Thursday, February 02, 2006

Riding on the Surface of Their Education

Does this describe our students?
Unfortunately, the majority of adolescents in contemporary American culture ride on the surface of their education, drawing their cues from its industrial roots to view themselves as widgets in an assembly line that requires little of them beyond showing up and doing as they are told. The high school must figuratively grab them, demand that they become engaged, develop their minds, stretch them, and make it clear that they are expected to become full members of a learning community whose goals are intellectual maturity and college success. (College Knowledge, p. 103).

The first time I read this, I had a gut reaction that the first sentence was too harsh. And maybe it is, but I'm not sure it's too far off. (And recall that this book is based on an extensive three-year research project soonsored by the Association of American Universities and The Pew Charitable Trusts, and carried out by The Center for Educational Policy at the University of Oregon in collaboration with the Stanford Institute for Higher Education. The above paragraph is obviously what they've concluded about the "majority" of high school students.)

I know "learning communities" is a buzzword at the moment, but I really like this concept. That's really what AHS is - or should be. Are we - and our students - so jaded and cynical that we're afraid to even talk about this for fear of being met with a tremendous amount of eye rolling - from students and staff alike?


  1. I like the quote, Karl, and I strongly agree with it. How long has it been since you were a classroom teacher? I know you are very up-to-date on all that revolves around education at AHS, but it hasn't changed all that much since you were in front of a class of students. Math teachers still do the "learn by example" approach all too often. This approach sounds something like this..."Here is how you do such-and-such and now go do 30 problems just like this example I gave you." I believe teaching math is about solving problems; not mimicking the teacher! OK, now I am ranting...

  2. I guess Karl what kind of eye rolling do you think will occur from students and teachers? Are you thinking that it is teachers who don't want to change their classroom practices to meet the needs of their students? Or do you think it will be the students who don't want to have a say in the classroom and simply want to come and be told what to do and what to remember for the test? Either way I think kids always need a little shaking up as well as teachers. It is so easy to become complacent with where we are as well as where students are that we both need to help each other not ride the surface of the wave but ultimately become part of the wave.

  3. If it came for the Ducks at U of Oregon, it must be so!

    Some recent events in the Social Studies Department have left me thinking (simmering at times) about the staff side of this equation. Very often at our lunch table, the coaches at my end of the table have conversations that mimic Dufour's (he did have many good things to say!) statement that "Good is the enemy of Great." We tend to believe that about our athletes and our students. We are frustrated by their unwillingness or reluctance to recognize their potential and take the risks for greatness.

    But we ignore it, for the most part, about ourselves. Those in the 21 C gorup are being forced (in a good way) to challenge themselves to get better, to move from good to great...or at least better. And certainly, some individual teachers strive for this on a constant basis (Gerlich, for one). However, as a whole, we resist efforts to help ALL get better. We complain about the "flavor-of-the-month" approach (which is frustrating), but in doing so resist the good ideas that many of those approaches can offer. We prefer to rely on the system of the past (whether it be walk through scheduling, the current basic skills structure, the traditional method of electinh honors students, etc) because it produced "good" results. But what if there is a better way...a better way to teach what I know I do well...a better way to support students who struggle...a better system that meets the needs of MORE strugglers than the limited numbers we currently label "Skills"...a better way to stimulate more students to reach the heights of our best and brightest...a better way to prepare them for success at the next level...??????? Instead, too many run to the past, avoid the discussions, and avoid possibilities. Prior to being part of the 21 Century group, I feel that it wasn't just my students that the quote in the passage refers to, it was most of the teachers I know, including me.

  4. I know I found this post a tad late, but I might as well post anyway.

    I would agree that we are like that. I mean, who isn't? But I do know that if you're passionate enough about something, good isn't good enough. Now of course the challenge is making someone passionate about iambic pentameter or quadratic equations. And I also know that it's much easier for students to care if the teachers are active. In reference to Ms. Kakos' class last year, the students had such an active role in learning that by the end of the year, we were practically pulling her along with us. For a lot of us, we actually did care and try to improve for that class. I think this was partially because the class was unlike every other one we had ever had. Instead of torturing us with overheads and memorizing the vocab out of books, she engaged us in the learning. This was good because it forced us to participate. In a class like that, our learning is placed entirely on our shoulders. In the traditional class, when the teacher spends all the time at the board talking at us, I know that I can fall asleep for 20 minutes, make 3 paper airplanes and color a full notebook page with pencil in a single period and class will still go on the same. If a teacher is talking at a chalkboard, I see no motivation for me to sit up straight and pay attention because the students have no impact on the lessonn. It will go on with or without us.

    All I can say is that I've made a lot of paper airplanes in my educational career.