J.A.A. Purves

What is 21st Century Education?

108 posts in this topic

Corey Robin reports on a letter that, if genuine (and it seems to be) is possibly symptomatic:

 

We hope this letter serves to help you better understand how the demands of the 21st century are changing schools and, more specifically, to clarify misconceptions about the Kindergarten show. It is most important to keep in mind that this issue is not unique to Elwood. Although the movement toward more rigorous learning standards has been in the national news for more than a decade, the changing face of education is beginning to feel unsettling for some people. What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.

The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers. Please do not fault us for making professional decisions that we know will never be able to please everyone. But know that we are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind.

 

Edited by NBooth

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How the Common Core made Kafka more popular

 

A new report from Renaissance Learning on what 10 million students read during the 2012-13 academic year suggests that merely being in Appendix B could lead to a dramatic popularity increase for books that were obscure, out of date, or out of favor

 

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Active Learning Leads to Higher Grades and Fewer Failing Students in Math, Science and Engineering

 

The authors found that 34% of students failed their course under traditional lecturing, compared to 22% of students under active learning. This suggests that, just in the studies that they analyzed, 3,500 more students would have passed their courses if taught with active learning. By conservative estimates, this would have saved the students about 3.5 million dollars in tuition. The authors point out that, were this a medical study, an effect size this large and statistically significant would warrant stopping the study and administering the treatment to everyone in the study.

 

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NY Times: Should college syllabi carry trigger warnings?

 

 

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?

 

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

 

The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.

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NY Times: Should college syllabi carry trigger warnings?

 

 

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Should students about to read “The Great Gatsby” be forewarned about “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence,” as one Rutgers student proposed? Would any book that addresses racism — like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “Things Fall Apart” — have to be preceded by a note of caution? Do sexual images from Greek mythology need to come with a viewer-beware label?

 

Colleges across the country this spring have been wrestling with student requests for what are known as “trigger warnings,” explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

 

The warnings, which have their ideological roots in feminist thought, have gained the most traction at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where the student government formally called for them. But there have been similar requests from students at Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools.

 

 

This was mentioned, too, in the thread on "literary reading".

 

And if you have to have a trigger warning telling you that Huckleberry Finn and Things Fall Apart deal with racism, then you're doing the whole reading thing wrong.

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A welcome post from Alan Jacobs, "Trigger Warnings and Trust":

 

"All of which — and here’s where I’m heading with both of these posts — shows how hopelessly misbegotten the whole idea of “trigger warnings” is. Even aside from the widespread failure, in discussions of this topic, to distinguish between (a) triggers experienced by people who have undergone severe trauma and (cool.png the discomfort experienced by anyone who’s encountering new and challenging ideas, there is a still deeper problem: a failure to realize that just as important as what you read is whom you read it with — the social and personal context in which you experience and discuss and reflect on a book.

 

"A list of troublesome "topics" — basically, tagging books with simplistic descriptions — is an utter trivialization of all these matters. Any teachers who think that they have met their moral responsibilities to students by loading their syllabuses with such tags — and any institutions who  find such tags adequate — have grossly misunderstood what education is. And that would be true even if such tags could adequately capture the ways in which a given theme (sexual violence, say) is treated in a given work of art, which they can't.."

 

It's just preaching to the choir here, but it's a good read nonetheless.

 

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WARNING: This book about about the American South may have a few references to racism or even to ... slavery. (Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird.)

 

WARNING: The following novel, in which the characters are human beings, may have allusions to or descriptions of a phenomenon commonly known as sex and/or sexual attraction.  Some may find this offensive.  (A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Scarlet Letter, Leaves of Grass, The Great Gatsby, A Streetcar Named Desire.)

 

WARNING: Given that the following story is not set entirely withiin the confines of an evangelical church or a nunnery, some characters may use coarse language.  (The Canterbury Tales, Henry IV, The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye.)

 

WARNING: Because you may not be in the habit of questioning the assumptions you have unthinkingly accepted, you very well may be perturbed that the author of this book questions some assumptions. (Brave New World, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Farenheit 451, Invisible Man.)

