Thursday, October 13, 2005

thank you

First off, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has been posting comments and emailing me with support. Some days I am very discouraged and frustrated. Examples of such days are today, yesterday, and the day before that, and probably tomorrow. It really helps to know that other people support what I'm saying. It makes me feel like I'm fighting for all of us, instead of just my own little opinion. Really, thank you.

Now, back to being angry and bitchy.

Today is Thursday, which will now be called Angry Day. This is because on Thursdays I have a seminar taught by Fidel Castro's beardless younger brother. If you look back to last Thursday's post, you can see the history of this class. Actually, I was considerably angrier earlier today right after class, but since then I have eaten some mint chip ice cream and an Oreo cookie. There are few problems that an Oreo cannot solve.

Today I told the class about my student teaching experience and how demoralizing it is. Others expressed similar sentiments about their schools. We discussed why we thought our schools were like this, why they permitted low standards and bad behavior, the reasons and ideas behind it. I said I thought some of it was guilt about kids' situations and some of it was thinking the kids actually couldn't achieve very highly. Some others agreed, but not everyone.

One kid said he thought that the schools were "just trying to do something new." He said that the "old model" of strict discipline in urban schools was administrators trying to "train the kids for the military and jail." He said that more democratic school discipline would take awhile to work. Well, my school has existed for 12 years, and it hasn't worked yet. It might start to work in the next week. Bookies are taking bets right now.

And saying that discipline in schools was to get them ready for jail is like possibly the most asinine thing I have ever heard. And I have heard George Bush speak several times. The point of discipline is to create a quiet and peaceful learning environment so that kids don't end up in jail. This same kid, along with several other people in my class and my instructor, think it's super important to teach kids about these social justice issues, like drug sentencing, military recruitment in urban areas, and the social structures that keep the poor oppressed. They think it's good for teachers to do liberal political organizing with the kids. This is fine, if kids are interested, but the real social justice issue is the fact that they aren't being educated. The point is not to get them on your side politically, but teach the skills they need to be successful and informed and so they can develop political views of their own. They know enough about prison; teach them math instead so they won't have to know it first hand.

Another kid said that the home and the community are more important than the school in a kid's success, so if someone has a bad family situation than the school can't do anything. That is also stupid. Lots of kids have tough family situations, but they are able to make it if someone gives them a chance.

My instructor then interrupted and told us we weren't going "deep enough." He said, "what makes families and communities the way they are?" He was trying to make us talk about societal structures of oppression. Again. We never talk about teaching, we always have to talk about the societal structures of oppression. I raised my hand and said, "well you want us to say that there are societal structures set up that perpetuate poverty, blah blah blah..." I probably shouldn't have said 'blah, blah, blah' because it really pissed him off. I was going to go on to say that the way to overcome these structures was to make sure we did our jobs as teachers and to make sure we were in schools that would work. But I couldn't get to that because he interrupted me, very angry, and said "blah, blah, blah--that is so dismissive." And then he called on someone else who would probably agree with him. That is intellectual bullying. He's the one who tells us not to indoctrinate our kids. But what does he do? Constantly try to indoctrinate us with his politics, which have little to nothing to do with our actual teaching. I know good teachers who are incredibly liberal, and others who are incredibly conservative. Personal politics do not matter, if your goal is to teach kids well and teach them to value truth and knowledge. He wants us to teach them to be little liberals.

He says that social studies has been taught in a "rah rah America" way in the past that has glossed over controversial issues, and he's right. But the solution is not to teach it in a "boo America is bad and so is capitalism" way, because that glosses over just as much. History is what happened, not our judgment about what we think should or should not have happened.

I don't think this guy should be allowed to be a teacher, for us or anyone else. He doesn't care about our development, just about our agreement with his views. Sometimes I really feel like crying, or throwing something at his head, imagining that his head represents all the stupidity in the world of education (which it may). Instead I write here, for you good people. And hope to stay sane.


At October 13, 2005 7:00 PM, Blogger EdWonk said...

This is sad. If it's any consolation, this fellah is giving you some valuable lessons on how not to teach a class or treat students.

At October 13, 2005 8:26 PM, Anonymous cowboylogic said...

I have had similar discussions in my current COE courses, though not as extreme. Previous students have told me to "stop chasing windmills" because the basic core hasn't changed for at least thirty years. yet the drive to fight a futile battle persists. Hold your head up and know that there are others of us out here looking for instruction on how to teach, even if I have to learn it by reading "extremists'" blogs. I like the instructivist.

At October 13, 2005 8:50 PM, Anonymous particleman said...

Your professor might argue that learning about things like drug sentencing is, in fact, what gives one access to power, but I'm guessing his own education indicates differently.

When your professor reads a book about social justice, I presume it is above a 7th grade level. When he rights a paper defending the rights of the oppressed, he cites historical documents and then proofreads it with grammatical rules that at some point I'm sure he hated learning. When he argues against the statistics of papers with which he disagrees, he talks about sampling, standard deviations and probabilities. To advocate teaching his personal ideological theories at the expense of teaching the actual skills that he uses to exert his own influence is a sin.

