John Mahar's Blog

Education, Spanish, Travel, Poems, Bonnaroo reports, and more.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The "Intuitive" Side of Academia

Every now and then I read something that shows me the, um, intuitive side of academia. By intuitive I mean, "duh," anyone could have told you that without ever having entered the halls of a university. The topic of a chapter I read recently was called "Effective Classrooms." It turns out that in "effective classrooms," students share responsibility with the teacher for their learning, students learn relative to what they knew before, student talk is valued, students receive feedback on their work, students apply their learning to new situations, students develop good work habits, students value learning, students have positive relationships with their teachers, and the environment of the classroom feels safe.

[Hmmm, so ineffective classrooms require no student responsibility, students somehow manage to learn with no relation to prior knowledge, teachers ignore or suppress student talk, teachers don't give feedback, students keep their new knowledge stuck right there in the four walls of the classroom, students use crappy work habits, they hate learning, hate their teacher, and feel unsafe.]

So, this is "what we know" about effective classrooms. So if you're a teacher, you just need to make all that stuff happen, and your classroom will be effective! Bam! Now we've got this education thing figured out! So to get students to value learning, I just convince them what they're learning is valuable, right? Ok, no problem.

"Listen, Johnny," (a fake student), "learning the quadratic equation is valuable because the state legislature decided that you all have to take algebra so we can compete in the global economy. What that means is that you won't ever get to work in a near-by factory with strong union wages because the factories all went overseas and you will have to go to college and learn this again in a required gen-ed course that more than likely won't be of use to you beyond the general problem-solving skills you might learn that could be learned much more effectively if we discussed an actual local problem that had immediate, rather than abstract, relevance to your life."

I suppose there are some people who could read the chapter and learn something: people who make education policy. You know the old saying, "Those who can, do; those who understand, teach; and those that can't do and don't understand make laws about education." There is a chance that if policy-makers read what I consider to be totally obvious, they might see it as revolutionary. And it would be, for them. But the problem with chapters like "Effective Classrooms" is that it would probably do more harm than good if policy-makers read it. Suddenly they would write legislation that penalized teachers if they did not make students value learning. The relationship between the legislature and teachers is one of higher level and lower-level bureaucrats. This is problematic because, on average, teachers are better educated than state legislators. (Particularly in regards to education!)

Since legislators feel like they can control teachers, but not students, policies are written that often require a magic wand. So they make a law about students having positive relationships with their students, for example, because that's what effective classrooms look like, but extend no further funding and allot no extra time to accomplish such a thing. If teachers could wave a wand, *Poof* education would improve. A little bit of knowledge, in the disguise of top-notch academia work, is incredibly dangerous, especially in the hands of politicians.

Chapters and articles that read like a wish list with complex vocabulary do nothing to further knowledge in a discipline or make change for the better. And while this blog post is just as likely to fail in those regards, as a part of academia, I can at least try to learn a lesson and avoid inapplicable, uninspiring writing.


Post a Comment

<< Home