kitchen table math, the sequel: unified theory

Sunday, March 29, 2009

unified theory

from Paul H:
It's instructive to put constructivism in context. I put it smack dab in the middle of; Spiraling Curricula, Curricula Bloat, ** Constructivism **, Inclusion/Immersion, and Grade Level Placement. I'll call these the five horsemen of the apocalypse.

Horse #1, Spiraling Curricula (the Trojan horse), lays the natural hierarchy of a subject on its side, preferring to teach everything in a strand as a set of increasingly complex parallel universes that never need to be mastered. We spend, on average, 6 years on concepts that other countries dispense with in 3.

Once you install horse #1 you observe that, without mastery, every stovepipe in the spiral is easier to achieve success in (because you don't really measure it anymore). This leads to the evolution of horse #2, Curricula Bloat, where you get to fill your newly invented extra time with bloated concept development (2-3 times more concepts per year than is common in the TIMMS countries that surpass us).

Horses #3 and #4, Inclusion/Immersion and Grade Level Placement, differ in motivation but produce the same noxious result, an enormous range of student capabilities in a single classroom, with an attendant reduction in the number and type of teachers that address them. And finally with horses 1,2,4, and 5 teamed up you're ready for the lead horse, horse #3,Constructivism.

With an exquisitely complex spiral, delivering an overwhelming number of concepts to a highly diverse population grouped by virtue of their hat size, there is no other choice but to have the kids teach each other. Horse #3 is inevitable.

Every argument you hear for constructivist philosophy is no more than rationalization, devised to make palatable, the misbegotten notion that kids can teach themselves the things that mankind learned over thousands of years, driven by the need to address the maelstrom created by the four horsemen that accompany it. Once you figure out where it comes from you're better able to appreciate why it's so popular. Unfortunately, it's very hard to change the direction of the lead horse when the rest of the team is not cooperating and these horses all tend to be discussed in isolation, where they can be made to sound plausible. Together though, they are undeniably toxic.

And yes I know there are only four horsemen but I'm invoking my 21st century skills to invent my own literary reality.


Catherine Johnson said...

more is less

Catherine Johnson said...

Soon, I hope, I'll get a post up about the curriculum very good private & parochial schools -- meaning private & parochial schools that produce successful students.

It turns out that these schools invariably have a core curriculum without many electives at all.

All students take the same courses.

There is often ability grouping, but no matter what group you're in, you're studying the same books and subjects.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I would eliminate all the electives at all...And graduate all students in 10 years.

My catholic school now has few electives - and strangely, physics is one of them! (Which is ridiculous, so few student ever select it).


Catherine Johnson said...

That's interesting --- why do you say so?

(I agree, btw - but I'm curious why you reached this conclusion.)

Having dipped into a fair amount of the literature on schools that really are producing educated students, you see over and over again that they have practically no electives.

There's a core curriculum everyone takes & ability grouping based on speed of learning.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I probably say it because I'm so biased... I went through soviet grade school and vet school (college) - neither one had "electives". Everything was mandatory - but ther was nothing extraneous... Did I get the good education? Yes. Did my husband, who left school after 8th grade to enroll into technical trade school (technicum) had a good education? Yes.
We bothy received the essential core knowledge which makes the basic common ground for all people in the former soviet republics. And it was achieved at the less cost and less time.

We now group for ability in my catholic school - I am more than happy with that. But it's not working for electives - so my Environmental Science class is a terrible mixture of all ranges.... (Given that I do not see the neeed to study Environmental Science as a subject, all pieces of it are covered by Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Earth Science.)Same problem I see with my Anatomy course. It's elective, and many students are drawn to that by prospect of dissection but lack any knowledge of Biology, Chemistry, and Physics - which are the foundations for understanding of body functions and structures. The dissections in this case is a waste of time -may be some fun, but still a waste.


Catherine Johnson said...

Interesting --- no grouping for electives ---

Catherine Johnson said...

time to re-post "La Salle High School"