December 5, 2008

The perils of hands-on classroom activities.

WCBS-tv reports:
[A] Rockland County teacher [is] under fire for binding the hands of black students and having them sit under a desk during a lesson on slavery....

In a social studies class at Haverstraw Middle School, teacher Eileen Bernstein chose Gaby [Shand] and another girl for a demonstration of conditions on ships that carried slaves out of Africa....

Wilbur Aldridge, the regional NAACP director, went with the Shands Thursday to meet Bernstein.

"She said she apologized for causing any problems for the child, but she was not apologizing for using that simulation during the class," Aldridge said.

But Principal Avis Shelby apologized, calling the slave ship demonstration a "bad decision."
Emily Bazelon and I were just talking about the perils of hands-on classroom activities on Bloggingheads, and I suggested a return to good old-fashioned book-learning:

23 comments:

Baron Zemo said...

In the interest of cultural diversity perhaps they can have a few Hebrews sit in a microwave oven.

Original George said...

There are lots of odd teachers.

A few days ago my 6th grader and her friend came home, regaling me and my wife with the sex joke her substitute teacher told. Had to email the principal about that....

Oddballs aside, the biggest changes in school today from when I was a kid are the incredible legalization of school life, rampant fears of maniacs, kidnapping, and stray dodgeballs, and the social/political programming about food, climate, "bullying," and who knows what else....

The Drill SGT said...

"gross lack of judgement" is the way I would have written the teacher up for demerits.

seriously, dont like these play acting events in general.

putting a couple of white kids under the desk would be bad,

putting a couple of black kids there? I'd consider whether she has the aptitude and judgement to be entrusted with children. period.

chuck b. said...

My high school chemistry teacher thought two glass round-bottom flasks would bounce off each other like clackers if he allowed them to collide. It was the most ridiculous thing I ever heard and sure enough they collided with a great shattering of glass that went everywhere. What an idiot.

And my anatomy and physiology teacher made us do a urinalysis on our own urine. Everyone in the class filled up an Erlynmeyer flask with urine and boiled it down. For one thing, it smelled awful. For another thing Scott Hernsbarger (name intentionally misspelled) filled his Erlynmeyer flask to the tippy top with his dark orange urine and it was just really weird and gross.

Someone brought a snake to biology class and pass it around and it crawled into Darlene Ameroso's tight jeans pockets and she couldn't get it out. Girl was screaming. Poor snake.

That example went off-point. I'll stop.

JohnAnnArbor said...

Friend of mine went to an all-girls Catholic school where the teacher of 8th-grade biology decided to have the class watch a boa constrictor kill a rat.

Through overpressure, the rat blew up, splattering blood all over the interior of the terrarium.

All the girls were crying as the teacher (a guy) chuckled and said "that happens sometimes."

Joan said...

Stories like these make me question whether or not I'm cut out to be a teacher. There are just so many stupid ones out there.

The stupid ones aren't the worst, though. The worst are the ones that hate kids.

Catharine said...

Woke up this morning.

JohnAnnArbor said...

No kidding, Joan. I was in the lunchroom as a sub teacher one day when one teacher proudly proclaimed that she "sits all the stupid kids in the corner together so they can bring each other down."

Michigan invented teacher's unions, so she was perfectly safe.

AJ Lynch said...

The wonderful Bissage said he will take your class Althouse but only if you agree to tie him up.

Bob W. said...

OK, as usual I am off subject, but I am surprised, Prof. Althouse, that both the Instapundit and you, as law professors, didn't comment at all about the 75th anniversary of the end of prohibition.

I am celebrating right now, in a half in the bag fashion truly in the spirit of the occasion. . .

John Burgess said...

What a bunch of oversensitive wusses.

I could have turned sitting a Black kid under a desk into a terrific learning experience, one that that kid would have appreciated.

And if chemistry and biology classes aren't made to make stinky stuff and ooky stuff, then what the hell is? Are we supposed to teach kids that snake food comes in shrink-wrapped packages? Or do we need the distance of Animal Planet to make it acceptable?

I recall watching a nature program with a somewhat overprotective mother who was concerned that her four-year-old kid would be traumatized by a TV documentary showing crocodile grabbing a swan or some such from underneath the water in a flurry of feathers.

The four-year-old's response: "Bye, bye, bird".

