Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Education that Time Forgot: Get ready for the newest round of permissivist education

The newest thing in education, circa 1930s rural Alabama.

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, a largely autobiographical account of her own childhood in small town Alabama in the early 20th century, she writes about going to school at about the time the the so-called "progressive education" had reached the rural south.

Scout is upbraided in class by her teacher when she discovers that Scout already knows how to read. A "faint line appeared between her eyebrows" as she "discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste." Her teacher was part of the vanguard of the progressivism of the 1920s that was working to replace, among other things, phonics instruction with what later came to be called the "look/say" method of reading and is now called "whole language."

"It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind," she says, and goes on "waving cards at us on which were printed 'the,' 'cat,' 'rat,' 'man' and 'you.' No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence." The teacher, it turns out, was also scandalized by the fact that Scout writes in cursive. "We don't write in the first grade, we print. You won't learn to write until you're in the third grade."

And of course there was the teacher's admonition that Scout's father was no longer to read to her: "You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage--"

Scout's brother Jem, conflating the progressivism of John Dewey with the popular library cataloging technique, calls this new teaching methodology, the "Dewey Decimal System":
The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and way crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. What Jem called the Dewey Decimal System was school-wide by the end of my first year, so I had no chance to compare it with other teaching techniques. I could only look around me: Atticus and my uncle, who went to school at home, knew everything--at least, what one didn't know the other did. Furthermore, I couldn't help noticing that my father had served for years in the state legislature, elected each time without opposition, innocent of the adjustments my teachers thought essential to the development of Good Citizenship. Jem, educated on a half-Decimal half Duncecap basis, seemed to function effectively alone or in a group, but Jem was a poor example: no tutorial system devised by man could have stopped him from getting at books.
Books. Pesky things. Get in the way of education.

Obscured somewhat by the haze of time and seen through the eyes of a six year-old girl, this is Lee's description of the rise of "unit studies," "cooperative" education, and "project-oriented" learning. Gussy it up a little, add a few technological bells and whistles, and you have the so-called "21st century learning" now being marketed by the educational establishment at the newest thing.

Ever since the 1920s, schools have had to suffer through cyclical attacks of educational nonsense. There was the newest thing in education in the late 1920's. And the new newest thing in education in the late 1940s. And the newer new newest thing in education in the late 1960s. And then the newest newer new new thing in education in the late 1980s. We're overdue for the newer newest newer new new thing in education right about ...


Here is just one example, in last Sunday's Lexington Herald-Leader, about what is being called "21st century learning":
"I never know what I'm going to see when I walk by a classroom," she said.
This teaching model is a far cry from the traditional "sit and get," said Madison County Schools superintendent Tommy Floyd.  
 "(Today's students') learning looks a lot different than what (older generations) experienced in school," Floyd said. "We sat in a row, we listen to somebody do all the talking, we took some kind of a written test and then we went out the door. Why does learning have to stop at 3 o' clock? Why does it have to stop at the door?"
Floyd has apparently been caught in some kind of time warp. Did he fall asleep up in the mountains after playing ninepins with a bunch of grizzled men in Dutch clothes?

For a public educator to say we need to "get away from the traditional classroom" is like saying that we need to work to stamp out smallpox; that we need to move beyond the Commodore 64 computer; or that the army needs to replace the cavalry with a more modern, mechanized fighting force. I wonder what the reaction would be if someone tried to start a movement to convince people to replace their black and white televisions with color sets?

But then, these were actual advancements, whereas the fads and gimmicks constantly being generated by the education establishment are anything but that.

The most notable characteristic of the newest thing in education is how old it is. It's really the old new thing repackaged. So-called "child-centered" learning gets trotted out in this 20-30 year cycle, goes into hybernation in teachers colleges, then gets trotted out again when everyone forgot how badly it worked the last time--and the time before that, and the time before that.

In fact, it never really goes away. After its third mutation in the late 1960s, the traditional classroom had been  eliminated in most public schools--and we see the results today. You wonder exactly what people like Floyd are referring to when they refer to these legendary traditional classrooms from which they are seeking a change.

Where, in the public system, are these "sit and get" classrooms that we must eliminate?

Although many private schools still have them (and work quite nicely, thank you), they are now mostly a phantom in the minds of permissivist propagandists from the education establishment. Virtually every teachers college in existence has been doing nothing but training teachers in permissivist techniques since about the 1970s (maybe even earlier).

