Monday, September 28, 2009

Breaking the Ice: Childhood Education

As someone who is more likely to drink Cabernet Sauvignon on a Monday night than most people, I am pleased use the implications of this fact as an excuse to initiate the first discussion on Wining and Surmising.

My topic for discussion is childhood education.

I believe: The goal of teaching children should be to enable the students to learn...but learn what? Should it be the particular subject that is being taught (because it is the teacher's  "job"), or for the student to "learn" how to be better at learning?

It is my belief that learning is the responsibility of the student. This being said, I find it more important that a teacher assist a student in becoming a self-sufficient learner than it is to focus on teaching a subject.  A teacher may do everything within their power to assist in a student's gaining understanding of a subject, but this is not enough. A student must be capable of understanding the topic. A student must desire to learn the topic. A student must have the discipline to take the steps required to learn the topic.

-A student's capability for learning a topic has to do with how creative and insightful a student is, but also with how disciplined and desiring they are.
-Desiring to learn is one thing, but doing the work is another.
-Being a hard worker will only get a student so far. They have to think critically and creatively. They must also want to learn, or else they may not be inspired to work on understanding a topic.
(Note the interdependent relationships.)

Effectively: Are students willing to do the work that is associated with learning? Will they be open to new ideas and create their own? Do they care to learn?

A student's capability, desire, and discipline cannot be enforced by a teacher. They can be encouraged, however. I believe that it is imperative that a teacher encourages the student to have desire, to have discipline, to be creative, and most of all to become self reliant. The reality is this: no matter how well one teacher does their job, another might do an equally bad job. If a student is equipped with the will-power and the tool-sets required to educate themselves, then they will work towards becoming educated, regardless of how well or poorly they are taught.

Are all students equally capable of learning? Studies might suggest otherwise. How should this affect a teacher's actions?

How does a teacher "instruct" a student on how to be a creative and critical thinker?

How does a teacher instill desire?

What do you think?



  1. I picked up an interesting combo for this week's Wine Wednesday... Yellowtail Cab Sav, which tells me its flavors are blackberries, chocolate and vanilla; and a bottle of Delirium Tremens (guess which one was more expensive).

    So, childhood education!

    One bad approach to reforming teaching is what we saw with the last administration: "the numbers don't lie" -- i.e., measurement, measurement, measurement. But: what do you measure? Improving test scores is only useful if the test scores reflect all the factors that will make a student successful in secondary, postsecondary, postgraduate, and/or workplace learning.

    There are, of course, the obvious problems with the No Child Left Behind method, such as the policy of setting standards whereby the basic laws of statistics are completely ignored such that schools are expected to make strides in student achievement that are by their very definition impossible. (I.e., standards in the vein of: "75% of students will read at or above their grade level." Or worse, 100% in some cases. Say what?)

    But the more serious problem with measurement such as it is, is the phenomenon of “teaching to the test”. Taking Florida as an example: Teachers that my mother works with spend two months of their school year on FCAT preparation. The financial component of measurement has become so vital that there is a huge industry devoted to analyzing the prior FCATs and devising strategies to improve student scores. This would be fine if the FCAT was a perfect test, and preparing students to do well on it was connected naturally to the curriculum. Long story short, it absolutely is not such a test.

    Reform can also go wrong in the other direction, I think, where critical thinking becomes a very nebulous concept, and the rudiments of knowledge and analysis are ignored in favor of higher-level thinking. Most children do need repetition to learn how to read, to spell, and to do arithmetic. Some drills may be tedious, but are absolutely necessary to build the skill set needed for critical thinking. Much like music. Rome was not built in a day.

  2. That’s not to say that there aren’t skills relevant to critical thinking that are currently neglected. In my brief exposure to the Numbers and Polynomials class at UF that I sat in on a few times, the professor made a very good point about how the basics of logic and of proving something mathematically are almost completely ignored in the U.S. primary school system writ large, save for a minute appearance in middle/high-school geometry, because they are deemed too difficult. I think that’s a huge mistake, and that those skills and concepts could be worked in much earlier than college.

    On the other main point of student desire…I’m suddenly thinking of Liam Neeson in Batman Begins: “The desire is nothing; the will is everything.” (Or something like that.) In having to force students to learn and to force parents to care, public school teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world.

    Teachers can to some extent instill a desire by being passionate about their subject. They can guide students to think critically and creatively. (Any example or demonstration of a cool counterintuitive concept is a great assist there.) But, teachers can’t create desire or will from nothing. That, I think, is a problem of both a socioeconomic and an individual scale, but it can’t be the teacher’s problem to solve. Some incredibly driven and inspired teachers might be able to do it, but on a large scale, I don’t think it can happen; even with excellent behavioral techniques and reinforcement schedules, not many teachers can be psychiatrists as well as teachers.

    And, of course, not all students are equally capable of learning. My mom’s special education students have vastly different goals than students in her school’s gifted program. And…THAT’S OK. It doesn’t mean her students don’t deserve our support, financial and otherwise, in striving to become the best they can be. But almost all if not all of them are not going to college, none of them are going to MIT, and my mom not having faith in them is absolutely not the reason. Yes, autism-spectrum disorder students are an extreme, but I feel they prove the rule. From Ratatouille: “Not everyone can be a great chef, but a great chef can come from anywhere.” The Law of Large Numbers predicts that, with as many humans as there are on this planet, there will be a few who defy all odds and learn far beyond what they are expected to be capable of learning. That doesn’t mean that everyone can achieve at (at least) an “average” level – that’s just not the definition of average.

    But, yeah. Logic, discrete math, how to prove something. Those are the building blocks, not the end goal. And they have lifelong benefits. Showing a passion for what you teach, showing that you have a passion for others and for your students, and showing how your passion for (1) affects your passion for (2). As always, show, don’t tell.

  3. I'm really enjoying the baby animal pictures. There's a super-cute kitten with a frog hat up right now.

    As far as the spiral into alcoholism goes, I'm hoping to avoid that by just buying the good stuff, stretching it out, and just being smart.

    And, some possible topics for next week that I ran into this week:

    1) The DREAM Act and the economics and social cost of a lack of immigration reform
    2) Nuclear Energy: How Dangerous?

    Those may be a little more political than philosophical. Whatevahs.

    My bad on the late reply. I was in Wine Wednesday mode.

  4. No problem about late replying. Also, for further topics, feel free to create your own post! You've got Author status. ;)
    (I'm trying to discourage this from becoming an Arthur-posts-everyone-else-comments sorta thing.)

  5. Sweet.

    I'll probably post something the night before whatever day I get off next week.

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