kitchen table math, the sequel: Can we clone her?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Can we clone her?

Excerpts from an article entitled "Head of the Class" by long-time science teacher, principal and college professor Louse Butler, author of Beating the Bell Curve, in the August 2009 Mensa Bulletin (emphasis--and any typos--mine):

On entering education:
The politics of education was a disappointment and a shock to me. Our boards of education are purely political entities, state boards of education even more so. The two largest teachers groups, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are nothing but political organizations. Throw in the colleges of education [which] are populated by frighteningly political professors, and you have lots of people in power with plenty of axes to grind, many of which bear only tangentially on education. Our schools should be places where barriers are removed and doors of opportunity are opened through the common denominator of knowledge, but they should never be tools of social engineering.

On science education in the US:
There are too many people in education who think that science and math are elite subjects. They think they are too difficult for the average student and therefore are not to be emphasized in curriculum or in practice. These people are wrong. Science and math not only provide essential information, but they give us a logical and critical way of thinking. Science is a process of thought as much as it is a body of knowledge Science and math should be part of all instruction, enhance all instruction, and clarify all instruction. Sadly, the same people who want to reserve science for the few are the same people who don't want us to teach phonetic reading, civics, or geography.

Right. Science and math, as disciplines and over time, promote the development of critical thinking. Critical thinking cannot be taught in a vacuum.

And essential information to boot!

Where would she like science curriculum to go?
I can tell you where [it] shouldn't go. The consolidation of science curriculum into general science instead of its component disciplines is nothing more than a dilution of scientific knowledge to accommodate the shortage of qualified science teachers. We saw the same think happen when "social studies" was substituted for the real disciplines of history, geography, civics, and economics [ed: right, Catherine?]. And look what a mess that has turned out to be!

On the state of education in the US in general:
The drop out rate of first-year teachers is ridiculously high. The children don't seem to want to learn, and their behavior runs from difficult to outrageous. Our schools have, frankly, fed their students a load of manure. At the very least, the first-year teacher feels that their training doesn't reflect the real world. They become disillusioned, frustrated, and angry with themselves and the system and they quit. It is a terrible waste of time and talent. Show me a teacher who went into education just because they love children, and I'll show you a person who will be found bound, gagged, and abandoned in her closet by a group of third graders some time in mid-September. What you have to love is knowledge.

I see school systems that seem to have decided their first and only function is educating their students in a rigorous and challenging curriculum, and those systems are beacons of light in a dark night. It is interesting that these positive changes seem to be all in small and isolated spots. There aren't any "big course" corrections coming out of our colleges of education.

On why education in the US has slipped:
Part of the problem is teacher preparation. Another problem is our decision to excuse poor performance instead of correcting it. Starting in the 1970s, there was a "feel good" movement that pushed for a mea culpa for the world's ills by giving students a pass on anything that might make them feel challenged. What we got was a generation that was very comfortable with failure. We are having a hard time recovering from that, because the students who grew up with that are now teaching the next generation of teachers.

That's the most concise synopsis of the main problem I've ever seen.

On what the next generation of children can expect:
If we are going to compete with students in the emerging nations, especially in Asia, we are going to have to stop using schools for social experimentation and return to using them for education. We are going to have to accept that students must be reading fluently by third grade. They must be ready for algebra in eighth grade.

On how to reach students in mixed ability classrooms:
Many theorists in the educational community will be shocked to hear me say that I reached all of my students by teaching to the top of the class. You put in plenty of safety nets to catch the students who need extra help, but the forward direction of the class should always be the top. By doing that, you make sure you reach the students who will return the biggest bang for the buck, and you make success the standard. The key is to assume that most of your students can achieve the same standard. You help everyone, but hold no one back. . . Not that my class was a democracy. I was in charge, and any one who doesn't think that children need a leader hasn't tried to organize so much as a rock fight.

Wow. If we had 100,000 Louise Butlers, just imagine where US education would be!


SteveH said...

If you are poor, live in an urban area, or are a "person of color", someone wants to own you - for your own good. I can't imagine a European-American talking about "my people", but that's just what I heard an African-American congressman say on national television once. Many want to do this with education. They want to own you. Education should provide a path out of poverty, but some want to use it to solve poverty. The former is about individual educational opportunity and the latter is about ownership and politics. Kids are being used. Unfortunately, the politics of poverty do not value individual inequalities in ability and drive. A rising tide may float all boats, but it will never allow any kids to fly. My parents weren't just happy that I stayed in school or was prepared for a community college, but that's how many see education. The academic gap doesn't come from the lowest level students. It comes from the top level students, but schools don't (want to) know how the top students got there.

Eowyn said...

I don't know if cloning her is feasible. But I sure as hell want to work for her.

I got out of public school teaching because I wasn't teaching. I was running a daycare. And everyone knew it.

Beth said...

Wow, I love her strategy of teaching to the top of the class. Fabulous! The norm these days is to teach to the just-below-average students, on the theory that those are the ones whose test scores have the best shot of improvement (AYP). The bright kids, whose 99th percentile scores can't possible improve, get ignored.

le radical galoisien said...

I would like to see bio, chem and physics merged to some degree. Their arbitrary separation caused me quite some grief in HS.

They could have discussed the idea of "electron density" in HS chem (we're not babies, you know!), but no....

ElizabethB said...

She sounds great!

Yes, many, many clones are needed.

VickyS said...

What struck me is how unusual it is to see an educator taking this no nonsense stance, in such a public way. What if all educators who agreed with her felt safe about speaking up? Would there be enough voices to make a difference, since we parents are often brushed aside as not knowing what we are talking about (grrr).

She notes that "[w]e are having a hard time recovering from [the culture of low expectations] because the students who grew up with that are now teaching the next generation of teachers." I think that may be an understatement; have we even started to recover? The incestuous nature of the teacher training and certification system is a main reason why I have very little hope for the public education system. I have known several young women going through ed school and they, sadly, are the clones.

VickyS said...

Thank goodness Barry has thus far resisted!

Barry Garelick said...

"Thank goodness Barry has thus far resisted!"

I am older than most students in my classes, but I can see that for younger students it is difficult to resist. The peer pressure to please the teacher is there, and being the "nay sayer" in class puts you at risk. You become the pain in the ass, the one everyone wishes would shut up. There were times when I wanted me to shut up. I allowed myself only one blurb per class in which I challenged something the teacher had said. Interestingly there were others in my class who felt as I did, but even so, the peer pressure to conform and not make waves was still there. There were good experienced teachers who despite their experience were buying into some of the problem based learning crap. The difficulty is that discovery learning has its values when done right, but the line between good and bad is frequently blurred in ed school.

I think the technical term for this type of brainwashing is called "milieu control".

Anonymous said...

It would be lovely to have 100,000 teachers like this, but I think that there is too much focus on the "superteachers". We need to focus on a strong curriculum and direct instruction; then teach the average and weak teachers how to follow the script. I recently read a post from an experienced teacher that said that she had observed that the new and/or weak teachers were more effective with that approach. Especially (but by no means exclusively) at the weakest schools, they have lots of weak teachers and there just isn't a pool of strong teachers to replace them. Therefore, give them a scripted curricum (Core Knowledge type) and teach them how to use Direct Instruction. The results almost have to be better than the current system is producing. BTW, first get the discipline issues under control; there is a lack of saints who are willing/able to cope with unsafe/undisciplined settings.