Saturday, November 01, 2008

Colleges, Manipulation, and Ed. Schools

I haven't posted in two weeks, and have I ever been feeling guilty about that. I guess that's the Catholic in me. There is an explanation, but I won't get into that now. I had actually started working on another post, but then I got a letter from a former student, James Erickson, and he asked that I share the letter with my seniors. James is conservative, and the letter reflects that, but I think it's quite fair and the message is a good one. I told James that I would share it with my seniors, but I would also use it on my blog. Here it is:

Congratulations! If you are reading this, I am going to help you save your mind as you pursue further studies. You are in a world that is attempting daily to manipulate your every thought and deed, and it's about to grow worse. This world wants your personal opinions and beliefs to sink to the bottom of the ocean and share space with the Titanic. Before I throw you a life-vest and save your mind, you should know who and what are grabbing your ankles trying to pull you under.

Currently you are formulating opinions based off of what you see and hear on TV, what your parents tell you, what your teachers tell you, what you read in newspapers and magazines, what Hollywood's hottest are wearing, and what your peers are doing. What if I told you that some of your opinions aren't even yours? Think about it. When is the last time you heard something on TV and repeated it to a friend as if it was originally your point? When have you done that and your point turned out to be incorrect? This is the danger of allowing what we see and hear to become our opinions without further investigation. Let me ask another question. Do you ever feel frustrated because it seems that everyone else has something or is doing something you aren't doing? Have you ever felt out of the mainstream? Have you ever jumped into the mainstream for the sole purpose of avoiding being in the minority? If so, you are forfeiting your mind. You are becoming a robot, and guess what happens to robots? They sink to the bottom of the ocean and learn how to rust from the Titanic. Guess what fellow robots? The manipulation gets worse.

Chances are that you may be attending college in the near future. College, the land of bountiful opportunities and rigorous challenges, endless parties and last minute cram sessions. College can also be a breeding ground for manipulation if you aren't careful. Alright robots, here are the facts. Upon arriving at college, you will find yourself immersed in a world with seemingly endless possibilities. You will likely feel slightly confused within your first semester as you adjust to college life. At this point, your mind's defenses are down, and from my observations the professors know it. If he hasn't told you already, Mr. Fermoyle will teach you that it is the common belief that the more education one receives, the more liberal that person is likely to become. Why is this? Some compare increased intelligence to liberal tendencies. I, however, will give you the facts. The bottom line is that many college professors are liberal and strongly express their beliefs, both political and otherwise, in their classrooms. They advocate liberal agendas and are not open-minded to other views.

Many of my teachers have pushed their political views on students during lectures, but for the sake of time I will give one example. Last year, I took a global issues class. My professor enjoyed showing movies to our class that correlated with our discussion topics. One day we watched a movie that professed Fox News to be "the Biased Satan" of the media world. After showing this movie, my professor asked us our thoughts on the film. After hearing several of my fellow classmates exclaim how biased Fox News was, I raised my hand. My teacher called on me with reluctance knowing that I wasn't likely to be impressed by this film. I started by acknowledging that Fox is definitely biased. Then, however, I said that the filmmaker's intent was to show only the bias of Fox News. I claimed how easy would have been for me to find an ideologically opposite bias on MSNBC and make an equally manipulative film. I further argued that if the filmmaker had wanted to make his film credible, he should have addressed the bias in ALL of media.