 

WARNING: The figures and characters in this book are not entirely composed of good pacifists.  Therefore, some characters may commit acts of violence which any good pacifist would find offensive. (Titus Andronicus, Oliver Twist, Lord of the Flies, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.)

 

WARNING: This book may contain narrow-minded sexist or patriarchal figures who tend to offensively order women around as if they were beneath them.  (Antigone, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, The Golden Bowl.)

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To be fair, the intent isn't quite so simple-minded as all that--it arises from a sincere desire to prevent traumatized persons from suffering the very real emotional agony of having that trauma unexpectedly evoked. The actual mechanics suggested is not as well thought-out as it could be, and its effect (as I mentioned elsewhere) can be chilling, since this sort of labeling imposes a meta-text that does interpretative work before discussion can even take place. And I do think it runs the danger of collapsing "offended" or "angry" and "traumatized" into one category, which is problematic for a whole host of reasons--not least of which is that it makes it harder for actually traumatized/triggered people to be heard. 

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Robert Zaretsky on lessons he has learned

 

Never refer to yourself by the title "Dr."—unless you are a real doctor.

For this reason, we should always honor Thomas Jefferson as the founder of the University of Virginia, where he declared that faculty members be called "Mister" and not "Doctor." This will, of course, serve as an antidote to the hubris into which academics often fall. It will also save you from embarrassment when an airline stewardess, recalling the "Doctor" on your boarding pass when another passenger begins to experience chest pains, discovers that your knowledge of the heart begins and ends with Jane Austen.

 

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Robert Zaretsky wrote:
: Never refer to yourself by the title "Dr."—unless you are a real doctor.

 

This, it seems, is one problem that Maya Angelou and Ted Baehr have (or had) in common.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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KQED: Is All This Student Data Changing the Way Teachers Teach?

 

Almost every week, Arellano gives the students a quiz, and when they’re done, they immediately scan their bubble sheets into an Illuminate analytical program on Arellano’s laptop and get their results. “As soon as they’re done, I project the data in front of the class, and together we’re able to have a data discussion,” he says. He shows the students the Response Frequency Report, which indicates how many kids answered which questions correctly. He then asks the students what they think the class needs to focus on. “Students like the data,” he says. “They’re very competitive. They want to see how they did compared to the other class. Did we beat them this time?”

 

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NYRB: The Myth of the Chinese Super Schools

 

It is worth noting that American students have never received high scores on international tests. On the first such test, a test of mathematics in 1964, senior year students in the US scored last of twelve nations, and eighth-grade students scored next to last. But in the following fifty years, the US outperformed the other eleven nations by every measure, whether economic productivity, military might, technological innovation, or democratic institutions. This raises the question of whether the scores of fifteen-year-old students on international tests predict anything of importance or whether they reflect that our students lack motivation to do their best when taking a test that doesn’t count toward their grade or graduation.

 

[snip]

 

At  this juncture comes the book that Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, members of Congress, and the nation’s governors and legislators need to read: Yong Zhao’s Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World. Zhao, born and educated in China, now holds a presidential chair and a professorship at the University of Oregon. He tells us that China has the best education system because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism. The imposition of standardized tests by central authorities, he argues, is a victory for authoritarianism. His book is a timely warning that we should not seek to emulate Shanghai, whose scores reflect a Confucian tradition of rote learning that is thousands of years old. Indeed, the highest-scoring nations on the PISA examinations of fifteen-year-olds are all Asian nations or cities: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, Singapore, Korea, Macao (China), and Japan.

 

And the conclusion:

 

Zhao believes that the two major changes that should shape education policy are globalization and technology. Students need to understand the world that they will live in and master technology. Repelled by test-based accountability, standardization, and authoritarianism, he advocates for the autonomy of well-prepared teachers and the individual development of their students. He strongly urges that the US equalize the funding of schools, broadly redefine the desired outcomes of schooling beyond test scores, and eliminate the opportunity gaps among students of different racial groups.
 
