Today teachers across the United States were treated to a new issue of American Educator which seems to have some rather scathing looks at "21st Century" skills, student-centered learning, differentiated instruction, technology integration, active learning, & other school reform movements. Of particular note is an article titled "The Most Daring Education Reform of All" by Diana Senechal.
Senechal clearly has a bias for "traditional" models of curriculum & instruction and it is clear from her article that while she may possess some knowledge of the newer movements in education she obviously has little understanding of them. I am embarrassed that a union I belong to has included this article in their publications. It is regressive, presents no substantial ideas that move our profession along a path of improvement, and relies on many unsubstantiated claims and false statements as a foundation for her arguments. What follows are my notes:
"They partake in an American tradition without heeding history or tradition; they glorify the new because it is new, while disparaging the old because it is old."
-I don't think any reformer ever disparages the old for being old, it is always something about the old that they find fault with. This statement is unsubstantiated, misleading, & false.
"this leads to situations where teachers must use technology in class, whether or not it serves the lesson well." ¶3
-No, it often leads to this but this statement is a broad generalization. What it leads to is teachers reacting to the existence of the technology and the effect technologies have on aspects of the classroom including but not limited to curriculum, student behavior, cognition, and pedagogy.
"They forget that content is not simply dry matter; it has shape and meaning; it is the result of centuries of critical thought and the basis for future critical thought." ¶7
-The content she speaks of here that is "the result of centuries of critical thought" is also the result of centuries of bias. This content (and the pedagogy that has developed around it) highly favors and supports the concrete sequential learner and reinforces cultural and socioeconomic structures of white Western society. This system has largely oppressed everyone else and has often in our past been a deliberate tool of oppression.
"To neglect to teach our intellectual and cultural traditions is to limit the kind of thinking that students will be able to do throughout their lives." ¶7
-Adversely, to emphasize them is to reinforce the biases infused into these traditions. Also, who is she referring to by "our?" It is my understanding that different nonwestern cultures have intellectual and cultural traditions that can differ substantially. Does she include those traditions when she uses the word "our?"
"If teachers must ceaselessly change their curriculum to match what is happening in society (or, more narrowly, the workplace), neither they nor their students will have the opportunity to step back and reflect." ¶11
-I fail to see any truth in this argument. I have the ability to reflect on my own life as I live it, why can't a teacher reflect on their curriculum as they modify it. Curriculum is not static, it is dynamic and ought to be consistently modified. If a major game-changing discovery is made in the field of science should we ignore it or alter our curriculum according to the new findings? Adopting the relationship with curriculum this author advocates results in equating curriculum with textbooks. The result of which is everyone ends up learning curriculum written for Texas placating to Texas ideals and political sensibilities.
"For students to engage in inquiry, they must have a strong foundation of knowledge." ¶17-My 2 & 4 year old daughters are very inquisitive, it is how they learn. They engage in inquiry every day (almost all day). It is through this inquiry that they gain knowledge and understanding.
"But true engagement is not entertainment; it is involvement, which my be invisible at times." ¶19-Isn't this what 21st Century pedagogy is all about? What is she criticizing here?
"Or they reach a point where they cannot take their peers any more and beak into fights." ¶20-Let me get this straight, active learning leads students into conflict with each other while traditional classrooms don't? This statement is so far from being rational it is almost laughable. Traditional "sit and get" classrooms limit the teacher's ability to build relationships with students which leads to worse classroom behavior. In a learner-centered classroom classroom management is far easier because there is built into the instruction community building as an integral component. Statements like this are almost laughable and do not deserve serious consideration and should by no means have ever appeared in a respectable teacher journal.
"Deeper engagement is sacrificed for a more trivial kind, and quiet, independent thought has little place."
-Again, where is she getting this view of learner-centered classrooms? This seems more true of "traditional" classrooms than "21st century" ones.
I stopped reading here, couldn't take any more of it......