Monday, October 24, 2005

be consistent in your stupidness

I would like to address the notion that I am using my terrible experiences as "fodder" for this blog, rather than taking the high road and trying to change teaching placements. Seriously, I wish that were the case, because then I would feel I had some choice in the matter. I have very few options open to me. Staying in grad school means going along, to some extent, with this crap. The student teaching, in particular, is hard to rearrange once you are placed. I know because I have tried to get out of it. Quitting grad school means I have wasted a lot of money and don't get to be a teacher, unless a charter or private school hired me with no experience, which is possible but difficult. Really this blog is for me. Writing about the crazy things I see helps me step back into the world I've always known, where knowledge is good, achievement smiled upon, and intellect encouraged. Please do not believe that I am glad to witness any of the things I do. I wish to God I didn't see any of it. Many days I feel nauseous and near tears with the futility and the tragedy of the thing. It makes me crazy, just crazy. The only thing I can do, besides steeling myself against it all, is to write here. So that's why I do it.

Class today, my methods class for the Teaching of Social Studies. Not the one with the crazy Marxist guy, a different instructor. Anyway, today we were discussing lesson plans that we had written individually and turned in last week. She handed them back, with comments. I got a B+ and a note that I couldn't use any more presentation/teacher-centered techniques for the next four lessons we have to write. She told the class that, if we don't use all the cooperative learning techniques we've been learning about, we will get a bad grade. I might just go for the bad grade. Or I might turn in two lesson plans, one with her crap and one with what I would really do, labeled "What I would really do." Just to stick it to her that I know how to plan these stupid lessons, but I just don't want to use them because they're stupid.

The major incident in class today involved my friend, who I'll call Mark. Mark is literally a godsend in class. If it weren't for him, I would feel totally marooned in this sea of absurdity. He keeps me somewhat sane, as at least we can exchange "oh my god" looks in class, argue and back one another up, and giggle after class about how everyone hates us. Mark and I have gained a reputation in the department as "trouble-makers" and "traditionalists." I think our instructors actually talk shit about us when we're not around. We both think it's hilarious.

So today he was talking about a technique he likes to use to keep kids on their feet. He used the example of Germany during World War II. What he wanted to do was to argue, to the class, that Germany's actions in invading the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, etc were not aggressive, but actually defensive and justifiable political necessities. He presumed that his class would protest, then come around to his view, and then he would sort of pull the rug out from underneath them and say, "of course Germany's actions were aggressive. They took over several neighboring countries, without provocation!"

Whatever you think of this teaching technique does not matter. Here is what happened next:

Teacher: But what if one of your students really does believe that Germany's actions weren't aggressive?

Mark: Well, maybe you can try to justify Germany's actions as reactions to the war guilt clause and the economy and everything, but they were undeniably aggressive actions.

Teacher: Is it undeniable? If your student can come up with a reasonable argument as to why Germany was not aggressive, then you have to accept that. You can't point at him and say, 'you're wrong.' You have to let them think for themselves.

Mark: Ok...there must be a textbook definition of 'aggressive' that we can all agree on and that makes these types of actions (invading other countries) aggressive.

Teacher: Textbooks have lots of things in them. That doesn't make them true.

Other student: Yeah, you could definitely make a strong argument that Germany's actions weren't aggressive.

There are many, many important historical controversies out there. They keep historians employed for generations. I have never heard of this particular issue being controversial. Perhaps it was controversial in East Germany. But I think that 99% of creditable historians would accept that Germany, whatever the reason, was being geopolitically aggressive during the 1930's and 1940's. It just seems like maybe there's a solid fact right there. But the conversation didn't end there...

Teacher: ...Of course you don't want to take this too far. I mean, you don't want students walking away thinking that the Holocaust was somehow a positive event in history, since it clearly wasn't.

Mark: But presumably there is some argument one can make that says it was positive. Maybe the argument would be totally awful, but if it was logical you said before that I would have to accept it and couldn't say it was wrong!

I don't remember how she responded. I was smiling at Mark's indignation. This is the kind of ridiculous situation you can find yourself in when you say there aren't any right answers. Without right answers, there is no history and there is no morality. Or, at least, no history or morality that is directly teachable. We all can have our own separate truths, or whatever. I'm sure that would work great. My moral truth says that it's ok to punch someone in the face, and you can't tell me that's wrong. That's what really pisses me off about the fact that she makes up fake primary source documents for her students. What?! How is that letting them think for themselves or find their own internal truth? I mean, if you're going to have a stupid philosophy about things, at least be consistent with it.

That's where I'm planning to be a smart aleck. I'm going to write to her and tell her that I could easily give her a reasonable argument as to why lecture and traditional pedagogical methods are just as good as constructivist ones, so she should let me plan all my lessons that way. If there is no right answer, and if she has to let me think for myself, then she shouldn't be able to control my ideas about pedagogy. This is the logical extension of her claims. I think her response shall be interesting...

