kitchen table math, the sequel: David Brooks has a really bad idea

Friday, April 6, 2012

David Brooks has a really bad idea

"When you visit The New American Academy, an elementary school serving poor minority kids in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, you see big open rooms with 60 students and four teachers. The students are generally in three clumps in different areas working on different activities. The teachers, especially the master teacher who is floating between the clumps, are on the move, hovering over one student, then the next. It is less like a factory for learning and more like a postindustrial workshop, or even an extended family compound.

The teachers are not solitary. They are constantly interacting as an ensemble. Students can see them working together and learning from each other. The students are controlled less by uniform rules than by the constant informal nudges from the teachers all around.


[The principal] revitalized one of the most violent junior high schools in the South Bronx and with the strong backing of both Klein and Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, he was able to found his brainchild, The New American Academy.


He has a grand theory to transform American education, which he developed with others at the Harvard School of Education. The American education model, he says, was actually copied from the 18th-century Prussian model* designed to create docile subjects and factory workers. He wants schools to operate more like the networked collaborative world of today.

He talks fervently like a guerrilla leader up in the mountains with plans to take over the whole country."
The Relationship School By DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 22, 2012
Yes, I just bet he does. Other people's children are always a tempting target of world conquest, it seems.

I wish David Brooks would stop writing about public schools. He doesn't seem to know anything about education per se, and what he thinks he knows about "the social animal" appears to have blinded him to seemingly every aspect of school apart from its social and moral elements. Learning, memory, knowledge, curriculum, the importance of deliberate practice: I've never seen David Brooks venture an opinion about the actual knowledge that does or does not get transmitted to the next generation inside a public school, or about the processes by which students do or do not acquire that knowledge.

As to classroom management, which Mary Damer once told me was the single most critical challenge facing any new teacher even if he's a Marine just coming out of the service (I agree), here is Brooks:
The New American Academy takes a different approach than the other exciting new education model, the “No Excuses” schools like Kipp Academy. New American is less structured. That was a problem at first, but Waronker says the academy has learned to get better control over students, and, on the day I visited, the school was well disciplined through the use of a bunch of subtle tricks.

For example, even though students move from one open area to the next, they line up single file, walk through an imaginary doorway, and greet the teacher before entering her domain.
That, my friends, is what you call a red flag.

They put the kids in an open classroom (remember those?), chaos ensued, so they invented imaginary doorways inside the big open classroom: imaginary doorways the kids had to be trained to imagine and use. Instructional time was taken away from reading, writing, and arithmetic and redirected to teaching disadvantaged kids to pretend to walk through a doorway that isn't there -- and all because the folks at Harvard School of Education couldn't be bothered to read up on the history of the open classroom or on anything behaviorists have figured out in the past 50 years.

And Brooks approves.
The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster.

Second, it does a tremendous job of nurturing relationships. Since people learn from people they love, education is fundamentally about the relationship between a teacher and student.
Union-slash-Teachers College charter public schools with imaginary doorways and no curriculum! Yes, that should spread like wildfire. Parents have been clamoring for no curriculum and no doorways  for years.

Brooks's own children have all attended Jewish day schools in the D.C. area.

and see:
the founder, chair, and CEO of Netflix has a really bad idea
Larry Summers has a really bad idea
Wash U professor on Reed Hastings' really bad idea

David Brooks has a really bad idea
David Brooks has a really bad idea, part 2
David Brooks has a really good idea


SteveH said...

I've seen him on Charlie Rose. My impression is that he should do less talking and more listening. He is filtering everything through his limited area of expertise. It doesn't work. He could just say "I don't know much about that." He comes across as naive.

"The New American Academy has two big advantages as a reform model. First, instead of running against the education establishment, it grows out of it and is being embraced by the teachers’ unions and the education schools. If it works, it can spread faster."

Or you could spread change faster using a "choice" model embraced by parents.

Anonymous said...

If people ONLY learn from people they love, we are in big trouble. I don't think I ever loved any of my teachers (though I liked and admired some of them). Teachers do need to nurture and support their students, especially the needier ones (emotionally and socioeconomically), but again if they must love their students in order to teach them effectively, we are in big trouble.

palisadesk said...

This sounds EXACTLY like an open-plan school I was at in the 90's. It was an extremely difficult environment for actual teaching and learning. The constant movement and hubbub militated against reflection, concentration, listening skills -- you name it. Some children would hide in the bathroom to escape the noise!

I think these setting are ADHD factories. Where's the respect for the "learning style" of children (and adults) who thrive on order and relative quiet?

Catherine Johnson said...

When you're on a mission from God, you don't have to worry about reality.

Catherine Johnson said...

If people ONLY learn from people they love, we are in big trouble.

The whole idea is preposterous!

Warmth isn't the same thing as love.

Caring isn't the same thing as love.


momof4 said...

My kids MS was originally built, in the 70s, with an open-classroom plan for many/most of the rooms. By the time my oldest two arrived, in the mid-80s, most of the rooms had been closed and the others were in the process. It was awful and everyone hated the noise. One of the kids was deaf in one ear, so had difficulty tracking the location of voices, and had to be moved to a closed room because he couldn't sort out his teacher's voice from the voices of other teachers. It took some doing, as I remember, because he was unclassified and had no accommodations. All of the bad ideas seem to come back with regularity, if they ever leave, but the good ones just seem to stay in oblivion.

AmyP said...

I think my old K-3 primary school was probably inspired by similar thinking. The walls between classrooms were partitions rather than solid and folded back. They'd open the walls up when two classes were doing an event together. That happened periodically, but probably not nearly often enough to justify the odd construction. I don't recall any noise issues.

Bostonian said...

An NYT article 60 First Graders, 4 Teachers, One Loud New Way to Learn describes the New American Academy and validates several of the criticisms made in this thread.