendance; that the value of learning increases with input; and that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates. (p. 39)

School teaches [the myth that] instruction produces learning. The existence of school produces the demand for schooling. Once we have learned to need school, all our activities tend to take the shape of client relationships to other specialized institutions. (p. 39)

Knowledge … is conceived of as a commodity put on the market in school. (p. 47)

School makes alienation preparatory to life, thus depriving education of reality and work of creativity. (p. 47)

Knowledge is not a commodity which can be forced into the consumer. (p. 50)

[Schools should]

  • be convivial places which folk do not have to be convinced to use (p. 55)
  • move towards praxis (action) and away from poesis (making) (p. 62)
  • increase the opportunity and desirability of human interaction (p. 63)

Institutions men use without having to be institutionally convinced that it is to their advantage to do so… (p. 55)

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Book Notes – Deschooling society

Ivan Illich
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Here are some quotes from chapter 1 of  Ivan Illich‘s classic Deschooling Society, which I recently re-read. The quotes are sentences or ideas that caught my attention. They are not necessarily representative, either of the book itself, nor of Illich’s or my thinking; that is, you won’t get an objective summary of the book by reading these quotes.  (For a 1971 libertarian review of Illich’s book, click here). With that disclaimer out of the way, here we go.

Chapter 1: Why we must disestablish schools.

[Schools school students] to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, … the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

… In these essays, I will show that the institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence. … I will explain how this process of degradation is accelerated when non-material needs are transformed into demands for commodities; when health, education, personal mobility, welfare, or psychological healing are defined as the result of services or “treatments”.

The ideology of obligatory schooling admits of no logical limits. [Illich goes on to illustrate using as an example the proposal of]
Dr. Hutschnecker, the “psychiatrist” who treated Nixon before he was qualified as a candidate, recommended… that all children between 6 and 8 be professionally examined to ferret out those who have destructive tendencies, and that obligatory treatment be provided for them…. Indeed, preventive concentration camps for predelinquents would be a logical improvement over the school system.

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The Answer Sheet

Scenes from the Battleground‘s Twitter feed points me to this Washington Post article: The Answer Sheet – teaching without gimmicks.

Except for the misguided notion of targeting learning styles, none of these techniques is wrong in itself. But together they raise a barrier. Instead of bringing the subject closer to the students, this heap of tools proclaims: “No entrance! The subject is too hard without spelled-out skills, too boring without adornment, and too frustrating without pep talks and cheers!”  Worse still, such techniques take precedence over the lesson’s content. A literature teacher is evaluated not for her presentation of specific poems, but for stating the objectives, keeping all students “on task,” reminding them about the relation between hard work and success, using visuals and manipulatives, and, ultimately, raising the scores. It matters little, in such a system, whether the poem is excellent or trivial, what kind of insight the teacher brings, or what the students might take into their lives.

Solid good, yet uncommon, sense here. In its questioning of the value of “objectives”, it reminds me of something by a retired British teacher-trainer, James Atherton, Against Learning Objectives:

Some people manage to talk in the same breath about being “student-centred” and the need to have clear objectives (even behavioural objectives) for their teaching. They may even be arrogant enough to want to specify the “outcomes” of their teaching.

Formulation of objectives, particularly in its extreme form as “outcomes” is naive, objectionable and patronising.

Here’s an entry on Atherton’s blog, Recent Reflections, on the same subject: On the perfect lesson

Similar considerations apply to the evaluation of teaching sessions. Yes, there are clear(ish) thresholds below which practice fails to contribute to learning and may indeed inhibit it. But beyond that we can judge only very broadly. And that is where Ofsted inspectors and QAA reviewers (now of blighted memory) get it all wrong;

  • They tend to assume that the perfect lesson is the result of following a standard recipe (they deny it, of course, but there is plenty of evidence to the contrary). For Blumenthal, it may be true. The “perfect chilli” is contained in his recipe. But there is no guarantee that the diner will like it. Technically, the system is defined too tightly, according to that which lends itself to measurement/judgement.
  • They assume therefore that the process of teaching (and learning) is a series of tableaux or set pieces, which can be judged independently. Were the lesson objectives spelt out at the start of the lesson? (Yes = good; No = bad.) Thus we inculcate ritual knowledge (Perkins, 1999) with no understanding of its significance. Are the experiential targets spelt out at the start of the opera? the stand-up routine? the liturgy?