Poor literacy skills and bad math may fly with people who already agree with you, but they are weak against even the meekest opposition, and your professor knows that.

Should students learn what they are up against, the injustices past and present? Absolutely, in great detail. But to give them anger without power robs them of possibility and leaves them with frustration, and they've got plenty of that already.

At October 13, 2005 8:57 PM, Anonymous particleman said...

Ugh, I can't believe I hit publish. "Rights" should,of course, be "writes". Never run spell-check after bedtime. What I wouldn't do for a little digital white-out.

At October 14, 2005 3:52 AM, Blogger Waterfall said...

I actually dropped out of a Ph.D. program because the profs were so obsessed with discussing social issues (and how bad America is) than they were in discussing literature (I was in English). The education courses I took were even worse. I eventually got to where I just ignored 90% of my class discussion and said nothing because it wasn't worth it. So good for you for speaking out when they start getting ridiculous.

At October 14, 2005 5:40 AM, Anonymous Sherman Dorn said...

Unless this is a social foundations class, your instructor is violating Guild Rules for Ed Professors. That's my content he's messing up, and he should STOP.

For the record, there have been serious arguments in favor of teachers as "social change agents" (to use a particularly awkward term), by George Counts in the 1930s or Paulo Freire in the 1970s. But American teachers aren't effective social-change agents in the sense they (or your professor) were suggesting. And, as someone whose politics are quite left-oriented, I'd be peeved at any teacher who tried to propagandize my children instead of teach them. My children will make their own minds up, thank you, and it's as much of a waste of classroom time as test-prep booklets.

If I understand correctly, this is a social-studies methods class, right? And if your faculty member is talking about the problems with textbooks (which are plentiful—see the recent books by Jonathan Zimmerman or Joe Moreau on history texts), are you getting any suggestions for pulling alternative material and making primary sources interesting to students?

At October 14, 2005 10:54 AM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...


What you said is exactly what I believe also. Thank you for putting it so clearly, sometimes it's so hard to do! I get so emotional that a thousand things to say clutter my head and I can't synthesize them.

Sherman Dorn,

There are two classes I discuss. One is a social studies methods class, in which we are taught a lot of cooperative learning strategies. We haven't gotten a lot of instruction on how to use primary sources effectively, although I think I'm pretty good at integrating them myself. As for textbooks, they do have their issues, but I think they can still be used as baseline guides for content knowledge, as long as you discuss the shortcomings with the class.

The class I discussed in this entry and last Thursday's entry is actually a seminar on our student teaching experiences. As you can see, we don't often get to actually talking about student teaching.

At October 14, 2005 11:46 AM, Anonymous goldstein gone wild said...

1. Could you go into more detail about the Oreo and ice cream snack? You gave mad props to the Oreo. Isn't it possible you have injured the ice cream's self-esteem?

2. I would propose you try a little experiment.

Get lots of your student teaching classmates to "model their classrooms" during this university discussion section. That is: speak loudly on cell phone while l'il Castro lectures; put your heads on the desks; eat Oreos the "correct way" - splitting them and then scraping the icing into your mouth; etc.

Then your prof would get mad. He might say: What is going on?

Then you say: we are modeling our student teaching experiences. We would like to talk about how to make them better. Just as we hurt ourselves enormously when we screw around and deprive ourselves of your wisdom, we believe the kids are harmed when they screw around in class all day.

At October 14, 2005 12:38 PM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...

Goldstein Gone Wild, I'm not sure if the phrase "mad props" works for you. It's just a tiny bit too cool. :)

At October 14, 2005 1:17 PM, Blogger David said...

What's strange to me is how many seem to go into education who really fundamentally dislike knowledge and learning. (And a lot of them seem to become professors of education)

It's like vegetarians raising beef cattle, or people who hate flying becoming pilots. Why do they do it?

At October 14, 2005 2:51 PM, Blogger Instructivist said...

"What's strange to me is how many seem to go into education who really fundamentally dislike knowledge and learning. (And a lot of them seem to become professors of education)"

So very true.

I just wrote an analysis of that strange phenomenon. Educationists don't believe a) that there is an external body of knowledge and b) if it does exist it cannot be transmitted.

See, for example, a leading guru of radical constructivism:

Von Glaserfeld is one of the leading apostles of radical constructivism. Radical constructivism rejects the traditional philosophical position of realism and adopts a relativist position. The traditional view of realism sees knowledge as a representation of an absolute reality - a world "out there" prior to having been experienced. The radical constructivists sees knowledge as "something that is personally constructed by individuals, in an active way, as they try to give meaning to socially accepted and shared notions." As von Glaserfeld himself says "knowledge is the result of an individual subject's constructive activity, not a commodity that somehow resides outside the knower and can be conveyed or distilled by diligent perception or linguistic communication"

At October 14, 2005 5:23 PM, Anonymous Dana Huff said...

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a peer when I was student teaching. She was preparing to teach the Epic of Gilgamesh, but fully admitted her reason for doing so was that she hoped it would cause them to question their religious upbringing.

