September 30, 2013

"To Fix Education Look to the Past."

That's the headline at #1 on the Wall Street Journal's "Popular Now" list, and I guess those words are working better to win clicks than the actual title on the essay from last Saturday "Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results," which is framed around the story of a hardcore teacher from the 1960s, "a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky."
Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated...
The teaser on the sidebar "Popular" list got me to click, but my hopes are dashed. It's nice to look at the past for sighs and nostalgia and exclamations of "You can't do that today," but you can't look to this past and see how to fix education.

The essay writer, Joanne Lipman, does try to extract some lessons — "A little pain is good for you," rote learning works, etc., — but she begins with predictable disclaimers:
Now I'm not calling for abuse; I'd be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. 
(We're using "modest proposal" unsarcastically now?)

Lipman assures us that "Studies have now shown" that something she calls "conventional wisdom" — nurturing self-esteem and a joy in discovery of knowledge — is wrong.

Kupchynsky was a music teacher, and I don't know what went on in Ukraine that led to his ferocity and his relocation to a northern New Jersey high school, but he was off the norm even then. (I happen to be an authority on high school in northern New Jersey in the 1960s. I had 4 years of direct personal experience.)

Anyway, Lipman has a book to sell, about Kupchynsky, and maybe it will fire up the same crowd that got excited about "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" a couple years ago. Remember that? It was also about drilling youngsters into proficiency playing classical music.

But most of what kids need to learn isn't music performance, and those who get carried away thinking about strict music education ought to demonstrate their love of strictness by being stricter with themselves as they contemplate the effectiveness of different approaches to educating children. Consider whether there's something self-indulgent, sentimental, and even perverse in your dreams of fixing education by getting tough with children.

Did you instinctively resist my suggestion? Ah, you just took my tough test of whether you are serious about toughness.

And you failed!


victoria said...

I read this article on Saturday and promptly sent about 6b copies of it via email to parents I know and my daughter. She was taught this way and totally benefited from some of the ideas in the article. Right on, she said. Loved it. Practice, practice, and more practice. Hard work never hurt anyone.

Vicki from Pasadena

Peter said...

It seems undeniable that some things which are useful (or even just interesting to know) are difficult to learn.

Not all learning is fun. When students expect that it will or should be, they'll refuse to learn anything hard. And when adults expect that it will be they'll refuse to teach anything that students don't want to learn.

Of course, it's easier to teach things that are fun to learn. Could that be why all too many "educators" are all too willing to dump what's hard?

Unfortunately it does not follow that all teachers who are tough are good teachers...

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

I think scientists should start looking into what is, to casual observation, a quite interesting correlation. If a causation could be found . . . !

Here is the correlation: Most folks know by now that Blacks, as a group, struggle with academics (to say the least). But not athletic Blacks, apparently, because there are a whole lot of them qualified for, and (supposedly) performing well enough, in colleges across the nation.

What would account for the correlation of athletic genes, and intelligence? I mean, there must be something there, as athletic Blacks abound at college in great disproportion to their non-athletic brothers and sisters.

n.n said...

Unearned self-esteem exhibits the same corruptive influence as unearned income (e.g. welfare).

It is the parents, mothers and fathers, who should be responsible for their children's discipline. It is the parents who should hold administrators and teachers accountable for the proper education of their children. Unfortunately, in their pursuit of material, physical, and egoistic benefits, and with the state's increasing intervention in personal lives, the responsibility has been delegated.

wildswan said...

Home schooling is the answer because then you can supply your own personal mix of tough and tender. And if it doesn't work, you can sue yourself.
Those who can't home school in this generation (because they organize for two incomes when they marry) should work for it to happen in the next.

I don't believe the schools can reform unless an educated citizenry on the outside of their thought-dome exists. Home schooling creates such a group of citizens.

Think of this: if you home school:
-you use your education
-your children learn your values
-you can have a garden, a pet, continue your education online till the kids are older, have a craft or hobby, have home-cooked meals, eat with family
- you can have your children play sports in non-pressured leagues
- and you can have your children practice music for hours and still have time for fun
-your children will be ready for college

William said...

I've read lots of Victorian novels. They didn't believe in sparing the rod back then. If you want kids to learn irregular Latin verb conjugations, experience has shown that the best way is to beat them frequently. More beatings better dead language skills.

Gabriel Hanna said...

For some things there is no substituted for memorization.

Memorization of say, the times table is currently discouraged by education theorists. They should understand the CONCEPT of multiplication, and use a calculator any time they need the answer.

