Thursday, July 22, 2010

Alfie, Arne, Charlie, and Mumford

It's July--the sun still reigns, but as it slips slowly away, sordid disorder slips in. Gardens get weedy, wasps a tad touchy. June fools us into thinking entropy is an illusion.

July cures illusions.


I am reading both Alfie Kohn and Lewis Mumford this week--Kohn's The School Our Children Deserve and Mumford's The Myth of the Machine. Kohn paints a lovely picture of what is possible, Mumford explains why we do it wrong anyway:

Once automatic control is installed one cannot refuse to accept its instructions...for theoretically the machine cannot allow anyone to deviate from its own perfect standards. And this brings us at once to the most radical defect in every automated system: for its smooth operation this under-dimensioned system requires equally under-dimensioned men, whose values are needed for the operation and continued expansion of the system itself.

Human autonomy has become a quaint idea.


Arne Duncan, the quintessential Organizational Man, was predicted by Lewis Mumford--he does what he does to keep the machinery humming.

The sad thing is that a lot of folks, culturally accepted sociopaths, do as Arne does. Joyce Irvine, an effective principal by all accounts, was fired this week to keep the machine humming.

“Her students made so much progress.
What’s happened to her is not at all connected to reality.”
Jeanne Collins, Superintendent of district

The good news is this--if you treat children as "humans now" instead of as "workers later" they do as well on the standardized tests as those who get the drill-to-kill treatment, perhaps even better.

I'm busy constructing a constructivist classroom. I'm risking my career on Kohn's words and research. I'm hoping my children become happy, thinking adults.

And I pray I never have an Arne Duncan clone give me credit years later as the driving force in his education.


John Spencer said...

I think it goes back to the sages and lunatics concept. If I teach students and treat them as human, I can be a sage, calmly changing the system. Then when I have my chance (when the talking heads ask for advice) I go into lunatic mode and speak up.

I like your word play on "constructing a constructivist classroom" though I see you more as a guy who sees it as something you grow. Organic metaphors seem to suit you. You plan, yes, you get the soil ready, you plant and water - but the growth is always grace in gardening or learning.

Sue VanHattum said...

The Joyce Irvine article is only available to paid subscribers of the NYT.

I found a short article. Does the NYT article give more detail?

doyle said...

For folks who do not know, John is an author and wrote a wonderful look at the classroom, Sages and Lunatics:recovering what we lost in factory education.

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

Sorry about that--I need to snoop to see if I can find a more complete version somewhere else....

Leslie said...

that's weird. i'm not logged into our account on my work computer, but I can read the article.

Tyler (@MrTRice_Science) said...

You inspire me to keep pushing myself to make my classroom increasingly democratic and inquiry centered.

I keep hoping that my students' test scores will go up as a byproduct of what I'm doing. Not because I care about test scores but because I crave some kind of conclusive data to prevent the usurping of my autonomy.

I believe in inquiry and constructivism. I believe in a classroom of the students by the students and for the students.

I don't believe in the system...

Charlie Roy said...

I don't think anyone would argue her termination is unjust. Reading the article it is interesting to see her accepting attitude. Kind of like taking the grenade so everyone else makes it out. Hopefully Mr. Duncan manages to find time to read the Times and maybe something will happen.

doyle said...

Dear Tyler,

Thank you for the words--I must confess, however, that "democratic" is not one of the themes of my classroom. Not saying it shouldn't be, but I run the classroom, adjusting as needed.

That sounds harsher than it is--even in inquiry-based classes, where useful tangents erupt like May dandelions, children need structure, and I do not have time to democratically create the structure.

I am more and more convinced that a constructivist approach leads to better test scores (or maybe doesn't destroy scores as much as drill and kill does at the sophomore level).

Dear Charlie,

Joyce Irvin is now a hero of mine. What do you do if you're the superintendent? One of the teachers? Parents?