kitchen table math, the sequel: Codswallop, part 2

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Codswallop, part 2

Education Needs a Digital Up-Grade

by Virginia Heffernan
If you have a child entering grade school this fall, file away just one number with all those back-to-school forms: 65 percent.

Chances are just that good that, in spite of anything you do, little Oliver or Abigail won’t end up a doctor or lawyer — or, indeed, anything else you’ve ever heard of. According to Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, fully 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.


Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper.“What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

What if, indeed. After studying the matter, Ms. Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”


A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework.


The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects.
Number one: I write books, and I write a blog. Books are harder.

Number two: Kathleen Porter-Magee deals with the forget-the-past-teach-the-future folderol.

Number three: As always, I object to other people telling me what my kids must spend their childhood doing -- and, more importantly, not doing -- at school. Especially seeing as how other people's folderol means I have to pay for a Jesuit high school because the public schools I am also paying for are assigning posters in Honors English. If Cathy N. Davidson and Virginia Heffernan want their kids contributing to a wide range of wiki projects starting at the age of 5, fine. Leave my kids out of it.

extra credit: Does that 65% figure apply to Smart Boards?

the founder, chairman, and CEO of Netflix has a really bad idea
speaking of technology and stagnant scores
oh brave new world!
codswallop, part 2


Anonymous said...

If I go to this site:

and look at the list of the jobs with the most people doing them, I find that I recognize every single one of the categories *AND* that I would have recognized every single one of these 20 years ago, too.

Things might be very different in the next 20 years, but I don't think so ...

-Mark Roulo

RMD said...

and here's the other thing.. . some skills will always be valuable . .





ability to learn (concentration, note-taking, study skills, observing and noting life, etc.)

working with others (self-expression, empathy, listening, self-monitoring)

and some things will help us understand the world. . .

world history

I'm sure I'm missing something on these lists.

Here's my point: A lot of these "we don't know what the world will be like" use this notion as an excuse to under-educate, rather than a reason to make sure that children are rock-solid in a core set of skills and knowledge.

RMD said...

Oooops . . I'm missing the word "person" in my last sentence!

(is good proofreading a skill too??)

Catherine Johnson said...


That reminds me!

My dad always told us girls to "learn to type in case anything ever happens to your husband."

A widow can no longer make a living typing, but the amount of time I've saved as a writer who can type 110 wpm is huge.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

There are simple explanations for why the student blogs are better than their research papers: simpler content, real audience, and no assigned topic. Writing about something you are interested in is much easier (and more fun) than writing to an arbitrary prompt for an audience of one who doesn't really care much about what you have to say.

Providing students with real audiences is one of the best things we could do to improve their writing (as long as they got feedback from editors before they had to go live with their writing). So replacing the "research" paper in English classes (which usually involves no research) with blogging would not be such a bad thing.

My son got far more instruction about how to write a research paper in his middle-school history classes than he ever got in English. And his science fair reports have helped him more with learning to write for a real audience than any of his school assignments.

Teaching writing is very important—it's too bad that it has been left to English teachers to do it, as most have no idea how to write anything but literary criticism, which inherently has little audience.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, English papers (and really any papers that did not involve citing numerous sources, such as internal analysis of philosophical ideas)were not called research papers. They were just "papers." We all understood the difference. GSWOP is correct that history classes are the real source of research skills. Our high school even tells the kids and parents that this is the case.

ChemProf said...

At my institution, we've actually been talking about this, and are looking at replacing the so-called "research paper" in freshman english with a second discipline-specific course that would really focus on their academic writing within the context of their eventual major. But just saying they should write blog posts instead just dumps the problem onto students' major department.