And another one On Nostalgia:

I signed up for a Cambridge University Extension course on epistemology, but I missed the first session last week, unfortunately. We are a group of about sixteen people; I may be the youngest, and the oldest is clearly well into his eighties (I hope I am as acute, when/if I reach that age). We are also, sadly, entirely white and –I suppose almost by definition– middle class.
However, I got a course outline (two sides of A4) which specified a “syllabus” with “aims” and “content” but no “objectives”, a sheet of guidance for the essay (it was already clear that submission of the assessment was primarily to ensure the continued funding of the course by the university, and had little to do with assessment of learning, although one can apparently accumulate credits towards a certificate if so inclined), and a reading list.
The session was around two hours, with a coffee-break. The tutor lectured, with occasional questions and thought experiments directed at us, and occasionally (well, quite regularly) having to field spontaneous questions from “students”. He had a white-board, on which he wrote basic propositions, about three times. There were no handouts. There were no transparencies. There was no PowerPoint.
It was brilliant.

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“The students will not tolerate the teacher having power in the classroom”

This is a reply to a comment kindly left by OldAndrew of Scenes from the Battleground blog, which was a reply to this blog entry. I originally just replied to OldAndrew’s comment in a comment, but my reply got too long for a comment.

if students object to the very idea of the teacher being in charge, then there is nothing the teacher can do and still teach. You can make all the points you like about how the teacher is “responsible”, the point is that in that situation the teacher has responsibility without power.
Quite right. The situation is worse than I thought and I have edited my comment here from my original, flippant response. Obviously, little learning or teaching can take place in chaos.

You’re caught between a rock and hard place: you are denied the power (or authority) to act responsibly, and yet blamed for not acting responsibly or authoritatively. It seems a Catch-22 situation. The problem seems to be largely a legal and political one, yet also an ideological one in that a few teachers are not enough to make a difference, and if the school as a whole from the Head downwards is not backing up a serious attempt to impose order in the chaos (e.g. by recognizing, as OldAndrew says, that appeasement does not lead to increased order but the reverse; that some of the dearly held beliefs about children, their nature, and human behaviour may well be not only wrong but contributing to the problem), then most attempts will fail and the efforts of OldAndrew and his ilk will be limited. (I’m thinking of the example of Marie Stubbs, who was headmistress and managed to either bring around most of the staff to her way of thinking or hire her own replacements.)

I have found OldAndrew’s blog to be a fascinating source of information about British secondary school education. I especially recommend his Guide to Scenes from the Battleground

I recall reading about an incident earlier in 2009 in a British school, when a teacher was fired for forcibly removing an obstreperous student from a classroom: he physically grabbed the boy by the collar and the seat of his pants and pushed him out of the classroom. The police were called, and I don’t know what happened to the young man (15 or16, I can’t recall exactly), but the teacher had the book thrown at him: defrocked, disrobed, you name it. The poor guy was approaching retirement age, but I doubt if this is the way he had imagined leaving the profession. (I wish I could find the link).

(I’m reminded of the entrepreneurs and industrialists in Atlas Shrugged, forced to somehow continue inventing and producing despite a plethora of laws and regulations that effectively demotivate and prevent them from making a profit.)

“if the teacher were to slap anyone’s face the teacher would be suspended, fired and probably prosecuted.” I realize that times have changed since I went to school.

“the change in the law prohibiting this and all forms of corporal punishment in state schools was passed by Mrs Thatcher’s government, so I’m not sure where the “dominant socialist” thing came from.”
I interpreted the push for group work and mixed ability classes as coming from an ideology that said elitism is bad, ranking and streaming students is bad, hence (by implication) achievement is bad (or at least should be downplayed), in other words egalitarianism or socialism. I don’t equate socialism only with the left wing, or the Labour party (Hitler’s party was the National Socialists). I had not realized Thatcher’s specific responsibility, but it does not surprise me.

Thanks for commenting.

