In 2006 I heard Alfie Kohn speak at the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs conference in Duluth, MN. His keynote was one of the best I have ever heard. Since then I have read many of his articles and listened to countless interviews with him but until now I had not read what many consider his best work, The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards."
I must admit that ideologically I am absolutely in the same camp as Kohn on almost every single issue. I find I disagree with very little of what he says. However, I still struggle to figure out how to reconcile what Kohn clearly points out about teaching, learning, schools, and child development with the current climate of public schools in this country. In so many ways following what Kohn and other progressive educators say and trying to act on them is an uphill battle. I know I have bumped up against this ideological wall on numerous times in my career. In many ways it is the reason why I have not found education to be a very stable profession. If I were more concerned with sorting children and just going through the actions and following the script I would find my own life as a teacher much easier. However, to do so would mean creating environments and following a path that ultimately is less educative for students and self-destructive for my own integrity.
Published in 1999 this book came in at the heels of the current standards-based high-stakes testing movement. Though now 11 years old this book might as well have been written today since everything that was true about the standards movement in 1999 is still true today, only today the more radical points in Kohn's book are more obvious. Diane Ravitch might be just now coming to see the light about the standards movement today in 2010 but what took her a decade to realize Kohn was telling us from the get-go.
Forward...Into The Past
"The features of our children's classrooms that we find the most reassuring—largely because we recognize them from ... http://tl.gd/7gh7ei
"On the relatively rare occasions when nontraditional kinds of instruction show up in classrooms, many of us become... http://tl.gd/7gh88p
"Anything that deviates from this model (Old School of Education) is often reviled as a fad, with special scorn res... http://tl.gd/7ghcmc
For me, these firs three quotes summarize what was at the heart of my troubles as an young teacher in the first few years of my career. It's not that these troubles have gone away for me, quite to the contrary, but I am now aware of them. Teachers are constantly given conflicting information about what they should do in their classrooms. On the one hand, they are told they are supposed to establish environments where students can learn but on the other hand they are told, often by the same people, that their students are to remain quiet, stay seated, respect authority (when they say respect they mistakenly mean fear), and be ready to absorb information. I have on more than one occasion been asked by a principal who came to observe my classroom on days when students were working on projects when a better time would be for them to come back and observe me actually teaching. Statements like these are conflicting and extremely confusing to new teachers who have been thrust into a classroom situation never having been asked to consider the difference between teaching and learning. What situations like these also indicate is that those who make statements like these also have not fully considered the difference between teaching and learning (or they do not really understand either one very well).
"All of us develop theories or perspectives through which we understand everything we encounter, yet those theories... http://tl.gd/7ghghu
@anderscj book club? Do tell? More info?
@iteach4change every night I read a chapter of a book on education and start convos by tweeting out quotes. I call it Twitter Book Club
@iteach4change click on the Twitter Book Club tab at the top of my blog to see an index of books I've Twitter Book Clubbed
"Some people may favor subjecting poor African-American and Latino children to 'teaching styles that stress drill, ... http://tl.gd/7ghvqm
Lets reprint that one in full:
"Some people may favor subjecting poor African-American and Latino children to 'teaching styles that stress drill, practice, and other mind-numbing strategies' because they assume that 'such children lack ability.' Others swear that they simply have the best interests of these kids at heart when they make them fill in blanks and even chant answers in unison." Alfie KohnCase in point:
I would never subject my own children to something like this. If this image doesn't conjure up images of southern-style early 20th century chain gangs I don't know what else would. What happens to children who fail to learn these chants? How many of the children who do memorize these chants really understand what they mean?
"if students aren't learning effectively, it may be because of the persistence of traditional beliefs and practices" Alfie Kohn
"this teacher-centered model follows naturally from seeing 'the purpose of education [as mastering] a body of knowledge'" Alfie Kohn
"when business thinks about schools, its agenda is driven by what will maximize its profitability, not necessarily ... http://tl.gd/7girfu
"Headlines about how 'our' schools are doing compared to 'theirs' are based on the premise that what matters is rel... http://tl.gd/7gj1th
I absolutely love this quote. In fact, I have used it at least three times this week in conversations:
"Headlines about how 'our' schools are doing compared to 'theirs' are based on the premise that what matters is relative performance, which suggests that we're less concerned with the quality of education than with whether we can chant, 'We're Number One!'" Alfie Kohn
"The present, with its sharply etched flaws, can never compare to the lovely picture of the past preserved by our m... http://tl.gd/7gj2rb
"A preoccupation with achievement is not only different from, but often detrimental to, a focus on learning." Alfie Kohn