Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Educrats at play

I remember a number of years ago when Time Magazine announced that having babies had come back into fashion. Until then, I had not been aware that such things were subject to trends, and wondered what it said about our culture that we thought of perfectly natural functions as somehow equivalent in significance to the hemlines on women's skirts.

I was reminded of this when I read Gene Edward Veith's post today at his blog "Cranach" concerning the news that grammar is now "in" again. Once again, I had to ask myself, are there not some things that should just be accepted in the common course of experience, rather than subject to the whims of some kind of craze?

Ooops. Bad question to ask when it comes to education policy.

Fact is the Paris fashion industry (if they still dictate clothing design like they used to) has nothing on the education establishment, where newest fads and gimmicks drive what gets taught in the nation's public schools.

According to Veith, The National Council of Teachers of English has reversed "it's long opposition to grammar drills, which the group had condemned in 1985 as 'a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing.'"

That's right. The group that poses as the board of bishops for the teaching of English in America was opposed to grammar drills. That in itself should cause us to cover ourselves in sackloth and ashes and ask forgiveness for allowing such a group to exist in the first place.

Do people really believe this? That drilling kinds in grammar is bad for them? Unfortunately, the answer is "Yes". In Kentucky several years ago, the educational establishment found a convenient way to enforce this. Under the state's assessment system, teachers were supposed to collect a sample of the students work and include it in a "portfolio." Each school's student portfolios were then gathered together and graded by state education bureaucrats. The school's portfolio score was then used, along with other test scores to dole out rewards and punishments.

Portfolios have been a craze in education for a number of years now, and in Kentucky they were used in a high stakes testing environment.

Since any paper a student wrote could conceivably be included in the students final portfolio, any paper was considered to be, broadly speaking, a part of a "test." And since it was considered a part of the test, teachers were not allowed, in any way, to indicate the correct answers to students. Because of this, it was actually considered a breach of ethics for teachers to tell show students the right way to spell or grammatically construct a sentence when they were helping them write papers. Such activity was considered no different than telling a child which bubble to fill in on a standardized test.

But the question is why the education establishment is changing its mind on the dangers of grammar. Veith remarks on how this change is being rationalized: "'To diagram a sentence is to deconstruct it.' Sentence diagramming, when seen correctly, is not going back to a traditional approach to education that produced good writers. Rather, it is really postmodernist, and so it's OK."

And you wondered what was wrong with our schools.

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