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Scenes from the Battleground responds

NEW YORK - APRIL 24:  Residents look on follow...
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OldAndrew, blogger of Scenes from the Battleground, took the trouble to comment on my earlier post (his comment is here, my original blog post is here). Thank you, OldAndrew.

I’ve been reading more of his blog posts. At first,  it was horrified fascination that kept me reading his stuff, kinda like rubbernecking a traffic accident. I kept asking myself how I would react in this or that situation; could I handle it? How?

Our situations are so different, it’s presumptuous of me to comment. I obviously have no idea what it’s like, and what works for me in my situation (with docile, well-behaved young adults for the most part, in a culture that avoids confrontation) would clearly not work in his.

Andrew wrote,

in many cultures young people in at least part of this range would be considered to be adults, so we should be very careful about excuses based on the idea that they are too young to behave.

I was not suggesting that children’s bad behaviour should be excused simply because they are young, nor that, because they are young, they are therefore likely to misbehave. I wrote that, the teacher is the (oldest) adult in the room, the master of ceremonies, and a representative of the institution (he belongs there more than the students do, at least), and therefore it seems more reasonable to expect the teacher to modify his behaviour if students are not cooperating or whatever. Modifying his behaviour does not mean capitulating; it means, “stop doing what isn’t working, or leading to escalation, and try something else.”

If you’re the adult in the room, the responsibility is on you; you are more likely than the students to act responsibly; you are the one who should act responsibly. That doesn’t let the students off the hook for irresponsible, rude, violent or whatever inappropriate behaviour, of course, but someone’s got to make the first move, take the initiative.

Stories about my successes would soon become stories about people who tried to stop me, or what I had to do to avoid being stopped. (Similarly, for the successes of other people I know.)… With regard to the claim of focussing on the negatives, I would suggest that this is how you change things. I am interested in improvement, and the biggest single obstacle to this in most schools is the attitude that it is “negative” to identify what isn’t working.

Well, is he changing things? Is focussing on the negatives working as a strategy? I agree that not looking squarely at what’s wrong is a huge hindrance to solving a problem.

I’m reminded of chapters in John Taylor Gatto’s book, in which he recounts, blow by blow, the mind-numbing stupidity, red-tape and petty-mindedness of administrators and bureaucrats that he came up against in 30 years of teaching in New York, at the end of which he quit:

An accumulation of disgust and frustration which grew too heavy to be borne finally did me in.

I read the Scenes from the Battleground blog for different reasons than OldAndrew writes it: I read it to learn, to put myself by proxy in new situations and try them on for size. When I read an article like the F… off Factor, for instance, I want to read OldAndrews wise words of advice on how to effectively deal with such a situation. Instead, I get a long-assed transcript of some such exchanges that he or a colleague experienced, followed by all the things the school didn’t do to penalize the student. OK. We got the picture. Bad behaviour where OldAndrew is, is often either unpunished or not punished effectively enough.

When I was a schoolboy, a large, rugby-playing tough-guy pupil, in the corridor waiting to go into class and with his back to the door, started an imitation of the teacher to amuse his friends. The teacher himself suddenly came out and stood right by Rugby Player, who, noticing everyone had gone quiet, turned around. The teacher promptly slapped his face, and while Rugby Player stood there, in shock or pondering which wrestling move to use on this teacher, the teacher snapped, “Well don’t just stand there or I’ll do it again!”

Now that’s a success story: an example of bad behaviour promptly and sucessfully quelled (leaving aside the question of whether the punishment fit the “crime”). It also worked well as a deterrent because there were about 30 students watching. That’s what I want to read.

OldAndrew does a great job of giving an alternative point of view to the dominant socialist one. His blog is up there on my “every teacher should read this” list, along withMelanie Phillips’  All Must Have Prizes, Gatto’s Underground History of American Education and E.D. Hirsch’s The Schools We Need (and why we don’t have them).

Only OldAndrew can tell what will work and what won’t in his situation. Looking at his situation from my armchair, thousands of miles away, my considered opinion is that, it’s hopeless. I see no way out left by OldAndrew’s stated views except increased coercion in some form or other. Maybe that will work. I’m not holding my breath.