He rejects the current “reforms” that demand uniformity and a centrally controlled curriculum. He envisions schools where students produce books, videos, and art, where they are encouraged to explore and experiment. He imagines ways of teaching by which the individual strengths of every student are developed, not under pressure, but by their intrinsic motivation. He dreams of schools where the highest value is creativity, where students are encouraged to be, as he wrote in his last book, World Class Learners, “confident, curious, and creative.” Until we break free of standardized testing, this ideal will remain out of reach.

 

Edited by NBooth

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NPR has begun a series on the Common Core

 

If Wolters had been teaching this sonnet ["The New Colossus"] without the Common Core-aligned lesson plan, she says she would have started by telling the students it was a poem that compares the Colossus of Rhodes, an ancient Greek statue, and the Statue of Liberty. But the new lesson plan said not to do that. The idea was to see what kids could come up with on their own, just by reading the text.

 

[snap]

 

Wolters was amazed. She'd rarely seen her kids so excited about learning. And she had no idea they could succeed with such a challenging text. She couldn't wait to tell her colleagues about what had happened.

Edited by NBooth

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LARB reviews The Teacher Wars:

 

The one thing I longed for while reading This Republic of Suffering was a guide to how this new understanding of American history might inform struggles for justice today — though Faust could be forgiven for feeling that to weigh in on the present might unbalance her take on the past. In contrast, Dana Goldstein’s new book, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, gives us a reassessment of experiences remembered in the nation’s body that is balanced toward the future.

 

The Teacher Wars is not an autopsy of gray and blue corpses but a lively case history of the nation’s teaching corps. Though not a transformative scholarly work like Faust’s, this chronicle of schoolroom battles similarly exhumes the origins of assumptions many of us do not even know we hold. Like the battered blackboard on the book’s cover, the American public school is revealed to be a body riven with scars — some from heroic struggles, some from neglected deformities, some from mistreatment. Goldstein rehabilitates this body of knowledge for the 21st-century educational scene, frequently salving the wounds with context but occasionally cauterizing them with caustic wit. Her treatment is a book that ought to be read by all American teachers, and read twice by anyone who presumes to advise them.

Edited by NBooth

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NYRB reviews The Teacher WarsBuilding a Better Teacher, and Getting Schooled:

 

[D]ebate over teaching has shifted sharply over the past two decades, when public education became much more narrowly academic in focus and purpose. Thanks to the No Child Left Behind law passed under the Bush administration in 2001, schools are now rewarded or penalized based on their students’ performance on standardized tests. More recently, the federal Race to the Top program sponsored by the Obama administration encouraged schools to use students’ test scores in evaluating individual teachers. The primary responsibility of teachers is no longer to encourage good behavior in future citizens, as Horace Mann insisted. Instead, it’s to ensure that they get the right answers on a high-stakes test.
 
The shift in goals has unfortunately done nothing to alter the tedious, anti-intellectual practices of American teaching. If anything, the strong commitment to “academic” goals has probably made teaching less academic—so far as the quality of learning is concerned—and more routinized than it was before. When teachers were hired for their inborn ability to “nurture” schoolchildren, many derided or disregarded their intellectual capacities. Now we’ve created a system that is so firmly tied to scholastic achievement—as narrowly defined by standardized tests—that no serious scholar would want to teach in it.

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Meanwhile, The Atlantic asks if the US is focusing too much on STEM:

 

“I found that the U.S. has always been in the middle—we’ve never been at the top,” Teitelbaum said, pointing out that many of the education systems at the top of the list are cities, like Shanghai and Hong Kong, or very small countries like Singapore. “I’m not saying their performance is irrelevant,” Teitelbaum said, but the comparison shouldn’t be considered a direct one. “If you take a national average of the U.S., you have a huge disparity in educational performance across this country, even down to the local level, so you have a higher variety of educational outcomes,” he said, so it makes sense that our average is not as high as smaller education systems. “We’re not falling back, some [other] countries are just rising, and the U.S. is not rising.”

