Saturday, December 26, 2009

Guilty as charged

How many times have I used this as an excuse?
We have to cover the material rapidly--
we have a state test in May.

So what do I do? I fly through material. I shorten labs. I guide students through discussions with a machete, slicing down errant thoughts for the sake of time.

Yes, I know kids are the masters of the sidestep, and can take a tangent from Kansas to Oz, but a good teacher can usually tell the difference between a stall move and a thoughtful (but flawed) discussion point.

The result? My version of the Race to the Top guarantees that my lambs will know less of a whole lot more.


Our latest superintendent left a couple of months ago to go back home after cutting his teeth here. I don't get too involved with the machinations of administration--no sense vibrating over things I cannot control--but he said something at the beginning of the year that disturbed me, and still does.

He essentially announced that no matter what we think, no matter what our opinion of the state testing, no matter how illogical it is to expect 100% compliance with NCLB by 2014, we must do the things we must do to increase our scores because that's what the government mandates.

I am sure others have heard similar speeches in their districts.

That bothers me. A lot.

If we truly believe we are doing our kids a disservice by teaching to a test that I doubt most U.S. Senators could pass (or even, alas, a few teachers), why are we complicit?

Here in New Jersey, teachers do not work for the state, nor do we work for the Feds--we work for our local Boards of Education, and we're paid by the folks who live in the town where we teach.

If I am not doing what is in the best interests of the children of the citizens of Bloomfield, I had better have a good reason.

We can fairly argue, Mr. Superintendent, whether striving towards meeting NCLB is in our children's best interests. We can debate whether losing a small percentage of our funding will cripple our school system any more than the mindless pursuit of a mythical measurable standard.

What we should not tolerate, however, is blind acceptance of a flawed law using logic that smacks of Befehl ist Befehl.

Farmer wielding a machete photo from the National Archives.


Anonymous said...

If you can't pass the state test, or if you even consider it to be hard, then seriously, you have no business being in a classroom.

If you don't want to "teach to the test" fine, but then please define for me exactly what it is you are teaching them. Science standards are pretty clear. Explain observed phenomena using Newton's Laws. Build an electromagnet. Demonstrate the difference between chemical and physical change using an experiment.

Have you ever even bothered to find out what is on these evil evil state tests? The very things I just listed. So again, if you aren't teaching to the test, what the hell are the kids learning from you? The joy of learning or some crap like that?

John Spencer said...

In Nazi Germany, most informants chose to remain anonymous, too.

This Brazen Teacher said...

Doyle... I thought you might like the link below. It's an article about "liberation psychology"

The article explains theories of social psychologist Martin Baro, and they are very applicable to your post. I'd be curious to know your thoughts. Hope you had a great holiday :-)

John Spencer said...

I've read the seventh grade test in AZ and I am convinced that most of our state legislators couldn't pass it.

The questions are poorly worded and designed to trick rather than assess. It's rigged so that McGraw Hill gets an opportunity to sell more curriculum and more consultant work.

As far as standards, again, I'm coming from AZ, but there are too many. Way too many. My students end up memorizing facts and never learn the scientific method. They do not think critically, because the boxed curriculum does not require this.

Please don't label people who slam standards as having "low standards." I for one want fewer, deeper standards.

Kelly Love said...

Love all the thinking out there. Gives me hope.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am surprised you choose to hide, but your confusion may mirror that of others as well, so deserves a response. You might want to start, though, by rereading what I said.

The standards are indeed clear--many of them are not science. I'll take your points in turn:

"Explain observed phenomena using Newton's Laws": first you need to see what you are explaining. Most people do not.

I spend a bit of time dropping a dime and a huge (retired) chemical reference book. Sometimes a I use paper clips, sometimes a bowling ball. Until you see them fall at the same rate, and internalize this, manipulating Newton's laws is pointless. Testable, true, but pointless as a science exercise.

(It's a good activity for math class, though.)

Building an electromagnet is technology, not science. OTOH, you got me thinking--if I charge the electromagnet by cranking a magnet in a coil, the kids can see how electricity is generated, and why it remained so mysterious for so long (and still does).

Demonstrating the difference between a physical change and a chemical change could be illuminating. I'd appreciate more from you on that.

I have, of course, looked at whatever questions the state has released. (Teachers are forbidden from looking at the exam they are required to proctor--go figure.)

The world is a joyful place--and occasionally mu kids smile in class. I frown on this--learning is a serious, serious business. Very serious.

(Send me your address and I'll send you a copy of one of Feynman's books--cranky is one thing, sad another.)

Dear John,

It's frustrating, no? If critical thinking were successfully taught, I fear a big chunk of what passes for success in this culture would collapse. Not sure that would be so awful.

Dear Brazen,

I'll take a look then get back to you--I'm still in holiday mode. Cheers~

Dear Kelly,

Thanks for the words--warmed me up. "Love" beats anonymity every time.

doyle said...

Dear Brazen (Part 2),

I just read your link--much to think about, but for now a story.

My sister Mary Beth was a wandering light--fearless, loving, and full of life. A friend of hers once remarked that people cannot change.

Mary Beth smoldered with intensity, but rarely got angry.

She got angry.

Mary Beth changed a lot of lives--she made you feel good about being human with choices. She never denied that we might be doomed--that was never the point.

It might even be at that point that we become most effective--if you really think we are headed for Armageddon (in whatever form), there's little reason to be fearful, little reason to hold back.

People can change.

I hope my students realize this.

Thanks for the link.