I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Rhee on Stewart: A Breakdown, Part II

As I said last post, I thought Jon Stewart did a pretty good job, all things considered, in interviewing Michelle Rhee. You should watch the entire, extended interview, and not just what aired, to get the full effect. This isn't the skewering of Rhee I and so many others crave, but Stewart does take her on in a way the mainstream media - which has had a love affair with St. Michelle for quite some time - does not.

That said, I have a real problem with something Stewart states here:

(6:25) STEWART: The school system seems to have moved away from any practical reality in the modern world - there really hasn't been any innovation in education since... I don't know, John Dewey. But there's that idea that we no longer have a connection to the way the real world works and the way schools should work in communities. It just seems like a much larger problem... teachers seem like one tool with which to get education in this country back on track. But they seem to be the only tool that ever gets... yelled at.

OK, Jon, look - I obviously agree with what you're saying about teachers getting all the blame for woes they didn't create and can't be expected to fix. And if you're making the case that the testing regime has removed American education from relevance to the real world, I'd obviously agree with that as well. And if you're also making the case that schools should broaden their engagement in communities and provide wrap-around services, I'm with you on that, too.

But are you really saying that "there really hasn't been any innovation in education since... I don't know, John Dewey"? Seriously?

Dewey founded the University of Chicago Laboratory School at the turn of the century (A quick reminder: Lab has a rich curriculum, small class sizes, highly credentialed faculty, and does not rely on standardized tests to evaluate its teachers. That's why Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel - huge proponents of test-based teacher evaluation and a narrowed curriculum - chose it for their own kids. It's why SecEd Arne Duncan went there as a child. Because, see, this sort of schooling is great - for the right sort of people...). Does Jon Stewart really believe that there have been no innovations in education in the last hundred years? 

Because, from where I sit, there have been countless innovations in our schools. The transformative role of technology alone has caused enormous changes in education. We've made gigantic strides in the assessment of learning disabilities and instructional strategies to teach children with those disabilities. Numerous new teaching techniques have been developed based on an impossibly large body of research in child development, cognitive science, language acquisition, and many other topics.

My field is music education, and the strides we've made in the last few decades alone have been, to me, stunning. The work of Edwin Gordon is revolutionary by itself, and he's only one piece of the puzzle. No music educator would dream of teaching like Lowell Mason, even if we respect his legacy. I can only imagine how similar strides - and, likely, even greater ones - have been made in teaching math, and reading, and history, and the visual arts, and physical education, and science, and so on.

This reminds me if when Bill Gates famously - and ignorantly - implied that there really wasn't a research base in education. Had he never heard of ERIC? The IES? Did he really have no idea what was happening in schools of education around the country? Had he never picked up one of the hundreds - maybe thousands - of academic, peer-reviewed journals of education our university system produces?

Again, maybe Jon was just inartfully expressing something he and I both believe. But there certainly is an idea floating around these days that our public schools haven't changed much; that we're just doing the same thing we've always done. This notion is usually used as a prelude to a sales pitch to buy untested, digitized crap, but it's also become part of the reformy mantra that we "have to do something!" because our schools aren't dynamic and innovative.

There's simply no reason, however, for anyone to believe that. More on this segment in a bit...


Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you have said so far! I am anxiously waiting to hear your comments on Joel Klein.

Mrs. King's music students said...

Last I heard, we have YET to reach John Dewey's vision for education. Apart from his common sense ideas about clean buildings, and safe/supportive learning environments, his pesky notions about not dividing subjects up into neat testable packets and not looking at learning that way either, still elude us.

Remember how he told the kids to go out into the community and find out everything they could about the high rate of scarlet fever, and bring all their data back to school where they would examine all the info they'd collected, pose a legitimate problem to be solved, and then go about matching individual talents and interests of the students to the part of the process to which they were best suited? In contrast, WE aren't even doing that with teachers and ed. leaders, much less the students!

Never poo poo John Dewey. He must have been a fire breathing dragon to have budged even one 'tied to the status quo' ed leader or politician.

Galton said...

"- Poverty is an "in-school" factor, because students bring poverty's effects with them into their schools."
That is most important sentence I have ever read about education reform.

Jersey Jazzman: uncommon to his core.