Monday, March 19, 2007

Anonymous on TIME's "How To Build a Student For the 21st Century"

I always feel a little like I'm cheating when I do this, but some stuff is just to good to pass up. Recently, Anonymous wrote a comment for my post on taking DI beyond the blogosphere, and I thought it was excellent. It was basically a critique of TIME magazine's article, "How to Build a Student for the 21st Century." Crypticlife liked it, too, so I thought maybe I'd missed something, so I read the comment again, and I still liked it. Anonymous's philosophy might be a little different than mine, but it's close enough. I hope Anonymous doesn't mind, but I thought the comment was too good not to be a post. So here it is: Anonymous's take on "How to Build a Student for the 21st Century."

The premise of the recent Time Magazine article, "How To Build a Student For The 21st Century," (December 18) is largely false, and frankly, sickening.

I am a veteran high school history teacher whose students do very well on standardized tests - AP, CAPT, SAT. I never to teach to tests. I demand that students go beyond their limited frame of reference and learn something, which includes memorization. My students acquire lots knowledge.

That Stanford University Professor who told her daughter to tell her teacher that she only needs to know the Amazon river - not the other rivers of South America - is a perfect example of the Educrat mentality. On the contrary, the mere act of learning something and memorizing it is a useful activity. Moreover, to understand more about the estuaries of the Amazon can lead to other sociological and anthropological awarenesses, even if they are not realized immediately. Memorization builds brain power and makes higher-level thinking possible. How can one think at a higher level when they know very little? How can we ask our young people to depend on Google? Do we not want to help young people think on their feet? Knowledge begets knowledge. More knowledge will not hurt young people, instead it will help them intellectually, psychologically and physiologically.

This "crisis" in education has come before, as far back as the nineteen twenties. In 1925 William Heard Kilpatrick of Columbia Teachers College said that instead of teaching facts and figures, schools should teach students "critical thinking." Students need to learn how to "look-up" information in the modern world - the 1920s! In his "Child Centered School," Harold Rugg urged in 1928 a shifting of the focus to a child-centered environment. (Heather MacDonald) These so-called cutting-edge progressive education theories are old. Moreover, they have never worked with most students.

We thought the human condition was somehow evolving by 1914 and then we had WWI. The human condition is what it is. Students are what they are; much of the time they are reluctent learners. The Rousseauian theory of the naturally inquistitve young person is largely false. Some students are sometimes deeply engaged. Yes, the very best and brightest are often self-directed learners. But what about the big middle? No matter how the educrats twist it, turn it and re-package it, their wares are the same, and so are the results. And they are poor results.

And what are the wares of education schools? Theories. Of course educrats will say that knowledge is not important because content - history, math, science, literature etcera - is outside their area of theories. More often than not, student-centered, group work is inefficient and less effective in helping students attain the kind of education that is going to help them succeed. Constructivist education is in the end absurd. There has been a proliforation of Kaplan study centers and the like, because the recent upsurge of progressive education practices over the last 15 years has forced students to get direct, teacher-centered instruction elsewhere.

I am deeply, deeply concerned about the future of our young people. Their counterparts from India and China are learning much more than our young people, and, yes, they do a lot of memorizing and withstand lectures and obsorb lots of information. But they are also very creative.

Education should not be expected to be fun and immediately relevant. It should better than fun. It should be fulfilling and mind expanding. It requires lots of work and intensity. We do not need longer school days or schools years, we need more intensity and content oriented education. For fun we can have more team sports available to more students at all ability levels; they can learn "cooperative" skills, while bringing more blood to their brains and building self-esteem through hard work.

The directives from the education establishment are forcing a loss of discipline and rigor at a time when we need more of it.

We need to impart lots of knowledge and information to the millions of reluctant learners so that they have in their heads an educated mind even when the computer is down. The late Neil Postman said that computers have not solved any problems in education that were there before. Instead, computers and the internet have created new ones.


Blogger Parentalcation said...

Awesome post...

3/19/2007 5:50 PM  
Blogger Instructivist said...

"We do not need longer school days or schools years, we need more intensity and content oriented education."

Exactly right!

The time wasted with and on goofiness is prodigious.

Intensity is a well-chosen word.
I'll add intensity to my repertoire.

3/19/2007 6:46 PM  
Blogger Denever said...

For those who want to read the article Anonymous is responding to:,9171,1568480-1,00.html

Read it and weep.

3/19/2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger The Tour Marm said...


3/20/2007 6:06 AM  
Anonymous David Topitzer said...

