Sunday, October 17, 2010

Names in the Mud

It's the political season and the mud is flying.  What bothers me more this year is that it feels like it never stops anymore.  Once upon a time I believe the name calling and mud slinging let up by Thanksgiving.  Alas, no more.  Where does this come from?  One place is the increase in entertainment as news/news as entertainment.  Entertainers like Bill O'Reilly who delight their faithful by making absurd comments that anyone with more than a second grade education would dismiss as ridiculous slanders an entire religion and two women from The View storm off the set.  That would be bad enough, but then to have people shouting about it, he's insensitive, they're too sensitive, I think we're missing the point.  To put it in perspective, you don't generally hear too much debate about whatever the current champion in professional wrestling has to say when he shouts at his opponent.  O'Reilly vs. Goldberg on The View is just another version of the WWF.
I'm disturbed by the talk of enemies, of us and them.  A friend recently made this comment when the discussion turned to why it was that we still celebrated Columbus Day when even Spain no longer has any holiday for the explorer.  He said "Well, as a white Christian male with no liberal guilt, I guess I'm the enemy"  Where does that come from?  Why would someone feel like an enemy? If you have opinion, share it, talk, debate, leave the name calling back on the playground.  What bothers me most about this attitude is that it shuts off debate and sharing ideas.  Enemies don't talk, they just stand on opposite sides of the trenches and shoot, at worst, or glare, at best.
And what guilt? What does it mean to have "no guilt"?  Does it mean that you've exempted yourself from thinking or feeling?  Does it mean that you can do whatever you want? I don't have any guilt either.  Insight, thinking, and learning I think are better prusuits.  Guilt, I think it something you have to claim for yourself.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

What's New?

Thinking about whatever changes we may see as schools move forward into the new century I'm interested in how many practices are still in place from the past century.  I do think it's vital to be aware of what works and what doesn't.  Throwing the baby out with the bath water can be a common mistake just as accepting ideas or practices at face value is just as much of a problem.
Lately I've been thinking about discipline and classroom behavior.  There are plenty of ideas out there that span the spectrum from James Dobson to Alfie Kohn and while one end promotes physical violence and other understanding, they do have some common ground.  From what I read most of the theories don't support rewarding students for doing what they are expected to do at the basic level.  Meaning there's no research that says the if some students win some small prizes for saying "Please and thank you" those less polite will make any long term changes.  I watched a demonstration of the reward method once where the instructor walked around the room with a bag of M&Ms which she dispensed to students who were paying attention.  Sure enough kids started turning heads and watching whatever she was doing and soon were crowding towards her with hands outstretched.  The demonstration lasted about five minutes and so I wondered "What would the class look like the next day?"  The person later on to explain that "It's just like training your dog"
A lot of current thinking in education places and emphasis on placing out work in the contexts of the real world, writing for authentic purpose, crafting book talks to lean towards how people share ideas rather than simply writing another book report etc.  This makes me wonder how real is it to get a trinket for showing up?  It's true that adults are rewarded for their work with salaries and there are plenty of intangible rewards for being polite and friendly.  I'm having a humorous vision now - suppose if you said "Hello" to the cop on the corner he flipped you a new sillybandz, or if you didn't curse at the person who cut you off in traffic, a new day-glo bouncy ball popped out of your car's dashboard.  Would we all be a kinder and gentler nation?
I think that in the education field we often feel like we need something steady to hang onto.  So much is shifting and hard to grip on.  Learning is a mysterious and messy adventure and that doesn't always flow well in a world of numbers and clearly labeled and explained results.  I know that feeling of wanting something that I can be sure will work but I wonder if looking for that "sure thing" keeps us from asking questions.  I think the worst thing we can do as educators is to stop asking questions.