OMG, one of Zemanta’s “related articles” below is to a Guardian article about infant drop-outs. It’s a strain to read this after Scenes from the Battleground. Have your paper bag ready in case you feel unwell:

With about 1,000 primary-age pupils now permanently excluded from schools each year, the programme aims to use early intervention to nip behavioural problems in the bud. The scheme, based in a vocational education centre for older pupils in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was launched this autumn at the request of a group of local schools. Each week, 12 pupils will spend a day here, learning a range of vocational skills including construction, hairdressing and catering… “We left this blank,” explains the regional support manager for the project, Sandra Ladapo, “so the children could make this their ‘feelings wall’.”… The thinking is that if children are unable to settle at school and are badly behaved or can’t communicate with classmates, there are probably deeper issues that need resolving. One of the jobs of the staff here is to give the children space to express themselves. “From our side, it’s giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, to start engaging them so they can begin to read and write,” Ladapo says.  … Away from the melee, she produces some of the notes she’s received about her new charges: “Challenging – needs constant reminders about tasks and accepted behaviour; poor social skills; little respect for females both in class and at break; fights and chews his T-shirt; doesn’t feel the need to be in school.”.. the children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre’s main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls…. Claire has settled down with Brad, five, Sam, six, and Neil, seven, to make a “happy chart”. The idea is to set out how they feel they should behave while they’re here

The scheme, based in a vocational education centre for older pupils in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, was launched this autumn at the request of a group of local schools. Translation: Please take them off our hands, please!

their ‘feelings wall’ This just sounds manipulative: what child would feel a need for or an interest in his or her own “feelings wall”? Or are we talking PTSD here?

doesn’t feel the need to be in school.” What child does? Gimme a break!

“From our side, it’s giving these little ones self-esteem, self-confidence, Is it possible to give someone self-esteem?

children will do real practical tasks. The construction students will make toys for them to paint and take home; cakes will be prepared to be baked in the centre’s main kitchen, and the tutors who supervise the older boys will teach them to make little brick walls. Didn’t Montessori figure all this out about 100 years ago?

Claire has settled down with Brad, five, Sam, six, and Neil, seven, to make a “happy chart”. The idea is to set out how they feel they should behave while they’re here What’s a “happy chart”? And what’s it got to do with clarifying to these tots how they should behave?

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Brain Gym, or propaganda in schools

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Andrew Old, blogging on Scenes from the Battleground, wrote a piece on Brain Gym, a system of simple exercises promoted by Britain‘s Education Ministry and used in thousands of schools around the country. He includes a couple of video clips from a 2008 Newsnight program that suggest it’s not backed up by actual science: is this proof that the children educated in anti-knowledge philosophy, that self-esteem and confidence matter more than learning content? The claims for Brain Gym are interesting; if they are genuine then more investigation would seem indicated, but surely more evidence should be required before schools either shell out taxpayers’ money for such a program, or before schools use children as guinea pigs?

Towards the end of video clip 1, a teacher who uses Brain Gym invites some of her pupils to give their thoughts on it. They are clearly just parrotting what they have been told; none of them talk about what they actually experience.

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Scenes from the Battleground – a secondary school teacher reveals the horrors of British classrooms

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I’ve just spent the last few hours reading the Scenes from the Battleground blog. Andrew Old is old-school: a believer in teaching facts and knowledge, in the importance of effective discipline, and he does not believe in progressive education.

He writes well, with zest and humour. Here’s a good example: someone sent him an email asking him to review the trailer of a documentary about education called We are the People We’ve been Waiting For.

After copying the original emailed request into his blog entry, Andrew provides his review:
Why Lord Puttnam Can Stick His Stupid Documentary Up His Arse

Andrew is not going for shock value here, he is genuinely furious:

But it takes the insanity of the zealot to blame educational failure on the academic focus of the education system, when anybody familiar with our schools can see that there is no academic focus for these children. This is a rant against authority in education, by the kind of people who do have authority in education. This is an argument for failed orthodoxy by presenting it as a radical departure. This is a polemic against academic standards by the kind of people who have already lowered the standards to nothing. This is an attack on the curriculum by the people who gave us the curriculum we have. This is an attempt to blame the failure of the educational system on the very values the system has already abandoned. This is a prolonged assault on a strawman education system that not only doesn’t exist, but would be far better than what we have now if it did exist. This is shameful lies combined with self-righteous sermons.

