2012

11 April 2012: Teaching not that simple

Teaching is not that simple

“You have a product and a service that we put out there.  Our product is the kids that we produce, and in this day and age, we have to produce strong, smart, very nimble kids to go on to higher education, and that’s what I’m about.” – Dan Frydenlund, newly-installed CCSD BOE President

Dan ought to know, I suppose, being a product of Clear Creek schools, which tells us something about him and Clear Creek schools.  Don your critical-thinking caps because I’m leaving it to you to decipher those implications.

There won’t be a test, gratefully.  I expect, instead, a three- to five-page analysis in MLA format that includes six to ten topically-related valid sources.

Assessment will be based on process and structure and on content and depth of critical thinking.

Reminder: Wikipedia does not count as a source!

This is not to beat up Dan, who succeeded me on the Board of Education and for whom I have considerable respect.  Dan is apparently a talented businessperson who is probably wise enough not to hire me to run his business, for I know barely a whit about venture capitalism.

The problem is well-intentioned folks like Dan in turn know barely a whit about education.  Just because one graduated—er, is a school’s product—doesn’t qualify him/her as an expert about the how-to’s of it, very much like flying on a plane not qualifying one as a pilot or chair of the board of United.

Only in America does one become an expert simply because of his/her opinion.  As one American who made it big despite not graduating—test on that later and no Googling the answer—put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

“I know this is technically not a business,” said Dan, “but in many ways I see it the same way.”  And therein lays the problem.

Dan need not to have qualified his statement with “technically”; the process of education is not a business.  Period.  Students are not widgets that are “produced” or blank spreadsheets waiting for data—learning—to be entered, the sum of which, when totaled vertically and horizontally, demonstrates achievement and brilliance.

It’s true the financial aspect of public education has business implications.  For that purpose, skilled citizens such as Dan are invaluable.  What happens in the classroom, however, has nothing in common with venture capitalism.  If it does, only the best and brightest students who demonstrate the most potential should continue.  A discerning entrepreneur could identify them by the third-grade

Venture capitalism is about exclusion; public education is about inclusion.

Tests, whether unit or final exams, SAT’s, or CSAP-like types are not ultimate indicators of success.  For anyone who believes they are, I have an 11thgrade level, kick-butt test on punctuation.  Results will be published forthwith in this column.

Tests, while occasionally appropriate given the subject and unit, are merely indicators of learning.  For sure, I wouldn’t want to drive across a bridge designed to specs by an art graduate.  On the other hand, math wizards are of little help when it comes to delving into the complexities of Shakespeare’s and Faulkner’s writings, Jung’s psychology, Dali’s art, or Lincoln’s presidency.

Teaching is not about “kicking butt,” and a filled-to-capacity football stadium is no indicator of academic success.  Football is religion in Texas high schools, and look at whom they chose as their last two governors, neither among the sharpest tacks in the pack.

Teaching is an art.

A few months ago, a thirty-something woman told me of her teaching venture.

“I lasted one semester,” she said, “and went back to the business world.”

She couldn’t deal with the plethora of issues with which battle-scarred classroom veterans are more than familiar and continue on despite of.

“I’ll bet you were in either math or science,” I ventured.

“Math,” she confirmed.  “How did you guess?”

“It happens all the time—well-meaning, brilliant individuals from the business world or military who see human behavior from those constructs and approach the classroom accordingly,” I said.  “They become befuddled because humans are complex creatures that are like snowflakes in that no two are alike.  And, in the end, no one can force anyone to learn.”

When I had my taxes done, I went to a tax expert.  When my vehicle develops a rattle, I take it to my mechanic.  You get the point.

The experts in education are not sitting in a detached building devoid of the human beings the subject of which this is about: students.  Rarely are they elected officials.

The experts are in those box-shaped buildings through which nearly every American adult has passed including, ironically, public education’s biggest critics.  Ponder that.

To be continued.

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