Influencing Young Minds

I read other blogs because they make me think. Also because most bloggers are really good writers and they can often put into words what I am thinking but haven’t expressed – or don’t feel I can express because I’m not a teacher. Blogging allows a conversation when it’s not possible to have a real life conversation.

One of my favorite bloggers is a former high school teacher. He has left the world of K12 for the hallowed halls of higher education. I hope his philosophy can benefit many new teachers going into the world. Instead of directly impacting students, he can benefit more students by teaching new teachers to question the current state of education.

Snippets in today’s post were perfect reminders of why he is an excellent teacher – and why the current public school system drove him away.

Standardized tests are silly and do not account for real teaching. I am referring to the complex work of mentoring young people as they grow up in an infinitely complex, unsafe universe. Story is a better way to represent that work than test scores.

Seriously, how wonderfully insightful is this? Truly, does it matter if a student can remember the street some character in a book lived on, what year a battle occurred, or what equation you need to find the area of a parallelogram? Yes – a professor of literature, history or math might need these pieces of information at their fingertips, but not the majority of us. Do we need to be exposed to many types of information, ways of thinking and problem solving? Yes. Do we need to memorize all this stuff. No way.

A more important piece of a teacher’s job seems to be just what Sam says: mentoring people to grow into healthy adults. He was a creative teacher that did not rely on tests, extraordinary amounts of outside work or reciting facts. He asked students to think, apply knowledge to other situations, consolidate information and use their own experience. But he got a ton of flack for it. Personally, I am grateful my kid had a chance to be in his class. I know she got more out of that class — he made her think, he challenged her — than she did from those “advanced” classes that were crammed full of content.

I particularly like this quote:

First, I think teachers should not pretend to be transmitters of ultimate truths. Our truths might not work for somebody else.

Agreed. This respects diversity of thought, of opinion, of belief. Let’s encourage students to develop a belief system of their own instead of forcing them to swallow someone else’s. This does not mean students don’t work with content – it means truly there is too much content in the world to know it all. Learn to work well with smaller amounts so you are better equipped to work with it all.

How can teachers empathize with students and help them adapt to their circumstances with the understanding that realities are diverse, dissimilar, and require nuance to navigate? Throw out the tests. Most tests assume an arbitrary truth and then impose that truth at the expense of questioning.

This statement I find sums up the problem with standardized testing in a nutshell. There is no room for critical thinking or creativity in these tests. There is only room for spitting back material. What do we value more?

Way back a hundred years ago when I was teaching, I told my students (7/8th graders) flat out that I didn’t want them memorizing dates. I never used tests. All assessment was done using projects, often of their own choosing. Projects had to show an understanding of the issues and how it applied. It wasn’t a spitting back of dates. This was in the years before the rise of standardized tests and in an “open” school that left teachers a ton of flexibility. It was awesome….

I hope Sam’s current work in higher education teaching teachers allows him to plant this seed of thought in all these young people going into education. Maybe that’s how we start moving in this direction.

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