Hey, I am all about exposing students to different ideas, but I find the idea that some teachers have that they need to indoctrinate students with some religious or government philosophy appalling.

I told her flat out that if she was after that, she might get bit in the ass when they realized how similar Gilgamesh was to the story of Noah and decided to believe it backed up the Biblical story's claim.

At October 14, 2005 9:03 PM, Anonymous Sherman Dorn said...

A seminar on an internship that doesn't focus on the actual experiences? Someone's forgetting the basic rules of (take your pick:) ethnography, behavior analysis, or reflective practice. (No, it's not you.

I remember one of the worst undergraduate classes I had, which I shared with my then-girlfriend (now wife). To liven up the class (and get it back on topic), we sat on opposite sides and agreed ahead of time on the topic we'd start arguing about when the professor would try to link Dostoevsky (very poorly) to 20th century geopolitcs. If you can find a confederate, you might want to try a variant of this distraction technique.

Or you might want to develop some thought experiments to spring on your classmates (and professor). If you've had a chance to describe the environment of the school sufficiently during the semester, you could just ask, "Let's pretend that I can sit down with the principal of the school and make one suggestion to improve the school. The suggestion can't be to change the students' outside lives, to wish away NCLB, or even change district policy. And, like the three-wishes-only policy of lawyerly genies, you can't make a suggestion that in essence requires more than one suggestion. But let's assume that my one suggestion will be followed to the letter. What should I suggest, and why?"

You can also ask that of classmates, when they do have the odd chance to talk about their experiences. Variations include talking to their supervising teacher, to a parent, to a student, etc., and it's designed to force people to prioritize.

At October 15, 2005 8:38 AM, Blogger Instructivist said...

It's a nauseating situation but the certification process basically chews up candidates who are too knowledgeable, too eager too teach, too sensitive, who think too independently and who are too intellectual.

The situation is somewhat better for high school candidates, unless they are in an avowedly "progressive" school. In contrast elementary schools are pretty anti-intellectual places for the most part. It takes considerable navigation skills (holding back on one's abilities) to slip through the process. Chances are you will be teamed with a shaky CT who feels threatened and starts undermining you.

At October 15, 2005 12:58 PM, Blogger TMAO said...

Earning teaching credentials sucks. It sucks. It really, really sucks. Here's what I reccomend: grade, lesson plan, write letters to old friends because it looks like note-taking. Don't engage. Don't give up, just refuse to play. The reality is that the overly-politicized classroom you describe, coupled withe grossly inadequate credentialing ones I went through will exist long after you've left and established your own classroom. You need not take any of occurred during your "education" into your educating. Play the game, get the piece of paper, and then go do it right -- there's nothing they have to teach you that will prove as valuable as your own experience, hit-and-miss, trial-and-error it may be. Screw em: They don't get it and they won't get it but the thing is, they don't matter.

At October 15, 2005 1:33 PM, Blogger Instructivist said...

"Chances are you will be teamed with a shaky CT who feels threatened and starts undermining you."

I forgot to mention that in addition to less than competent CTs you might get, you might also get an indoctrinated university supervisor during clinical and student teaching.

At October 15, 2005 3:25 PM, Anonymous Sherman Dorn said...


I'm a little confused about why you're raising the issue of constructivism when that doesn't appear to be the issue in newoldschoolteacher's description of the seminar class.

(I'm not defending ed schools in general but suggesting that the situation is more complicated than the broad smear implies. For two far more incisive criticisms of ed schools, see Arthur Bestor's Educational Wastelands, published in the 1950s, and David Labaree's The Trouble with Ed Schools published in the last few years.)

At October 15, 2005 5:48 PM, Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

N.O.S.T.:  Thank you for writing.

It's more than venting, it's exposing the debasement of education by indoctrination.  Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

At October 15, 2005 6:29 PM, Blogger Instructivist said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At October 15, 2005 6:46 PM, Blogger Instructivist said...

"I'm a little confused about why you're raising the issue of constructivism when that doesn't appear to be the issue in newoldschoolteacher's description of the seminar class."

In addition to the ST seminar, NOST is student teaching at a "progressive" school. You might have missed her post.

Constructivism is the updated version of century-old "progressive" education.

Since you are recommending books, including Bestor's great book from the 50's, I also have a recommendation for a 50's book. Read Albert Lynd's Quackery in the Public Schools. I recommend Chapters VII, VIII and IX in particular.

I am also a little confused about your inability to gather that I was specifically responding to a reader's comment.

At October 17, 2005 7:22 PM, Anonymous Catherine Johnson said...

Does this guy have tenure?

My husband was saying he couldn't possibly have tenure....

At October 17, 2005 7:28 PM, Anonymous Catherine Johnson said...

I have my doubts, however.

At October 19, 2005 11:39 AM, Blogger newoldschoolteacher said...

He does not have tenure. He is, in fact, only a graduate student. He claims that he is "very critical of this ivory tower" of ed graduate school, but I don't really see why. I suppose they don't promote his particular political views enough. Still, they both have their mediocrity in common.


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