Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Everything Old is New Again

This quote might sound familiar if you pay attention to battles over school reform, or even if you just read my post about Sir Ken.
“Instead of being self-reliant, discreet and full of intellectual pluck, our modern boys and girls are made absolutely dependent on their teachers and on text-books; they have scarcely and idea of their own except on topics which have not been touched upon in school” (15)

Kids these days, right? Well, except it was kids those days, as in the 1890's and early 1900's.

That's right, I'm reading through that book I mentioned last night, and it's both exciting and frustrating at the same time. Exciting due to my intense fascination with the teaching methods he's advocating, which goes by the name of Inquiry these days and I will probably touch on later, and frustrating because it seems that nothing really changed in a hundred years. Maybe Britain reshaped their education system to be more in line with this, and I'll look this up for another blog post, but remember how I said that Pink Floyd did it better? If they did institute those reforms, they certainly took their time.

I get especially frustrated because I feel like I'm arguing against myself because I, if pressed to give my ideal educational system, would be in the same camp as these people. It's just when someone comes along talking about how we need to reform this and we need to change that, I start to wonder what they're selling. I know it's doom and gloom language for a purpose, but they end up sounding like either hucksters, cranky old people, end-of-times zealots or all three. We've needed to do all these things for a hundred years, failed to do so, and generally turned out ok. Maybe the words "should" and "ought" could enter the vocabulary.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I was researching for a new post on a person, Henry Armstrong, who was important in the history of the teaching of chemistry. I learned about him in a book I read, The Chemical Tree, which was a history of chemistry and featured a special section on the history of teaching chemistry. I went looking for the curriculum he used and got pointed to a book of his on Google Books. Then I discovered I could just read the whole thing on Google Books. I think I knew this in the back of my head, back from when Google first started scanning everything into their servers, but I never realized how awesome a force they had created. I'll be reading a lot of things in the next few days.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Hosting a Christmas dinner for the first time ever tomorrow. Psyched about it, but there's so much to do to get this house looking good. On a side note, it's been snowing all day and I'm starting to wonder how easy it is going to be for our guests to get here tomorrow.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Eyes on the Prize

Short one tonight, not much to say just don't want to fall out of habit so soon into starting this thing. The break from classes rapidly filled up with stuff to do, but that should clear some after Christmas passes. After that there's a few things I might get into if the mood strikes me.

First, I've gone back to my old philosophy library and dragged out my Foucault reader because, I don't know, maybe I want to become depressed about the modern human condition? In reality, it has to do with my concern about my own abilities as a classroom manager. Somewhat luckily, I'm student teaching in Rich Suburbs Lite, so I can focus on my strengths without having to go into that too much, but it's a worry for the future and it has worried me for some time. In that light, I've paid special attention over the years to whatever information on classroom management I could acquire. The thing is, much of it reminded of what little Foucault I remember from the one Social Philosophy class I took oh so many years ago, so I decided to pick it back up. We'll see if anything interesting arises.

Other possible topics that I might touch on in the near future (this is more for me than any readers): ADHD, Chemistry, Math, The portrayal of history in the sciences, Language learning in adulthood (German!).

Finally, the next few days I will be playing with the look of the blog so that it becomes less terrible, I may even add in a background that isn't a stock photo. Look at me!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself...

So, my feelings on what I'm going into have shifted considerably since I started two years ago, since I've been thinking heavily about what education is and what it is for. I want to get into that, but it would probably be good to begin at the beginning, and give some background.

Back in '03 I went off to my big, Midwestern state university. I was in Engineering, but my Engineering classes never really held my interest and I flailed around a bit. Embarrassing truth time: I've never really been that good at school. I'm that jerk in class that does barely any work and gets by on natural aptitude, one of the banes of all compassionate teachers.

Anyway, one thing that did hold my interest when I got to Midwest U was swing dance. I went to the introductory dance during the first week I was there (when I had nothing better to do) and I had a really great time. So I took a bunch of their lessons and went to a bunch of their dances. So much so that one year later, while I was busy failing out of my Engineering classes after I changed my major to Philosophy after the drop date, I was teaching other new students how to dance (I was also President of the club after running unopposed).

Compressing the story some: I graduated in the spring of '08 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Mathematics. I had a fiancee, still a fair amount of money to fall back on, and no earthly idea of what I wanted to do next. In taking inventory of my college experience, I realized that the thing I kept at all throughout, indeed the thing I would think about on my own time and strive to become better at absent any class urgings, was teaching dance. I thought of how alive I felt in front of a class, or with a student I was tutoring, and I realized that was what I should try to do. Of course, I was well out of Midwest U at that point, so while I wrestled with the idea of having to go to more school, I took a job as a substitute teacher to see whether I was really up for it.

The job of substitute teacher is really a terrible one. You get nearly no training and they throw you into a classroom by yourself with 26 kids that you've never met before, and try to get them to do whatever filler assignment that the teacher thought you wouldn't screw up. That said, I had a really good time and learned a lot during my year as a sub. I learned that, as a dude that doesn't know anything, I really preferred working with the special ed classrooms since I was never the sole authority.

