Saturday, March 18, 2006

Group Hug

Thanks to Crazy P for gettinging me all riled up this morning. I was content to sit here and drink my morning pot of coffee out of my Tigger mug (Boing!), but no, he has to go point out this Washington Post opinion piece by a fellow named Coleman McCarthy, who sounds like Part of the Problem to me.

Coleman McCarthyIt's men like McCarthy that make me dread the day six years from now when I send my son to kindergarten and commence my all-out war against a flacid, permissive, impotent public education system. Sure, there are alternatives; homeschooling, private schooling, but it was good enough for me and my wife and I desperately want it to be good enough for my son. Wish in one hand...

We'll try public education first, anyway, and see how it goes.

Y'know, up here at the Surface Warfare Officers School, some admiral's kid went through our Division Officer Course a few years ago and told his dad it was a waste of time; apparently, he didn't think that six months of exercising his liver and learning about the Navy was good use of his time before going to his first ship. I think those of us who are not admiral's sons might have disagreed

Therefore, Dad ordered DOC to restructure. It was changed from a rigorous six-month crash course in everything an ensign needs to do his job into a three week touchy-feely group-hug-fest with no tests that the division officers sit through after they've been thrown to the wolves on their ship for a year or so directly out of college. Because of our lack of ability to hold them accountable for anything, they got very little out of what little time we had. The only feedback we had on whether the restructuring was a success was course critiques that the students filled out after the three weeks was over, causing us to change the course every three weeks.

So in the year I taught it, we had to redo the structure of the course every month based on what the students thought about it, rather than on whether they were actually learning anything. It is now something I don't even recognize, three years later, though I'm told that now that said admiral is no longer in control, testing has commenced.

McCarthy says:
"Standardized tests measure braininess and memory skills. American society has plenty of people who were academic whizzes in high school but were so driven by the lure of a high grade-point average that their spiritual lives remained stunted. I worry about students who make too many A's. What parts of their inner lives are they sacrificing to conform to someone else's notion that doing well in tests means doing well in life? Is any time left over from mastering theoretical knowledge for gaining the kind of experiential knowledge found in community service or volunteering in programs such as Special Olympics or DC Reads?"
He worries about students who get too many A's? Now, I'd be the first one to tell you that school standards and personal standards are not one in the same. However, he actually worries about kids who are driven to achieve! Imagine, telling a kid that they're being too successful. Oh, wait, I forgot, success and achievement is looked down up by the more enlightened liberal elites. We're finding new ways to celebrate mediocrity.

Additionally, a test is a teaching tool. A feedback device to measure the teacher's success at imparting requisite knowledge to the student. It's stupid to have a tool and not use it.

McCarthy's ablility to be the waste of skin that he is comes from his formal education. No time for the Special Olympics? What a load of crap! First, why should a child be obligated to perform community service? Second, I agree with you, Crazy P, there's plenty of time for a kid to do things outside of school. I was a Boy Scout for 12 years (and did plenty of community service, because I wanted to), fenced, played soccer, took Tae Kwon Do, worked stage crew and acted in several plays, produced a TV show and wrote a novel. My daughter is in Girl Scouts, plays basketball and soccer, goes to dance is disturbingly active in her church and reads everything. This guy hasn't the foggiest idea what he's talking about.

As far as teaching to the test, it's synonymous with testing the material you teach, in my opinion. Why quiz the student on things he doesn't need to know?

Children need discipline and structure and preparation for adulthood, not to be felt sorry for. They want to be challenged, not pandered to; at least until we get them thinking they should be pandered to. McCarthy claims to have a lot of evidence to back up his philosophy, and I'd be interested in seeing what he considers to be evidence and what exactly it is evidence of. It sounds to me like he's just trying to create a lot of self-sacrificial automatons with no basic skills doomed to a life of dependence upon others. Desire-based learning may be great when students want to learn something, but what about when they don't? I guess someone else who had a decent education and is sufficiently motivated and focused upon his own achievement will pick up the slack for them.

He's not demanding anything from these kids. He writes that,
"To compensate for my no-testing policy, I assign tons of homework. The assignments? Tell someone you love him or her. Do a favor for someone who won't know you did it. Say a kind word to the workers at the school: the people who clean the toilets, cook the food, drive the buses and heat the buildings. And a warning: If you don't do the homework, you'll fail. You'll fail your better self, you'll fail to make the world better, you'll fail at being a peacemaker."
Adults who do not understand that these people must do what they are doing because they choose to do so, or that violence has a necessary place and purpose, terrible though it may be, turn into people like this McCarthy fellow. They may be on the news performing mindless acts of stupidity every night, but they are not successful people.

Anecdotally speaking, I get this from my daughter everytime she visits. She is unchallenged in school and hungers for knowledge - so we talk about everything. I visit historic places with her and teach her about the world. I quiz her on multiplication tables. No one else seems willing to do it. She's nine years old and doesn't know anything about the American Revolution or the Civil War. At all. How can you know you want to learn about something if no one ever tells you happened? What if you think it's too hard to understand and decide you don't want to learn about it? She's over-empathetic, can't handle fictional violence or suspense (she has nightmares when Augustus Gloomp is sucked up the pipe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

To blame all this on public education or this backwards, achievement-killing hippie would be preposterous. He's simply part of the larger problem that will take as long or longer to fix as it has to cause it.

