Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Stupidity Factor and Philosophy of Education

Over the past few weeks I have seen a exponential growth in the number of flat out stupid people. Stupid as in “lacking or marked by lack of intellectual acuity.” Maybe they have always been around and I was off doing something else. I’m am not exempt. I have done stupid things. But I learned and didn’t do the same stupid thing again and again.

And it is not just that they are stupid people but there are proud of it and wave it as a badge of honor.  And collectively as a group they try to make you feel bad because you are not stupid like them.  Yo, education is not a dirty word!

So, where does this leave the rest of us?   Tired. Exhausted. Baseball bat mad.

Fortunately I do not have a baseball bat. I do not look good in orange jail jumpers. I’ve never worn any but I can tell from a distance the outfit just doesn’t work for me. What does work for me is to find voices of reason, of patience and those guiding lights that can help show the way to help make less stupid people.

Let’s begin with Ms. Hardnett:

The population grows every day and we have to keep in mind that we have not perfected the institution of education. There still are many drop-outs, standardized test failures, and unprepared graduates. But we must also remember that we cannot stop trying. My aim is to be a part of those who really try to make things better rather than sitting around waiting for others to do it. I hope to bring a spirit of optimism and excitement to my classroom. Having seen my best teachers do that, I know that plays a key role in effective teaching.

So from her I guess no matter how daunting the task of revising American education we have to keep trying to make it better, find a way to communicate skills necessary for students who will live in the future.

Elona Hartjes at Teachers At Risk writes about how she makes her classrooms student centered:

My philosophy of education? It is and always has been student centric. Of course the world has changed much since I started teaching, and my teaching philosophy has reflected this. It is definitely grounded in the 21st century. I’ve made it a point to be a life long learner and be on the cutting edge of new developments in education so that I can be the best teacher possible for my students and their parents. Being the best teacher possible also means collaborating with my colleagues and sharing what I have learned and learning from them.

Maybe we need to take a look at constantly using 19th century techniques to educate 21st century people. Perhaps we make people stupid because we use old tools and rules that don’t necessarily apply to their lives as they currently live it. The video is from Kansas State University entitled “A Vision of Student’s Today

Principle Jessica Hunzenger echoes many of the sentiments reflected in the video:

I believe education has become the basis for survival in a rapidly changing information technology society and global economy. The technological transformation that has occurred in the last twenty years has crept in quietly like a thief in the night. We have moved from a labor intensive, mechanized industrial age where success was defined by rote and assembly-line skills to an information technology age requiring analytical and critical thinking skills. Yet, for the most part we educate, deliver curriculum and pedagogy in the same manner we did 100 years ago, while in fact our very survival as a society, and as a world power, is hinged on the quality of our education system. Therefore, all members of society should share a sense of urgency for transformation.

So there is some consensus that teaching the old way may not work very well. If we want this country to survive we need to engage in a revision of how we teach and what is being taught versus learned.  If only it was that easy.

Nickey at Teach! gives an overview of the various Philosophies of Education that focus on student centered learning:

PROGRESSIVISM : A 'progressive' school focuses on the concerns of their students. A teacher who follows a progressive teaching style encourages students to formulate questions, and to do the research to discover the answer. Small groups are norm in the progressive classroom as well. Students are encouraged to work together to find answers.

SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTIONISM : This teaching style encourages teachers to focus on the wants and demands of modern society. Students focus on social issues and formulate answers and plans to implement social change. Teachers who follow this style create lessons to inform and stir students about issues in their society. Long term social projects (food drives, adopting poor families) are usually focused on for the better part of the year.

EXISTENTIALISM : This teaching style asserts that the purpose of education is to help children find the meaning and direction in their lives. Existentialists believe that adults should not direct meaningful learning for children. Teachers focus more on students understanding and appreciating themselves. These teachers also believe that teaching cannot occur until after a student feels confident enough in themselves to learn.

Me, I’m digging that Progressivism vibe. Sound like the way to go but I am biased about the topic. It matches how I tend to learn things. But one style of education may not fit all students. It will take some time to bring other folks around. It will happen. Keep the faith.

This post originally appeared on BlogHer where I am a contributing editor.

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