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Education: how do we get there from here?

February 14, 2009

A couple education-related posts that I found more interesting when contrasted with each other…

Crooked Timber: Some obvious comments about school improvement and the achievement gap, proposes a system of mutual coaching among teachers to improve technique and increase accountability.  It’s an intriguiging idea but even more interesting is the discussion that follows about what to do with students who take the lion’s share of classtime and attention. (HT Chad Orzel from Uncertain Principles)

Coturnix, the chronobiologist author of A Blog Around The Clock reports on a case of Innovation in Education in Monkseaton High School in England.  In an architecturally inspiring environment, using instructional technology in a new way, the school is experimenting with teaching a range of content at far higher speed than anyone thought possible, leaving more time for discussion and reflection.

And what’s interesting about them?  For me it’s the fact that neither one will ever touch the school districts in our area.  For us, “innovation” consists of turning up the voltage on pretty much the same circuit they’ve been using since I graduated from school here 34 years ago.  The brains of Unit 5 (yes, that is the name of the school district here in Normal, Illinois) administrators seem to be caught in a quantum singularity as time flows past them. 

Example: to increase efficiency, the high schools are going to start next year at 7:15am.  Never mind numerous studies that show high school students, most of them, don’t even switch on until about 9:00am.  All that matters is being “efficient”.

Or for example that all the new schools built in this district have no windows.  After all, someone may look out the windows, and what then?  Of course I wonder if the teachers can’t compete with a window, what chance do they have against the Internet?  And is it worth the contest?  Disengaging from the immediate room to think for a moment IS part of the learning experience.

School environments are full of impediments to learning, never mind efficiency.  There’s the sonic environment, the photonic environment, the chronobiological environment, and the sequential environment.  That last one is important:  kids are force-marched through the day with little time to think about the information they’re being exposed to.  Hell, they don’t even have time to eat lunch.  But they are barcoded and treated constantly with suspicion in their windowless prison.

School districts can’t experiment, pretty much, at all.  There’s so much testing pressure that learning, the high-level function of adaptability and distinction that might equip a student to function well in an age of information overload, hardly gets any attention at all.  What I want to know is; how do we get there from here?

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  1. February 15, 2009 at 04:36 | #1

    George,
    my old maths teacher never answered a question. He’d just turn it around and ask a set of (simpler?) questions right back at us. I found it very annoying at the time , but realise now that these were designed as steps to lead us to get the original answer ourselves.

    He didn’t teach us STUFF, he taught us how to think for ourselves! Way to go!!

    —-

    Personally, I triple reinforce stuff, like this:-

    Tell them what you are going to tell them.
    Tell them.
    Tell them what you told them.

    and (much) later, ask them what you told them ;-)

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