What this works out to in practice is that when a calculator is not available, a student needs to reinvent multiplication conceptually every time. When a calculator is available, a student has no way to know if the number is correct, except through very crude heuristics as "I got a really big number" or "I got a really small number" or it came out negative.

Furthermore, since the students have no familiarity with the symbolic manipulations involved in doing arithmetic by hand, their algebra skills suffer. They end up getting Wolfram Alpha to do everything, and if the magic box doesn't work they don't know what to do, and they certainly don't any idea how to check their work.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I know this will make me sound like a bitter old fogey. Well, if the shoe fits. The fact is that much of our problems as a nation originate with the vacuous, propagandistic nature of public education today. Scholastic competition is viewed with horror-- it might damage the little darlings' self-esteem!-- and so excellence is devalued. Focus on the faults of the greatest nation in history and denigration of its virtues has produced several generations of cynical, disengaged citizens. Feminization of public schools has diminished the masculine values and vigorous play that help boys become men. Abandonment of rote learning produces college students who are unfamiliar with the times tables, the Gettysburg Address, and the preamble to the Constitution. I don't know how we can regain control of this beggared education system and return to producing confident, productive and self-sufficient citizens, but if we don't we are sunk as a nation.

Gahrie said...

. Consider whether there's something self-indulgent, sentimental, and even perverse in your dreams of fixing education by getting tough with children.

1)"Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy." - Robert Heinlein

2)As a public school teacher, IMO, most of education's problems today would be solved by being tougher on students and parents.

Birkel said...

Clearly all of the modern experimentation with education has worked extraordinarily well. Shame on people acting as if improvements are even likely! And shame on people for looking to the past as if it could have been better.

After all: Progressivism.
Therefore: Progress.
All is Better than it has been.

PB Reader said...

Absolutely. Fix education. Start with basic math facts, traditional computation and cursive writing. My kids didn't like it, but they each have beautiful handwriting. It will payoff for them down the road.

Bob_R said...

I notice that many of the legendary "superteachers" are in subjects/activities like music, math, Latin, spelling, athletics where there are clear standards of success or failure.

Within those disciplines there is always a wide variety of ways to pull off the task of getting students to embrace the standards and excel: martinets, cheerleaders, bleeding hearts, you name it. I've seen someone who can pull it off and get results. So I don't believe there is an magic method lurking out there. (We've only been doing this a couple of thousand years.)

What I think has been disastrous is the move to dumb down disciplines with clear standards because those standard reveal bad students and bad teachers. There is more self esteem to be gained by playing the third chair trumpet part correctly than in all the found art installation pieces ever created.

The Godfather said...

In a way, this is like the creationism discussion. Public education in a democracy will be what the people want it to be.

My impression is that most parents want their kids to be patted on the back and told how good they are, and then passed on to the next grade. And that's what most schools and teachers do. Because they may not be brilliant, but they ain't stupid.

Basil said...

I have an idea that can fix education and make the first Presidential candidate to embrace it the next President of the U.S. Close the federal department of Education and take all the money and put it into cancer research. The moon program to cure cancer and end the federal role in education. Win-win. Republicans need to stop talking about cutting the federal budget and start talking about moving money around. Take the Planned Parenthood money and put that to NASA. Win-win. Take the Labor Department and spend it on VA benefits. Win-win. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Freeman Hunt said...

I've seen bad tough, but when tough is good, it's the best.

Kelly said...

I don't think there is any specific kind of teacher or teaching style that works for everyone. The sternest teacher I ever had was old school and boring. I use to put a novel in my text book and pretend like I was studying.

My Indiana social studies teacher won state teacher of the year. I was momentarily excited when he came into the classroom dressed as a French Fur trapper. I quickly sank back into boredom when he simply recited stuff from the text book I'd already read about. Or maybe Indiana history really is that boring.

I can't pinpoint exactly what made my favorite teachers inspiring. Some of them simply stood in front of the classroom and taught, they seemed engaged in their subject and didn't need any other tricks besides that.

Conserve Liberty said...

I recently sat on a committee formed to rewrite the Mission Statement for our local High School.

The first draft was submitted by the Faculty senate. It was four typed pages of nonsensical, run-on sentences.

Though teh draft statement "celebrated" our "community of learners" seventeen times, the word teach did not appear once.

Chris Long said...

You know, I have to say that I agree on that fact that it is pointless to look in the past. It is night right. We have now and we need to realize what we should do with today’s’ mistakes. We’ve got so many advantages, like, technologies for instance. Personally, I think that too much technology in the classroom harm kids (let’s admit cursive is fading and many fail to even write a decent resume without someone’s assistance: click here). We need to find our own way to fix education.