From a blog written in 2005-2006 by an “old-school” teaching candidate attending Columbia Teachers College. Education Departments believe in teaching “skills” (“21st century skills,” “Habits of Mind,” etc.), not knowledge, and that’s the theme of her struggles in the program:

So I am at a graduate school of education, home of teaching people how to give urban kids a crappy education. I am currently using all my powers to ward off the incessant doctrinal attacks on being oldschool. An argument I had with my instructor yesterday should serve as an excellent starting point.

The class is a “methods class” on teaching social studies. We were practicing writing a lesson plan, as a class. The lesson was about Hurricane Katrina and its effects on New Orleans. So we dutifully planned the lesson, and then came to the part about what homework we were going to assign. After deliberation, the class decided that, as homework, our high school students would have to design a Hurricane Survival Kit.

I meekly raised my hand and said, “well, this is a very creative lesson, but I think maybe it’s a little too lite, especially the homework.” My instructor replied, “well, actually, I think it’s quite difficult. They have to use all this information from class and synthesize it and even maybe look up an evacuation plan for their city.” Right. Here would be the Hurricane Survival Kit from most of the kids: , where the blank space represents how they didn’t do the assignment because it was stupid.

I responded that, at my old school, god bless its hard heart, my ninth graders had 20 pages of reading a night for one class. And sometimes they didn’t do it, but when they didn’t, they failed quizzes. And eventually they would have to read it, or they would fail essays, tests, and the class. And failing a class meant summer school, or repeating the year. So a lot of them just did the damn reading. The rest of our conversation went like this:

Instructor (who is, sadly, very smart): Well, does reading 20 pages a night give you all the skills you need?

Me: Well, it sure does improve your reading.

Instructor: But what about life skills that are so important today?

Me: Those are great too, but there’s not really a lot of time for that, what with needing to read.

Instructor: See, that’s the thing: I don’t consider these other skills “extra.”

Me: But basically, reading and writing [we don’t talk about math] skills are really what you are going to need in college. They are the limiting factor here. Even if you have the other skills, if you don’t have reading and writing, you’re just not going to college.

Instructor: Well not everyone wants to go to college.

At that point, I sat back in my chair, crossed my arms, and looked resigned. Let me paraphrase the underlying thinking here. Basically, we must produce project-based edu-tainment to occupy the kids who couldn’t care less about school, meanwhile dooming the other kids (and there are more than you would think) to failure in ever attaining any kind of dreams of accomplishment. She argued that traditional education is a turn-off to urban kids and that trying to force them to do it will cause them to drop out of school. Hello. They already are, in huge droves. The schools that do what I’m talking about–the oldschools–are actually successful. I don’t think it’s easy to work with urban kids–they have a lot of really difficult things to deal with at a young age. But some of them can make it, IF we let them.

After class, in an email, she suggested we start a message board discussion of these ideas so they won’t take up so much class time. Excellent.
Welcome to School | 9/29/2005 | by newoldschoolteacher