kitchen table math, the sequel: Chapter Two Now Up

Monday, January 29, 2007

Chapter Two Now Up

Chapter Two (PDF) of Zig's New book has just been posted.

The primary enemy that educators had to fight then and now is evaluation, because evaluation reveals the discrepancies between the educational rhetoric and the effectiveness of the schemes based on this rhetoric.

Which is why NCLB has met with such resistance.

On bussing and the Coleman Report:

Like hermit crabs who have lost their borrowed shell, educational policy makers were denuded by the Coleman Report, and like hermit crabs, scurried to find security, regardless of how bizarre the shelter was. Their effort resulted in one of the more inhumane programs ever initiated—bussing. For educators, however, bussing was an ideal solution, because herding children into a bus did not require any kind of instructional expertise.

Because bussing was a non-instructional remedy to an instructional problem (the failure of the schools to teach children effectively), policy makers needed some compelling rhetoric to make busses symbols of progress. They fixed on history and redefined the performance problems of poverty blacks as a social problem, rooted in history and caused by discrimination against blacks. With this link established, policy makers could point to busses and declare, “There's your evidence that we are responding to the data. We are breaking down discrimination. Therefore,
we are addressing the fundamental causes of the poverty blacks’ performance problems.”

On social promotion as the inevitable result of bussing/affirmative action:

“We’re supposed to have standards here. We don’t do social promotions. So if I place black kids where they belong, more than 75 percent of them would be in special ed. If I put them in special ed, I’m a racist. If I leave them in the regular classrooms and flunk them, I’m either a racist or an ogre who doesn’t understand affirmative action. So what do I do, close my eyes, sell out our standards and socially promote them, or go to another school?”

On the origins of Constructivism:

One of the [program sponsors in Project Follow Through] was Lauren Resnick, then a behaviorist at the University of Pittsburgh, who wanted to use her site to develop an
approach to teaching classification, which she seemed to think was the end-all of instruction and would permit children to do remarkable things. We had talked with her before the meeting. Wes thought she was great. I thought she was quite smart but lacked sensitivity to the problem of providing a service for these children. She seemed far more interested in her model for teaching classification (which was neither analytically nor practically very sound) than she was in considering Follow Through children as more than subjects in her experiment. She would later become a non-behaviorist, the flag bearer of a failed approach called constructivism.

On John Dewey:

A distinguished white-haired man on the main floor stood up and gave a long, dramatic oration. He ended by saying in rising volume, “I hear talk of skills and sub-skills and sub-skills of sub-skills, but why is there nowhere in Mr. Engelmann’s presentation one word about [pause and dramatic point toward the ceiling] learn by doing and do by doing!”

Explosion of cheers, shouts, applause, which lasted probably more than 10 seconds.

When the place calmed down, I said, “Well, I promised Bob Egbert that I wouldn’t say bullshit, but I’ll try to answer your question anyhow.” I went on to explain that not only was the originator of slogans about learning, John Dewey, dead but that there was nothing to suggest that his slogans had much relevance to the problems facing disadvantaged kids. As I talked, the man’s face became so red I thought he would explode. After the meeting, Bob Egbert looked at me with a wry smile and
shook his head. I later found out that the man with the long question was
the director of math instruction in NYC.

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