Try to go out and find any teachers college that offers a class in how to teach intensive systematic phonics anymore--or in traditional, drill-based math instruction, or how to run an ordered classroom.

Happy hunting.

In fact it's kind of humorous how little the rhetoric changes. It always involves an emphasis on:
  • "child-centeredness" (which manifests itself practically as a neglect of skills and subject matter) 
  • the importance of "fun" in the classroom (which manifests in the outright ridicule of memorization, drill, and practice)
  • "cooperative" learning (which ends up meaning the shunning of order of any kind, whether in subject matter or classroom management)
  • teachers who "facilitate" rather than, say, teach (the ideal progressive classroom is one run by students instead of the teacher)
  • "hands-on" student activities (as opposed to books. Remember them?)
You can go back to the 20s and the 40s and the terms are almost identical. This chart, on the University of Chicago's website, is typical. But if you go back and look at textbooks from teachers colleges from the 1940s, you'll find charts that are identical to this.

The only thing that ever seems to change is the name of the newest thing. There was "progressive" education, then the "life adjustment" movement, then "open classrooms," and then "outcomes-based education." And now, "21st Century Education."

I'm sure rural 1930s Alabama is known for many things. But as a model for education in the 21st century?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Academia Will Not Tolerate Intolerance

Tolerance with a capital "T":
I’m reading an interesting book that does an excellent job of explaining the predominant spirit of our age: “The Intolerance of Tolerance” by theologian D.A. Carson. His basic thesis is that the old tolerance found throughout history is fundamentally different that what passes for tolerance today. The former believed even when it tolerated differences that there was a correct view; the latter insists that all views are equal. The result of this change, ironically, is the most virulent intolerance toward those who claim they hold the correct view, or who claim they know the truth, or that there is even such thing as objective truth.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How knowing Latin helped one reporter get the scoop of a lifetime

"Qui res mundi vellet scire linguam Latinam cognosciat."

If you don't know what that means, then join all the reporters who missed one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the 21st century.

When Pope Benedict XVI recently abdicated the papacy, he did it in a speech that was supposed to be about the canonization of three saints. But all of a sudden, he began almost whispering in Latin.

Giovanna Chirri, the Vatican reporter for ANSA, the leading news wire service in Italy, was covering the regularly scheduled speech. She immediately realized what the Pope was saying.

She knew Latin.

She quickly called Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi to confirm what she thought she had heard: that Benedict was going to do something that no pope had done for 717 years: voluntarily step down from his office. But Lombardi could not be reached.

Chirri then reported to her editor at the ANSA News agency that the Pope had just announced his abdication. But the editor got cold feet, and a heated argument ensued between the reporter and her editor, the editor doubting her story, and Chirri insisting that her Latin was good enough to understand what the Pope had said.

At 11:46 a.m. GMT, ANSA sent out the alert to a surprised world. Chirri had scooped the rest of the press corp because she knew Latin.

Oh, and that Latin sentence above? It means, "He who wants to know what's happening in the world should know Latin."

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Habemus Vacuitatem: Do we really want Pope 2.0?

Atheist fundamentalist P. Z. Myers titled his blog post yesterday, "Who cares if the Pope retires?" to which the answer seems to be: "Almost everybody"--at least if the sheer volume of news coverage of the event is any indication of interest.

I was actually taken aback by the amount of media coverage of yesterday's announcement that the Pope was stepping down from his position as the head of the Catholic Church. I thought fewer people cared than actually did.

The more relevant question is, "Why do so many people care?" The media is buzzing with interest in why  Benedict XVI chose to abdicate as well as with speculation on who will replace him.

Some of the things you hear, mostly from liberals outside the Church, is the wish that there will be a more "modern" Pope. You know, someone more up-to-date. Someone who understands modern sensibilities. Someone who won't talk so much about issues like contraception and abortion and same-sex marriage--issues about which even many Catholics differ.

I mean, couldn't they at least put a spoiler on the popemobile?

And not only that, but what about appointing someone to the position from a developing country? What about a Black pope? What about a Latino Pope?

The funny thing about these two pieces of advice on what kind of pope should be selected--often coming from the same person--is how completely inconsistent they are. If you want a more up-to-date pope, one who will take more liberal positions on issues like contraception and abortion and same-sex marriage, the last place you want to look is the Third World.

