Sunday, January 20, 2013

This post is a response to SH's post Black Paper

This post is a response to SH's post Black Paper, found at:

Key points:
  1. Children are not naturally good. They need firm, tactful discipline from parents and teachers with clear standards. Too much freedom for children breeds selfishness, vandalism and personal unhappiness.
  2. If the non-competitive ethos of progressive education is allowed to dominate our schools, we shall produce a generation unable to maintain our standards of living when opposed by fierce rivalry from overseas competitors.
  3. It is the quality of teachers that matters, rather than their numbers or their equipment. We have sacrificed quality for numbers, and the result has been a lowering of standards. We need high-quality, higher-paid teachers in the classroom, not as counsellors or administrators.
  4. Schools are for schooling, not social engineering.
  5. The best way to help children in deprived areas is to teach them to be literate and numerate, and to develop all their potential abilities.
  6. Every normal child should be able to read by the age of seven. This can be achieved by the hard work of teachers who use a structured approach.
  7. Without selection the clever working-class child in a deprived area stands little chance of a real academic education.
  8. External examinations are essential for schools, colleges, polytechnics and universities. Without such checks, standards decline. Working-class children suffer when applying for jobs if they cannot bring forward proof of their worth achieved in authoritative examinations.
  9. Freedom of speech must be preserved in universities. Institutions which cannot maintain proper standards of open debate should be closed.
  10. You can have equality or equality of opportunity; you cannot have both. Equality will be the holding back (or the new deprivation) of the brighter children.
My Thoughts:

1.  I agree and I think we have lost sight of the fact that the word discipline means teaching - teaching the child the ways of society that make it function well.  We can't just go around doing exactly what each of us would like to do, because it infringes on the rights of others.

2.   Competition can increase both motivation and effort.  Too much competition can be unhealthy, but so can too little.

3.  Yes, we need quality teachers, but I think we also need a lot of them.  Part of the reason teacher quality has declined is that other occupations have opened up immensely for talented women.  Less competent teachers have had to fill the void.  But schools, in the US and I suspect worldwide, have also tried to economize on teachers.  They have purposely hired less competent, less experienced teachers, because these teachers cost less. 

I am also disturbed at the increasing class sizes I see as a substitute teacher in the last year or two.  Part of teaching is getting to know the students and developing solid relationships with them.  This is more difficult as the class sizes get larger.  To me, this is self-evident, but it is based on the following observation:  when I sub for classes of 24 or fewer students, I can manage to learn the names of each of the students in the class.  I even have time to learn a bit about most of them.  As class sizes increase over 24 students, I find this increasingly not even worth attempting.  And, learning a student's name is the first step to getting to know them.

I tend to see equipment in a moderate way.  You can do a lot with simple equipment - probably much more than most people think.  But some things are essential - stuff to write with and on; basic art supplies; things to read. 

4.  I think this is mostly semantics.  Schooling IS social engineering. 

5.  Agreed.  I think we fail in this respect to a large extent.  I used to strongly support bilingual education, but lately I have seen results of it that I don't think benefit the bilingual students.  I was subbing in a bilingual school where the students were to be taught in one language in the morning and in the other language in the afternoon.  I am fluent in only one of the languages, but understand a fair amount of the other one.  It seemed to me that the students who speak English at home benefited greatly from learning a second language at school.  But the students who spoke Spanish at home were being cheated by this system.  They only had to get through half of their school day in English.  The rest of the time, at school and at home, they could speak Spanish.  Consequently, their language skills, both reading and writing especially, were significantly below the level of the native English speakers.  If they are to have the full range of options for high school and beyond, they need to be fluent in English as well as, in this case, Spanish.  High school and college are almost universally taught in English in the US.

6.  I am not an expert on reading.  I expect this is true, but I have always HATED reading instruction, both as a student and as a teacher.  Thus, my opinions on this are suspect.

7.  This is one reason why I am a strong supporter of gifted education, especially in deprived areas.  Gifted students with parents who have the economic means to support them have a reasonable chance of succeeding.  Gifted students whose parents are struggling with basic necessities will have far fewer chances and need more support from the schools.

8.  I have recently begun to wonder if we couldn't entirely restructure education into learning modules and allow students to progress through them at their own rates.  There could be outside examinations for each module:  Reading, Level A, Basic Phonics; Reading, Level A, Basic Text Comprehension, etc.  One advantage of this is that now the students might perceive the teacher differently.  Rather than being the obstacle to their advancement to the next level, the judge of their efforts, the punisher of wrong answers, the students might begin to see the teacher as the guide to passing the next task, the facilitator of learning that we all hope to be, but sometimes fear we are not.  Unlike many teachers in the US, I actually LIKE standardized testing, but I think it is used incorrectly.  It is not typically used to inform instruction, but rather to judge the student and the teacher.  This is one reason why I like computerized adaptive testing.  Students can progress through the test to the level of their abilities and the results are available immediately, so they can be used to inform instruction.  "You have just passed Reading, Level G, Inferences from Pictures; you are ready for Reading, Level H, Inferences from Metaphors. "

9.  Freedom of speech is vital, but is seldom practiced below university level.

10.  Equality is impossible.  Any parent of more than one child knows this.  Any emergency room doctor knows this.

Thanks, SH, for food for thought. 

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