OldAndrew is intelligent and eloquent and knowledgeable (I’ve bookmarked his brief history of British education since WWII), but his blog entries pall after a while: it’s all rather negative – there are no success stories. It may be that success stories are impossible, given the kind of environment he describes (few serious consequences for children who misbehave, for instance, little or no backup from administration, and a steady stream it seems of arrogant, snivelling, rude young people who are never held responsible for their actions), yet I can’t help responding, “If you’re so clever, why can’t you make your approach work?” Maybe it does, but Andrew doesn’t seem interested in telling us the things that work. It’s more fun slagging off the students, or the staff, or the administrators, or the parents (everyone gets some stick at some time or other on his blog, including commenters).

He does a service, I think, to blow the lid off the “phony” approaches, such as Brain Gym and others that might be lumped together under the heading Snake Oil. (Here are similarly critical examinations of Learning Styles. The dominant philosophy of the times is in favour of such approaches, so it comes as a bit of a (healthy) shock to read a contrary opinion.)

A fairly frequent commenter on Andrew’s blog is Newsisgood. Here’s a question posed by Newsisgood to Andrew, with Andrew’s response:

Is it at all possible that a students’ misbehaviour could be down to unfair punishments from the teacher, or unfair discipline from the system?
If it is possible, would you still blame the student anyway? (You have said before that you must presume that the teacher is always correct when a teacher and student disagree). by Newsisgood June 4, 2007 at 10:11 am

“Is it at all possible that a students’ misbehaviour could be down to unfair punishments from the teacher, or unfair discipline from the system?”

No.

Strangely enough a student’s misbehaviour is down to the student. (The clue was in the word “student’s”.)

by oldandrew June 4, 2007 at 10:29 am

Andrew seems a mite intransigent. I don’t think the situation is as black-and-white as he sees it. For a start, he’s dealing with children, who by definition are not fully formed adults. In other words, it seems non-productive to insist that young people take full responsibility for their behaviours and choices as one might expect of adults. A lot of children’s behaviour, particularly in school, is a playing out of child/parent roles, in other words it is often a response to adult behaviour (tho the adult in question may not be in the classroom).

Andrew has repeatedly stated on his blog that he considers the bad students as people who bring their bad behaviours with them to school: he recounts experiences of students being rude and abusive to him or to other teachers whom they did not know. He feels stung by the (apparently) often repeated suggestion that teachers whose students behave badly are responsible, and that the solution lies in a better relationship with the students. Andrew dismisses this out of hand: “there IS no relationship” and yet students behave badly.

I feel Andrew is stuck in his situation. His attitude seems to preclude any satisfactory solution. I haveto admire his fortitude in staying instead of giving up. He sounds more intelligent than most of his fellow-teachers, which must make it increasingly galling when he is called to account by some dippy higher-up.

Update: here is another example of Andrew’s negativity andclosed-mindedness. What would be more helpful, then? “Focus on the negatives! Let the buggers get you down!” perhaps?

I think we all struggle with the attitudes of students and SMT alike. The trick is NOT to let it affect you. Life becomes a lot easier in schools if you can go around with a smile on your face and attempt to focus on the positives…after all, most kids are great.

It seems rather self defeating to allow the misery of a few morons to determine your own mood.

Who are the adults here?

     by treeman December 7, 2007 at 10:43 am

 

“The trick is NOT to let it affect you. Life becomes a lot easier in schools if you can go around with a smile on your face and attempt to focus on the positives…after all, most kids are great.”

Thanks, I forgot to mention that one.

That’s definitely one of the most unhelpful things you could ever say to somebody working in a stressful environment and only somebody who really didn’t get it could ever say it.

     by oldandrew December 7, 2007 at 2:32 pm
 
 

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TPRS workshop in Japan

Autonoblogger has details of a TPRS workshop in Kagoshima in January.

I’ve posted some details in Japanese here.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: My recommendations above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission. Your cost will be the same as if you order directly. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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