Liberals have this dreamy idea that the average person living in a rural village in Southeast Swazililand is some kind of liberal progressive. Just look at what passes for "multiculturalism" over at your local college. As Dinesh D'Souza pointed out a few years ago, when the liberal ideologues running our universities want to teach about what people in, say, Guatemala think, they assign their students to read I, Rigoberto Menchu, as if Marxism were somehow indigenous to Latin America. If multiculturalists ever realized what most of the native literature of the countries they're always talking about actually espoused (racism, sexism, and "homophobia"), they would be scandalized.

These are people who really think that a primitive tribesman fresh out of the jungle is a perfect candidate for a subscription to The New York Times Book Review.

If I were one of the progressive liberals now giving the Church bad advice, I would absolutely, positively NOT want a pope from a developing country. I would want anything but a pope from a developing country. No. What I want is a lily-White European male.

Oh. Wait a minute. That's what we have now. Never mind.

Furthermore, the idea that we need a more modern pope--Pope 2.0--is about the stupidest idea I've heard yet this year (although I realize that, given the creativity of liberals, I am fairly certain it will be superceded).

There is an interesting sense in which the Catholic Church becomes more, not less relevant by striving intentionally not to be. While everyone else is expending vast amounts of cultural energy trying to keep up with the times, an institution that strives instead to be 2,000 years behind the times tends to stand out from the crowd.

One of the things about constantly modernizing yourself today is that you will most assuredly be antiquated tomorrow. In a conversation with an old friend a few years back (the one who introduced me to my wife), I mentioned that my wife still wears dresses that are 20 years old. She (the old friend) said, "That's because she wears classic clothes." If she bought the things that were trendy today, she'd have to throw them out tomorrow.

The scientific materialism that is so fashionable today among the scientifically up-to-date (and philosophically naive) is one of the flies of the historical summer: It is here today and it will be gone tomorrow. And after it's gone, the Catholic Church will still be around--dealing with some other historically transient intellectual fad. And because of its historic sensibility, the Church will have the advantage of having fought some similar idea before--in all likelihood, several times.

That's the thing about intellectual and cultural fads: they're usually just a rehash of some previous idea that was in vogue 200 years ago--and 200 years before that--and 200 years before that.

In fact, historic Christianity is constantly having to open some creaky old door, climb a ladder, and blow the dust off of some faded and ancient volume in order to find the proper refutation of the latest idea--an idea usually voiced by someone who has no clue that it has already been refuted about fifteen times.

Think of the most anachronistic thing you can and remember that, at some point in the past, it was all the rage. The eternal things are the only things that never get old.

If there were a history written of all the attempts to be culturally relevant, it would actually end up being a chronicle of perpetual obsolescence. But when you are an institution that is almost completely impervious to the intellectual trends of the time, you tend not to have to worry about about constantly falling out of fashion.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Forbes explodes some of the liberal myths about homeschooling

An interesting article in Forbes magazine about homeschooling. Turns out that many parents are teaching their kids reading, writing, arithmetic, how to be good, and how to think.

The question is, of course, how are they going to survive in tomorrow's world without the necessary indoctrination in diversity and training in job skills that may or may not be relevant to what is actually needed in the economy in five or ten years?

Q: What happens when liberals become the enemies of science? A: Nothing

When conservatives say something vaguely at odds with the prevailing opinions in science, they are burned at the stake. But when liberals perform stupid science tricks, the critics can't seem to find their matches.

Here's the New Scientist, asking why this is:
This anecdote is both illuminating and chilling: if an environmental story is being told about people on the right of the political spectrum, anything goes. But if progressives play fast and loose with the facts, they are given a free ride.
Read the rest here.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Ten arguments in defense of marriage (Part II)

The last four of Anthony Esolen's ten arguments for traditional marriage "solely on common sense, history, and logic." I realize that common sense, history, and logic are a bit difficult for those of my readers who whined in the comments section of Part I of this post, but if we keep coming at them with these things, they might start to appreciate them.
Social science has finally come round to showing just a bit of what we all ought to have known anyway: Divorce is deeply damaging to the family and to the community. Boys who grow up apart from their fathers are many times more likely to fall prey to drugs and crime; girls are more likely to seek male affirmation elsewhere and bear children out of wedlock. Spend a little time getting to know the destroyed lives of a few of the millions of young men in prison, and then try to defend divorce—or the habit in some communities of never forming a marriage in the first place.  
Read the article here.