Anyway, when I got to the education classes of U of Midwest (different than Midwest U), I was unique in that I was the old guy and I already had been in front of all sorts of students. I already knew teaching was for me, I just needed the certificate to get an in with the biggest teaching game in town. I hadn't really thought about the issues around education, I had just thrown myself in headfirst after something I loved.

Since then, I've thought a great deal about education, public education specifically, and I've realized something that's troubled me ever since. I know longer know what public education is for. Sitting in the back of my head is that kid that asks, "Why are we learning this? When am I ever going to use this?" I don't have a good answer for that kid. The standard answer of, "It will help you do well in college so you can get a good job," is the least satisfying answer possible, especially since whatever that kid is scribbling in the margin of a notebook is more likely to be relevant to his or her future career than whatever I'm telling them. I don't know what the ideal outcome of a high school education is supposed to be. Right now it's essentially a stamp of marginal competence, and that seems so small and sad to me. How many years of a kid's life have to be spent waiting to do something interesting, something real?

Because this is a blog, I'll end with a link to a relevant XKCD comic.

So I'm sitting here in Math Class

Strangely enough, I recently learned about these videos, which are perfect counter-points to Sir Ken's video. She has a similar style going on, and her snide criticisms of her "math class" are the exact same that Sir Ken has, but notice what she's doing. Where Sir Ken complains, she actually goes and makes something that is engaging, creative, stimulating and, dare I say it, educational.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I didn't start this thing by thinking, "Hay! The INTERNET needs to hear what I think about Education!" Even if that's what it will probably end up turning out to be.

No, it instead started out when a friend of my family's sent me this video:

Cute, right? Kind of like a more-information-rich version of the UPS commercials. The people who told me about it were really impressed with it, but I thought it was kinda weak sauce. So I was wondering what I should do, tell these people that I know reasonably well that the thing they liked so much was too trite and not really coherent?

While hemming and hawing I watched it again, to identify exactly what I thought was wrong with it. And the big thing, beyond the non sequiturs and red herrings, some of which I will admit are probably due to editing an hour-long talk into an 11 minute video, is that there really isn't anything new in this talk. Think about what the point of this talk is, if you can find it. If I had to create a one-sentence thesis, it would be something like, "Education should be centered on the personalities and abilities of the students and fit with the culture at large." This thesis is where the mismatch happens, because while your average person seems to think, "student focused education? That's unpossible!" I, and every other education major that didn't sleep through their Curriculum and Instruction classes thinks, "Well, duh!"

Let me give you an idea of how well-tread this idea is. Here's John Dewey, in 1897, laying out his principles of education. See if this sounds familiar:
"We are told that the psychological definition of education is barren and formal - that it gives us only the idea of a development of all the mental powers without giving us any idea of the use to which these powers are put. On the other hand, it is urged that the social definition of education, as getting adjusted to civilization, makes of it a forced and external process, and results in subordinating the freedom of the individual to a preconceived social and political status."
The whole thing is worth a read, but anyone who's as geeked out about education as I am has probably already read it, and those that aren't don't want to wade through late Nineteenth Century philosophical prose. I certainly understand.

Here's my point: Sir Ken Robinson spends some time talking about the things we "need" to do, and the best of his ideas are over a century old and widely known. Knowledge of the problem, which is all he offers in the video, is apparently not enough. If he has some real ideas about how to actually implement any of this in a successful, widespread way, I would like to hear them. Until he does, he's just being patronizing to cover up the fact that he doesn't know anything, because effectively educating people is stupidly hard and no one really knows anything.

I have other criticisms, but this really is the big one. Education doesn't lack for theory, it's practically overflowing with theory. It certainly doesn't need some dude selling warmed-over theory (that Pink Floyd did better, by the way) as some new great thing. If it needs anything, it's some engineering, maybe a little marketing as well. Theory is nothing without practice. Put up or shut up.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blah, blah, Intro, who cares?

So here I am, first substantial post and nothing really to say yet. I have an idea for a second post that would actually have something to talk about, but it's late and I want to go sleep next to my partner, henceforth known as Furious J.

I'm in the process of learning how to be a teacher, hopefully in the last year of it, and I decided to blog about it. My courses are always telling me to reflect on everything, and when I student teach soon I will need to do all sorts of documentation, so what better way than put it all in an easily-linkable, automatically dated place?

If the tone above didn't properly indicate, this won't be a strictly formal blog by any means, I'm a person and I'm not going to try to hide that while pretending this is more important than it is.

So yeah, my thoughts and experiences with the world of education! And probably other stuff! Maybe it will be interesting, maybe it won't. I'll try to do it anyway, it's good practice.

I'm not sure whether it's a good thing or not, but I chose to start this when I have the least amount of things to talk about, after my semester ended. At least I won't quit due to being overwhelmed

Obligatory first post


Oh...I mean...