I am "anonymous." Thanks for posting my comments. And thanks for the feedback. It great to be validated; I am not alone!I can't tell you how frustrated I have felt for years now. I love history and teaching young people, but the educrat BS might drive me out. I hope, instead, that we can somehow band together and fight this vacuous edu-crap.

After school today was a presentation at our faculty meeting by a Education professor (which is really an oxymoron)that did not disappoint. He said basically that content does not matter anymore and that we should never instruct for more than 7 minutes!

Keep the faith!

3/20/2007 6:56 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

David, thanks for your commentary, and I'm glad that my using it as a post was okay with you.

You obviously have some people who completely agree with you, and of course, I really liked what you had to say. But in the interest in honesty, I think I should mention the areas where I might differ with you to some extent.

First of all, I feel a little out of it because I tend to refer to what you call "child-centered" and "constructivist", as progressive. I would agree that "progressive" might be too kind a term for some things they throw at us, but it's the one I'm most familiar with, so I hope you'll bear with me.

I am a traditionalist at heart, and the core of my class is traditional. I always present my American history material using reading assignments and lecture-discussion. But I do think some of the progressive ideas have some merit. I use cooperative learning once or twice a week to do something with the material that has been presented. I have to do a good job putting the groups together, and I have to come up with a good assignment, and I have had my share of miserable failures. But overall, I think it has worked well for me. I also think it's good to be aware of things like multiple intelligences. Now, when I hear things like, "You can make a chemistry class come alive by having one student dress up like a potato and pretend to worship another student dressed up like the sun!" I want to puke, but I do think it's okay to allow kids to earn some extra credit points in a class like history with art projects. So although I'm a traditionalist at heart, I do think that if we are aware of some of those progressive ideas, and we use a little common sense, they can be useful.

The other slight difference I have with you is that I probably think we're doing better than you do. I, too, worry about the future, but as I've said before, the great majority of kids that I've seen enter our high school have basically gotten what they wanted. If they wanted to go to college, they've done well enough here, and learned enough here so that has not been a problem. Our kids who haven't gone on to college, generally had no desire to do so in the first place.

As I indicated before, I agree with about 95% of what you have to say, and I don't know anyone who could have said it better. Thanks again!

3/21/2007 5:30 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Hey Dennis,

Few (i.e., Ken DeRosa) think that none of the constructivist ideas have any merit at all. Designing a curriculum around it is ludicrous, particularly at the expense of techniques that clearly work.

Mixing language study with other work, for example, is probably a good idea. The IB school cited in the article had dropped Chinese while retaining Japanese, which is a bit odd (even my Japanese wife would prefer public schools teach Chinese rather than Japanese). Even if it's a less efficient manner of instruction than directly teaching language, the collateral benefits could be worthwhile.

And the original reason for the constructivist argument was not entirely invalid. There are a lot of relatively pointless details in a lot of classes, when the students would be better served by a good framework. But the constructivist solutions throw out the fundamental details along with the inconsequential ones in a philosophical fit of pique. And they tend to eschew practice and avoid mastery. And because of the nature of the proponents of constructivist curricula, it tends to be marked by research which is shoddy, biased, poorly interpreted and used, emotionally defended, and rarely repeated.

I don't have a problem with students ever doing a collaborative project. I have a problem with the fundamental skills being ignored or even derided in an attempt to impart skills that the educators do not know they can impart. Constructivism needs science. It needs it badly, otherwise it's just a hash where it's impossible to separate the benefits of potato sun-worshipping from acting out Shakespearean plays.

America is clearly the best in many areas. America has the strongest and deepest economy. There is no doubt that America has the strongest military. There is no serious debate over whether America has the healthiest space program. America should have an educational system that is just as unquestionably superior to that of the rest of the world as our military.

3/21/2007 7:23 AM  
Blogger rightwingprof said...

"Few (i.e., Ken DeRosa) think that none of the constructivist ideas have any merit at all."

Ken can defend himself, of course, but that is a misstatement. Constructivism has its uses, though none at all if students don't have a core knowledge to build on. Constructivism is more appropriate in certain situations at the university level than it is at the secondary level.

Kids can't "construct knowledge" out of nothing -- but of course, that is exactly what most proponents of constructivism believe they can do. Teach them nothing, let them know nothing, just have them "construct" knowledge -- out of nothing.

It's a shell game.

3/21/2007 11:04 AM  
Blogger CrypticLife said...

Yes, I realize, that probably misstates Ken's beliefs on the subject, and I have no right to state what his beliefs are without unequivocal statements from him -- sorry about that, Ken.

3/21/2007 1:47 PM  
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