EDIT: Betsy Newmark, who has apparently gotten her blog back, has a terrific link to this WaPo article from a few weeks ago: Students Call for Banning of Peace Studies Class. But I sure this is just one or two unruly brainwashed kids trying to stir the pot.


Penraker: Why Peace Studies People Are Mental
Crazy Politico's Rantings: Teaching To The Test?
Riehl World View: Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies: Agenda Politics Or Polls?


Blogger Crazy Politico bloody well said...

Glad I could get your blood pressure up so early in the morning. Now I don't feel alone.

BTW, you are attracting a fan club in my comments :)

18 March, 2006 12:25  
Blogger His Majesty bloody well said...

Incredible! You've accumulated more blurbs into your array. As the undisputed ruler of the Blogosphere, I will commision a band of psychic pirates to bring the new ones to my blurbsmith, Gyrobo. He will weave them into the Roboshrub Inc. array.

You have no choice! Semper fudge!

18 March, 2006 14:29  
Blogger Little Miss Chatterbox bloody well said...

I just did a post on school choice. School choice would make public schools and psychos like this guy have accountability.

18 March, 2006 18:44  
Blogger The Taker of Gist bloody well said...

I would never tolerate anything less than perfect grades from anyone who wants to work in my Gist mill. That's because Gistology is a very delicate process, and the slightest tweak in the wrong direction could have society-shaking consequences. So when I hear about students being allowed to go all willy-nilly because of some "admiral" with his "moon boots" and "aftershave," it riles me up a little.

19 March, 2006 01:21  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

LMC, I think you're right, school choice would force government-run schools to be competitive or fail. I don't understand why people are so afraid to let a free market work. I think it would be great if we could privatize all public education, as some governments privatize their state-owned companies. It's in government's interest to have a well-educated population, but if you're going to spend tax dollars to pump children's heads full of garbage, then it's probably best to get out of the education business.

19 March, 2006 06:55  
Blogger Lone Pony bloody well said...

I'm trying so hard to keep my composure on this one. Let's start with this:

"To compensate for my no-testing policy, I assign tons of homework."

Is he going to follow these kids around and make sure they actually do it? No.

They should be doing things like that out of respect for others anyway, but it's the parent's job to teach that first.

They're going to do exactly what some of my kids do when I assign homework. Not do it (themselves), and tell me they did. Then, when it comes time for passing the test, they do poorly. Busted! I can't watch them do their homework, but I can make sure they don't cheat on tests. Oh yes I can!

Many times, it comes down to attitude. The kids with the attitude of doing their work and giving a good, honest try at it are going to do just fine. The kids that are slower have to work harder and longer, but if they do, they'll do fine too. (Sound like real life?) The kids that think everyone owes them (because they have been pandered to, are going to do poorly.)

You also have those kids that don't need to study and do just fine on tests. Hey, each class has a huge variety of learning abilities. That's where the teacher really shines!

I have 90 minutes to help EVERY kid understand certain things. For those that get it in less time, they can move on, perhaps even get their homework done in class. For those that move slower (be it capability or attitude), they will have to work on it later at home or after school with me. I'm willing if they are.

Anyway, I'm ranting and I need to stop. Matt, thank you for the support on tests as a tool. They are, as are grades. Your kids will most likely be fine, because a good parent can take up any slack in the system. One word of caution. No matter what you think of a teacher...don't tell your kids what a stupid teacher they have. (Keep that between you and the teacher.) It will undermine any chance that teacher has to do any good at all, and it will hurt the kid. Somehow, I have to hope that most teachers want what is best for the kids, which, in turn is best for America.

19 March, 2006 14:40  
Blogger NEO, SOC bloody well said...

This crap is what ticks me off. Armed & Christian and I attend this Bible College and we love the onslaught of work. One of the best professors was ignored by most of the students? Why? Because he made us work at a high doctorate level in undergraduate classes. We not only learned the core things of the class, but better how to think and form more solid worldviews based on better appreciation of God's Word through thorough systematic theology studies and a better comprehension of abherent teachings and ideologies because we were forced to read and report on those who held different ideologies and epistomologies.

One student actually told the professor "I thought they were firing you because you gave too much homework".

This professor is now one of my best friends. My whole frame of thinking is much better now and I attribute 97.2% of it to my interaction with this professor. Yet, not many people would want this kind of torture. Call me sadistic then, but learning is fun!

21 March, 2006 10:52  
Blogger Robosquirrel bloody well said...

NEO: I actually gave my graduate school professors poor evaluations when they didn't bother trying to challenge the students, or condescended to them.

I expected graduate education to be hard, but it was easier than most of my undergrad classes and seemed largely pointless. A handful of professors had their heads screwed on right, but most of the time they didn't seem to care.

LP: I was one of those students who, until after high school, did all the homework in class, rarely paid attention and had As and Bs throughout.

I know that parents are part of the equation and as long as I'm not at sea, I'm planning to be invovled with my son. Interestingly, I quizzed my daughter on long division over the phone the other day. She seems to be doing pretty well.

I didn't realize what a great tool a test is until I was forbidden from testing my students. After that, it seemed pointless to teach the course, and the students still felt like their time was being wasted.

21 March, 2006 11:48  

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