We raise wusses, they aren't born that way.

It's fine to civilize children. It's not so fine to over-refine them to the point that they're useless in life.

save_the_rustbelt said...

About fifteen years ago my daughter came home with a story about how all of the girls in the class were bound hand and foot with tape and made to sit in rows like they were on a slave ship, and the boys were the slave masters who got to yell orders at them, and this was supposed to teach everyone about slavery.

[ dad explosion ]

After explaining the Ohio law on battery to the teacher and the principal, they produced a lesson plan from some high powered political correctness institute that was the basis for this teaching moment, and they thought this jewel of of a lesson plan justified their little social experiment.

So I explained the Ohio law on battery again and then explained the lawsuit my lawyer was going to file and the actions that would result in the revocation of their teaching certificates.

At that point we came to an understanding that no one was going to be tied up and harassed as a part of any lesson plan.

Some years later I heard a news report from another state about the same lesson plan and the same parental explosion.

rcocean said...

Young school girls being bound up and treated like Slaves.

Interesting.

CharlesWT said...

The secondary purpose of public education is to keep the weirdos and flakes off the streets without overburdening the mental institutions.

Donna B. said...

But, but... stuff like this just leads to stereotyping like having children make paper Indian (oops, I mean Native American costumes) and it must be stopped.

Oh. Wait. I have the two confused don't I? Stereotyping is good sometimes, right?

After all, without stereotyping we wouldn't have white males or rednecks.

And then what?

peter hoh said...

Dan Savage might have another opinion, but as a teacher, I am certain that play acting and hands-on activities are not the same thing.

ricpic said...

Libs like this Bernstein broad think they're immune from black, er...sensitivity. But they're not. To blacks they're all whitey: guilty by definition.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Donna:

The word Indian is ok to use.

Like the American Indian Movement and the American Indian College Fund.

Costumes aren't so bad either, but the fake war paint is not.

bagoh20 said...

"What a bunch of oversensitive wusses."

Thank You. I'm glad someone said it. We are programming children into adults who think life is a sanitized TV show with censors making sure it does not offend ANYONE, yet they will be perpetually offended. That's not the real world and we are fatally negligent in our responsibility to prepare our progeny to survive and thrive. If you have children, you are responsible to teach them that wolves exist and will eat you, thereby saving them from the "embarrassment" of trying to pet one. Besides that, the real and sometimes messy world is way more interesting.

Math_Mage said...

chuck b.: No, no.. keep going. The number of amusing / embarrassing /currently illegal / dirt-common /life-threatening examples we can dredge up from our collective school memories will let this thread cross the 500 comment mark, easy.

Big Mike said...

I think the teacher was on the right track. Book learning can't begin to convey reality for a lot of experiences.

A while ago I saw a recreation of a slave market set in Colonial Williamsburg, with the participants in 18th century attire. A man was being sold -- the auctioneer kindly informed the crowd that his livery would convey with him. The actor was trying to act manly and stoic while the actress playing his slave wife held her little child and screamed in the background. One can read all the history books in the world, but nothing could possibly get across to modern people (us, as well as our children) the sheer inhumanity of the slavery system.

There always has to be room for a creative teacher to dramatize what things really were like, or eventually all we'll have are grown-ups who can spout talking points, but without really grasping what those talking points mean

Christopher said...

I'm a secondary school teacher in New York City, and I recall just a few weeks ago during a staff meeting our principal was regaling us with the statistic that a majority of kids who drop out of high school cite one of their reasons as "school is too boring."

Of course, this irritated us a little bit, because what teenager *doesn't* think school is boring? The recent shift in education away from "book-learning" and into creative and non-traditional ways of teaching has opened up opportunities for thousands of students who suffer because their skills and interests are not utilized in the classroom, but it also has created a tremendous amount of pressure on teachers to "fun up" their lessons.

The result is, predictably, that my students do not and cannot associate fundamental skills like writing, reading, and mathematical computation with "fun" and so frequently just don't do them. "Mister," they say, "can't we just play a game today?" It leads to minor tragedies like this story, but it also leads to the major tragedy of kids not learning basic things.

Catharine said...

If you have children, you are responsible to teach them that wolves exist and will eat you, thereby saving them from the "embarrassment" of trying to pet one.

Word.