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Here's something Peter shared on Facebook. It's probably relevant to this thread and a couple of others:

 

Shimer College was founded in 1853 in Mount Carroll, an Illinois Prairie town. They’ve been battling various catastrophes for decades. The local train service was shut down in the 1970s, making their first campus untenably isolated and also – according to the New York Times – ‘a haven for drug users’. That nearly finished them off. But they scraped enough money together to move to Waukegan, Illinois in 1979, and now to Bronzeville. They offer only one core program, and just one teaching method. This is a ‘great books’ college. The great books of the western tradition, not the professors, are the teachers: Da Vinci’s Notebooks and Aristotle’s Poetics and Homer’s Odyssey and de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity and Kafka and Derrida and Nietzsche and Freud and Marx and Machiavelli and Shakespeare and the Bible.
 
Textbooks about the great books are forbidden. That would be too easy. It is primary sources only here. Students can concentrate on humanities, or natural sciences, they can take electives in feminist theories, or Auden, or Zen masters, but it’s all great books and nothing else. There are no lectures. Each class takes the form of Socratic dialogue between the students, guided by a professor if necessary.

 

EDIT: Huh. Looking through the catalog, one name jumped out at me: Adam Kotsko. So I googled him, and apparently I'm not unfamiliar with his blog. Interesting.

 

Point of order, though: don't most humanities use primary texts? I know, at the undergrad level, we use a lot of anthologies to teach literature, but a standard lit survey course is going to be almost entirely concerned with "Great Books" [or, perhaps, selections from them] with few secondary sources of any kind. At least, that's been my experience. Do other humanities operate differently? [Ok, yeah, I now remember taking a "Music Appreciation" class that used a textbook.... And perhaps an art appreciation course as well? And history.... Ok, question withdrawn.]

 

EDIT EDIT: I'm still going to maintain, though--and my experience, spread across three colleges in various parts of the American South, may not be representative--that literature classes don't get nearly enough credit in these discussions of "the humanities" and "Great Books" and yadda yadda. Sure, it's more of a shotgun approach (which is what you get when you cover over a hundred years in thirteen weeks), but--if you take a lit survey class in undergrad--you're going to be exposed to huge chunks of Great Literature , just because that's how the discipline works. What makes Shimer more interesting, to me, isn't even the method of instruction ("Socratic dialogue"? It's essentially run like a graduate program, then?); it's the fact that classes are small. I've got 35 students in my EN210 class, with an hour and fifteen minutes per class, twice a week. There's no way we're going to get much depth of coverage, which puts all of the responsibility on the students--who are, themselves, already over-worked from other classes and who are inclined to view lit as a thing to get out of the way, rather than as an end in itself. 

 

[i do roll my eyes at the comment about lectures. I liked lectures in undergrad. I learned from them enough to prepare me for non-lecture settings in grad school. I still have trouble understanding how someone could not like lectures]

Edited by NBooth

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LARB: How the Humanities will Save the World:

 

By “education in the humanities,” I had meant raising questions of value through attention to historical practices and events, to works of fine art, different cultural traditions and realities, and the cultivation of a capacity to explain or make intelligible what we are doing in the name of leading a provisionally freer life. To me, all this is as fundamental to a flourishing society as the eradication of poverty, the pursuit of scientific knowledge, the achievement of fundamental political rights, and the provision of housing and healthcare. Without education in the humanities we might well act altruistically, or reflexively hold certain political values, but we would not be articulating or justifying such values and, hence, would not make explicit reasons for organizing our lives accordingly.

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The Atlantic: How Liberal Arts Colleges are Failing America

 

I'm not suggesting we get rid of liberal arts departments -- I'm suggesting we create more employable English and film majors. "Well-rounded" and "self-sufficient" shouldn't be mutually exclusive concepts, and combining experiential learning with access to business role models and public/private partnerships can fundamentally transform the way we think about workforce development.
 
[snip]
 
Nostalgia for yesterday is nice, but we need a new approach. As more and more "safe" jobs get automated, streamlined or downsized (remember when law grads were virtually guaranteed six-figure jobs?), let's start putting our money where our mouth is, and ask the people educating our children to graduate a new generation of self-sufficient, "well-rounded" thinkers and doers. And since most of us don't have a seat on a collegiate Board of Trustees, I suggest you vote with your checkbook.

