kitchen table math, the sequel: Niki Hayes, part 1: what is constructivism?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Niki Hayes, part 1: what is constructivism?

I'm insanely late getting a stand-alone post on Niki's article up, but a number of things directly related to Niki's piece have come together in the last few days, so tonight's the night:
Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools?

As a teacher and administrator for 28 years, I rebelled against the disastrous fad of constructivism that began in the 1980’s. While its drumbeaters declared it was a higher form of intellectualism, it didn’t seem all that “intelligent” to me. Frankly, I thought it would help create failures among all groups of students—regular, special, and gifted.

For those who don’t know what “constructivism” is, it is an educational theory that, in practice, looks like this in America’s classrooms:

It is students from kindergarten through high school “discovering” their own answers by using manipulatives, working in groups, contriving “real world” problems through “project-based’ activities, moving and talking –a lot, and surviving in a hierarchy of those students who can lead and those who must follow according to their skills.

It is lots of colorful, jazzy pictures in books and on classroom walls that show many different ethnic groups, women, with gender-neutral stories, and with child-directed activities that only require teacher “facilitation.” Children rule the day.

It is feminized instruction that supports the goal of public education to provide egalitarianism or equity, especially to girls and minorities. That’s the priority placed over building excellence, since excellence smacks of cognitive exceptionalism. That ability is not appreciated nor encouraged where equity is to be the norm in classrooms.

It ridicules practice and repetition as “drill and kill” and believes anything that requires memorization is a waste of time that should be used for “creative” thinking.

It focuses on process, not results. “Process” is the actual “product” of learning.

It believes that if students are having fun, according to perceived “learning styles,” they will like going to school and they will learn the academics they need to prepare for the world of work.

No one will ever be able to determine how many hundreds of thousands of children, who came from dysfunctional, even chaotic, home environments and who entered the constructivist classroom with its lack of boundaries, no right or wrong answers, and the expectation to “discover” their own answers, were shuffled from the “feel-good, tolerant, and fun system” into special education programs. For some strange reason, these kids were declared “discipline” problems.
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01


Jean said...

OK, wow, that article was fantastic. Lots to think about.

Catherine Johnson said...

It really is amazing. I have to boast: I was the one who put Niki up to it -- she wrote a comment on a list I belong to (can't even remember what the list is at the moment - ) saying that she's always thought constructivism increases SPED referrals.

I told her she HAD to write about it -- and about 2 days later, she had!

Catherine Johnson said...

I've just seen data showing a huge increase in SPED spending here in NY since 2000 ----- I'll get a post up --- but for anyone reading, what do you think about that?

I don't think that time period coincides with a huge increase in autism (which I believe started back around the time Andrew was born .... he's 17).

I'm wondering whether, here in NY, those past 10 years coincide with constructivist classrooms really taking hold.

When we first moved here, the elementary school was fairly traditional (although I don't think they were using phonics).

In my district, the really intense constructivist changes started around ... 2005 or so.

We've had a huge increase in SPED spending here, although no one's been able to analyze it at this point, so I don't know whether the increase is due to what I think of as "high-end" SPED kids (like the kids Niki is talking about) or a big jump in the number of SPED kids the district is paying private tuition for....

Catherine Johnson said...

The boy I served as an advocate for is a super-brainy kid who CANNOT do projects. Period. There is no possible way.

I have to ask whether he would be in SPED at all if he had strictly structured classrooms with short timeline assignments ---- (?)

He **might,** because his attention problems are intense enough that he can't handle a regular math class. (He has zero problem learning math; the problem is that he can't pay attention to math ---- I've never seen anything like it.)

But, otoh, you don't have to have a classification to take a remedial math class & have your parents hire a tutor.

How many kids are on IEPs because they can't do projects?

Jen said...

*I don't think that time period coincides with a huge increase in autism (which I believe started back around the time Andrew was born .... he's 17). *

Wouldn't it fit? 12 years ago was 2000 and 5 years for school age? While diagnoses would generally happen sooner, they wouldn't be categorized in school district data until the kids were in the schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm going to get Niki to take a look at that data (I don't know whether it's nationwide or not...)

In my town we haven't had a huge increase in autistic students --- we've had a very large increase in SPED spending.