PS The White Sox are totally the bomb.

13 Comments:

At October 24, 2005 8:27 PM, Anonymous KDeRosa said...

Following the nutty constructivist tenets, shouldn't you be discovering and constucting your own knowledge about your lessons for yourself instead of having some heavy-handed professor dictate the lessons to you thereby ruining your learning experience. It isn't authentic I tell you.

 
At October 24, 2005 11:47 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

If you go into a public school classroom, get used to having nearly all of your decisions made for you. Worse, those decisions will most likely be made by some old or young fossil who you must obey like God Almighty.

That fossil will be your principal.

The best that one can hope for is that one gets to be bossed by good one.

 
At October 25, 2005 3:28 AM, Anonymous Sherman Dorn said...

You can't be a traditionalist. A traditionalist would break the class into groups, choose student leaders to work with those groups, and relegate yourself to a supervisory role over the temporary group leaders.

Oh, wait. I'm not going back far enough in time. A real traditionalist would be upset at the very idea of students working on the same material. a real traditionalist would insist that children work with whatever they brought from home and work at individual paces.

Bonus points for any reader who can identify the time periods for these traditionalist pedagogies. ;-)

I understand the arguments in favor of simulations or counterfactual speculation, but someone who thinks it's appropriate to make up primary documents? Don't we have enough misunderstandings to clarify without making even more?

 
At October 25, 2005 6:59 AM, Blogger David said...

Of course, Germany's aggression in the '30s what what enabled the Holocaust, but I guess that connection is probably too complex for her to grasp.

Could you expand on her policy of "making up" primary source documents? Does she ever divulge that they were fictional?

 
At October 25, 2005 10:07 AM, Anonymous ns said...

right on girl! give them a taste of their own medicine!

 
At October 27, 2005 8:46 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

Dear newoldschoolteacher:

We would very much like a post.

Love,

Your fans.

 
At October 28, 2005 3:44 AM, Blogger Jonathan Dresner said...

And then, of course, those students come to our college-level history courses, where they can't think for themselves or understand the difference between good and bad arguments....

 
At October 28, 2005 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear newoldschool teacher,
I hope you get students in your class that are just like you.

 
At October 28, 2005 8:48 AM, Blogger jeremy said...

You can do as you want. However, there is usually great value in doing things a different way then you would naturally tend to do them. If you cannot locate the value in that for you, then I begin to question whether you are genuinely curious or interested in the world, society, and knowledge at all.

There is more than one way to see most things, and in the case of Germany, there have been many arguments made, and there will be more. One of the arguments that is frequently put forth for German actions being non-aggressive is to argue that they were attempting to unite the diasporic German peoples, which were divided by past treaties. Were they being aggressive? or were they being defensive? to whom? The story we tell in the Western world is generally that they were aggressive. The story that you can read from some historians isn't as clear, nor should it be. We tell clear and simple stories for reasons at the start of tlearning, and then over time as expertise is gained areas, the stories get very messy. Your teacher is trying to help you to get to the point were you can handle the 'messy' in a way that is smart.

 
At October 29, 2005 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NOT: Your ed-school experience is 100% believable because I, another NOT, went through the same experience.

Mentally-tired, burnt-out tenured BS-artists, spewing the "fad of the day" with NO personal/financial investment on their part -- while financially draining the suckers (e.g., students and their friends). Makes ENRON look Mother Teresa. Eliot Spitzer should investigate them.

That is: no discipline, personal or professional; no common body of knowledge; NOTHING. Just a lot of empty words from people so far from the battle, they are clueless. Like reading blogs on erotica.

If they had a clue, they'd answer Question No. 1 -- what do you do, with boards of education, superintendents, and principals, about your grand idea(s)? (Oh, no -- that would be the real world, creeping in.)

If what they are doing is so great -- why don't they tell everyone, how their great idea(s) came from concept, to theory, to reality past the bureaucracy of Big Education -- if they can. (Ha! That's never going to happen -- I've searched the library stacks for a year, and can't find one citation.)

Of course, right now, they are busy, preparing pompous, bloviated responses. Well -- actions speak louder than words. When their book on their real-world, long-term accomplishments is actually printed, that's when the cow will jump over the moon. Winning the Lotto would take less time.

 
At October 29, 2005 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your classmates must find your behavior really obnoxious, taking up their class time with juvenile challenges to the professor's authority.

 
At October 30, 2005 7:26 AM, Blogger David said...

The last comment reminds me of Cartman:

'Respect my autho-ri-tay"

 
At November 09, 2005 10:10 AM, Anonymous BAW said...

Oh noes! Calling attention to rampant stupidity in class annoys people!

Yes, teacher, you should definitely just shut up and toe the party line--after all, NOTHING is more important than not annoying others!

 

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