Straightening up the dining room table this morning (I'm still at it) I found a hard copy of this email to our new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Technology.
I had to post it.
I didn't send this version to the superintendent. I don't remember what I did send, but I hope it was something reasonably short and to the point.
Good evening, G.
Christopher tells us he is to “create an artifact” for Social Studies / ELA at the end of the year.
For instance, he could construct a Civil War sword.
Or a Civil War musket.
Next year he will be expected to write a complicated research paper in 8th grade social studies, so this year he is preparing for that challenge by.... constructing an artifact.
I can’t tell you how violently we object to arts and crafts projects at this point.
Arts and crafts projects have nothing to do with college preparation.
In fact, we would go so far as to say that arts and crafts projects are the opposite of college preparation, Howard Gardner notwithstanding.
We know this because one of us — that would be Ed — is a professor at a major research university.
Ed is a historian.
Remarkably, Ed managed to earn a Ph.D., receive an appointment at UCLA, earn tenure, and publish numerous refereed articles, book reviews, and scholarly monographs without constructing a Civil War sword or musket.
Nor has he ever assigned a Civil War sword or musket construction project to his students.
If real historians don’t have to construct artifacts, we don’t see why our 7th grade son should have to construct artifacts, either.
So we object.
Making matters worse, the middle school will not be providing even a smattering of instruction in how to construct a Civil War artifact. That task falls to us. Again. As we’ve come to expect here in IMS, we are being commandeered to serve as the school’s uncredited and unacknowledged ghost teachers.
As half the district must know by now, we are already teaching math here at home — teaching math and wrangling with the district over the fact that we’re teaching math, which doubles or triples the time involved, not to mention the aggravation.
Math is fun.
Fighting with the district about who’s supposed to be teaching math — us or the school — is not fun.
Since last year we’ve been on the hook for teaching writing, too. We’ve elected not to battle the district on the subject of writing instruction; we’ve just sucked it up and done it, or tried to.
Of course, we’re not making much headway. Our child is too busy constructing Civil War artifacts in social studies, collages in ELA, hand-colored logos in “accelerated” math, and restaurant menus in Spanish to have much time left over to write stuff.
fyi: I’ve counted the books on writing and writing instruction I have sitting beside me, waiting for my attention.
17 books on writing
1 book on summarizing
2 books on logic
1 anthology of essays to serve as composition models (Norton Sampler)
1 complete 6th grade writing-and-grammar curriculum (Hake)
2/3 of Siegfried Engelmann’s Writing and Reasoning 6-12 middle school writing curriculum. (I’m missing the teacher’s Presentation Book for the simple reason that the Presentation Book costs two hundred dollars and the publisher won’t sell it to me because ----- I'm not a teacher.)
That’s not all.
Joseph Williams’ Style & Grace is on its way, and since I see that a used copy of Mina Schaugnessy’s classic Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teaching of Basic Writing is on offer for $9.09 at Amazon Marketplace, I think I’ll hit “Buy now with 1-Click” while I’m at it.
I’ve done it.
A couple of days from now, in addition to not using the aforementioned 22 2/3 books on writing and writing instruction to teach my middle school child how to write because he's too busy constructing artifacts, I will also not be using Mina Schaunessy’s Errors and Expectations.
Then of course we have our vocabulary curriculum (Vocabulary Workshop) and our spelling curriculum (Megawords), since the school doesn’t teach spelling beyond --- what?
If a student isn’t spelling by fourth grade, too bad!
So we’re attempting to teach spelling, or, rather we’re attempting to haul a 12-year old boy bodily through a spelling curriculum.
Lucky for us, we’re interested in math and we both happen to be writers. Also, we can spell.
But we have no freaking idea how to “construct an artifact.”
Furthermore we have no interest in learning how to “construct an artifact.”
Nor do we relish the prospect of scouring the Internet and the crafts shops looking for directions on how to construct an artifact and/or a pre-fab Civil War sword or musket kit like the solar system kit everyone bought last year when we had to do the Jason Project.
(also to file under fyi: We attended the Jason Project event held at the middle school last year, where we noticed that three of the papers on display were the exact same paper. What a superb resource the internet is for middle school children!)
If I could download a completed 7th grade arts and crafts Civil War sword from the internet, I would do it.
The budget vote is coming up, and the school year is winding down.
Many of us are exhausted.
I am exhausted.
How about you give us all a break and ask your teachers to stick to reading and writing assignments in reading and writing-based disciplines.
An assignment to construct an artifact isn’t social studies, and it isn’t art.
Upshot: Christopher does not have to construct an artifcat.
This is good!
"The project method": child-centeredness in progressive education
Do not press send
the project method
not very creative