 

The Marxist in me suggests there's another possible route to take, but whatever. Just keep on churning out parts for the Late Capitalist machine.

 

Actually, I do get this concern and I am as ever sympathetic to the bean-counters and worriers out there. Simply put, if we're to continue to justify college within the current system, the current system's terms are the ones that are going to have to carry the day.

 

Then again, it's also helpful to remember that education has always been in crisis. We're addicted to it.

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The Atlantic: The Wisdom Deficit in Schools

 

As a new teacher at San Luis Obispo High School in California more than a decade ago, I asked my principal about his expectations for my students’ Advanced Placement scores. He said, "Just make sure the kids are ready for the next part of their lives. They’re going to be on their own soon, and forever. Prepare them for that. Literature can help."
 
His idea of how to prepare kids for their futures was significantly different, in both meaning and tone, from how teachers are now being informed by the Common Core State Standards—the controversial math and English benchmarks that have been adopted in most states—and the writers and thought leaders who shape the assessments matched to those standards. It all amounts to an alphabet soup of bureaucratic expectations and what can feel like soul-less instruction. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium—referred to in education circles simply as "SBAC"—is the association that writes a Common Core-aligned assessment used in 25 states, including mine. The consortium has established four of what it calls "major claims"; the first purports that students are "college and career ready" if they "can read closely and analytically to comprehend a range of complex literary and informational text."
 
That’s hardly what my principal was talking about.

[snip]

Admittedly, nothing about the Common Core or any modern shifts in teaching philosophies is forbidding me from sharing deeper lessons found in Plato’s cave or Orwell’s Airstrip One. The fine print of the Common-Core guidelines even mentions a few possible titles. But this comes with constant and pervasive language that favors objective analysis over personal engagement. Achieve the Core, for example, an organization founded by the lead writers of the standards, explicitly encourages schools to teach students to "extract" information so they can "note and assess patterns of writing" without relying on "any particular background information" or "students having other experiences or knowledge." This emphasis on what they call "text-dependent reading" contributes to a culture in which it’s not normal to promote cultural wisdom or personal growth; in fact, it’s almost awkward

 

I've said it before and I'll say it again, though: what the Common Core demands seems (to me) to be little more than the bog-standard methods of close reading that were popular half a century ago. It's not a particularly new thing and I'm still surprised to see that students haven't (apparently) been learning "text-dependent reading" all this time.

Edited by NBooth

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The Atlantic: The Common Core Has Not Killed Literature

 

There is nothing in the Common Core that says literature cannot be used. There is nothing that says there’s no place for creativity and individual expression. In fact, after three years of using them in my classroom, I’ve found that the standards acknowledge that I am an English teacher and that they trust me to do my job. The naysayers are right. I don’t need to be given a book list. I don’t need to be told what themes to teach. I don’t need to be told how to reach my kids. I do need help adding nonfiction to my curriculum. I need appropriate and valuable strategies to help my kids comprehend and analyze nonfiction texts—that’s the material that my literature degree didn’t adequately prepare me to teach. My state and the Common Core trust me to teach the literature, and they push me to expose my students to more challenging and diverse texts.

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Here's a fun clip that made me think of contemporary debates about technology in the classroom:

 

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Awesome. Reminds me of debates over actors getting residuals for media that were not covered under their original contracts (because those media didn't exist at the time), among other things.

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LARB: Gordon Fellman on Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education: The Magic of the Invisible Middle Finger

 

Capitalism has for its several centuries-long history promoted the so-called “interests” of the individual as supreme. It is not really the general individual that the system has in mind, though, so much as the entrepreneur who, given complete lack of restraint, is assumed to be able to produce goods and services beneficial to society, and can do so only with the freedom to ignore non-market values and the possibility that this kind of individualism — which can be called hyper-individualism — will magically yield freedom and justice for all.
 
Indeed, at the heart of the standard capitalist narrative is magic....

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It's Adult Swim, with all that entails. 

Edited by NBooth

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