Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sound It...OUT

Like most things, teaching has always been fraught with contradictions. Just as the variety of human personality types, there are many approaches to achieving success in the classroom. I guess that's why the concept of standardization seems counter intuitive to most educators I know. Bottom line is, if it works do it. OK, so that's fine, but what if teachers are being "required" to use methods that they know and feel are intrinsically wrong? This is what is occurring all over the country now with the use of scripted curriculum and one size fits all approaches to skill building. Teachers are being de-skilled in many ways. With that comes one of the most important parts of remaining in the profession...JOY. When you are told what to say and when to say it, when you are evaluated by test scores, when you have lost your voice and your will to pursue the natural curiosity you possess, we have a problem. A very big problem.
This morning I read part of a conversation on a national list serve of teachers. The concern today was the use of dog clickers (those sound making little devices that trainers use to reinforce positive behaviors) in the teaching of reading. A quick bit of research tells me that this is indeed happening in schools where administrators and school boards have tasted the poison Kool-Aid of pseudo reform. People often ask me to explain why teachers need unions, why teachers seem to always be at odds with various attempts at reform, why teachers feel so threatened these days. Think I'll begin with the dog clickers. That will lead to behaviorism v. humanism as approaches to learning and perhaps we can go from there. Now, I have no problem with reward and punishment, or using some of the techniques that reinforce various behaviors. But not for something like reading. That's a no-brainer. No wonder half the population of this country did not read a book last year. (either digital or print!)
In my last couple of years in the classroom we fought off attempts to remove "whole" books from our curriculum. In one of the most meaningful things I've ever done, I recall participating in a public reading of Fahrenheit 451 with colleague and students BEFORE school started at 7:30 a.m. That way parents people driving by, bus drivers and pedestrians could all participate if thy choose. The message got out...at least temporarily. A final thought. My old school district, Richmond Unified, in Northern California, nearly went bankrupt back in the early 90s. The short version is we had a Superintendent who spent wildly but couldn't pay the bills. One of those bills was $29 million in computers and hardware. There was a time when we were encouraged to write curriculum and courses based on what teachers and students wanted. This freedom was heady but short-lived. I was able to teach a class called Black Authors in my school. With 45% of the student body African-American, it was soundly supported and immediately popular. When the debt hit the fan, it ended. Lasted only two years. What remained were the books I was able to purchase before all the funds dried up. How ironic. But then something good can often result from something disastrous. I see a lot of well-trained dogs in some parts of the country some day.

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