I easily could have bought into my professor's film agenda, but I chose to keep an open mind. This is the life-vest that will keep you afloat. You do not have to become a robot. You do not have to succumb to indoctrination--conservative, liberal, or otherwise. You can save your mind by doing one simple thing--QUESTION EVERYTHING! It is too easy to believe everything that we hear from those we respect. I have seen it happen to many of my classmates. Investigate everything, and express what you feel is right in your mind and in your heart. In fact, I challenge you to investigate and challenge this very letter. Get in that habit. We are the future of the United States of American, and we have to choose whether to sink to the bottom of the ocean, or rise to the top of the mountain. It's your mind. It's your choice.
As I read James's letter, I couldn't help thinking back to a couple of comments on my last post from Michael Mazenko and Physics Teacher about the role of education schools in the problems in our education system. From 1999-2001 I took classes to earn a Masters Degree. Nearly all of the classes promoted so-called progressive, student-centered methods, and quite frankly, I thought a lot of it was crap. What was being promoted did not square with my experience. Since I had been teaching for 25 years, however, I challenged everything, and I was able to get away with it. The overall program was valuable for me because there were some good things mixed in there, and I took everything I was "taught" with a gigantic grain of salt. But what about people who are just going into teaching? They are probably buying everything their professors are telling them, just like James says. But it's not just young kids who have no experience. I don't know how many times I've been to workshops where the same garbage has been hoisted upon us, and I look around and all I see is teachers nodding in agreement. They should know better.

The main reason I haven't posted for so long is that I have been reading Sweating the Small Stuff by David Whitman, a book about six inner-city schools that have had remarkable success. One thing those schools have in common is that they have almost completely shunned "progressive" teaching methods. I am not going to say that those methods can never be of any use, but I do believe that the infatuation that our colleges of education have with them plays a major role in the problems we have in American K-12 education.


Blogger Mrs. C said...

Just to UNDERSTAND your post, I had to look up what the teacherese meant. But I found all kinds of OTHER THINGS as I did that, strange words like "andragogical" and whatnot thrown in for good measure. Then I'd look THAT up, find more new words and get confused etc. etc. I think there must be entire cadres of people who make their livings by writing such nonsense. Then this way, parents will *never* speak the lingo unless they invest so heavily in the graduate coursework that they might as well run a school themselves LOL!

Forgive my bluntness. I'm sure no one teaching method will work for all your students, but for my part, I pick a good textbook, teach to that and if my kids don't do well on the test we back up and redo those parts. (My kids are younger, though.)

BTW, Patrick just got his first "zero" in high school for turning in work late. Ouch, but hopefully he is able to apply that lesson next time. What kills me is that he HAD THE WORK DONE ON TIME, but "forgot" to hand it in. I thought it was extremely well-written, too, and had only looked at his work to nitpick at it (admission from Mom). He was doing some sort of work on hoboes and trying to invent/mimic their slang. I had to inform him that his phonetic spelling "slang" for the word "come" might have some bad implications (the kid is EXTREMELY NAIVE in ways you would not believe...) but that otherwise his writing was good.

I think some of the problem with "teaching methods" may be with parents as well. I can well understand the "special needs" parent, being one myself, but I've also seen perfectly neurotypical children with such awful, hounding parents wanting this or that done a certain way for their children at the conferences that I want to go hide from embarrassment at the tone. And if this is how they act when they have an "audience," how do they treat the teacher when no one is looking??

Sad indeed.

PS When are YOU writing your next book? I've looked it up a few times and it isn't available from my entire library system, which includes ALL of Kansas City. :[

11/01/2008 3:31 PM  
Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Dennis, good to read your insights again. I too have a difficult time swallowing all of the progressive methods, especially after receiving this group of below grade level readers who would rather me tell them how good they are at everything than improve their inference skills.

The unfortunate aspect of all this remains that today's students cannot differentiate criticism intended to construct meaning and improve performace with criticism intended to demolish self-esteem and create a heirarchy.

11/01/2008 4:09 PM  
Blogger mazenko said...

Dennis, glad to have you back. I was beginning to worry.

As a teacher, I have always been quite traditional - it's either ego or my Catholic school education. Thus, I have always resisted what I call "foo-foo" educational methods. In fact, I have never been so annoyed, as when I attended the orientation for my student teacher (the one and only time I've had one), and the head of the education department refused to use the word "teacher." We were all "learner facilitators." It took every fiber of my being to not walk out of the presentation. That experience greatly influenced my decision to not pursue a Master's degree in education or administration. I am so thankful for my degree in English Language and Literature.

That said, I have given over to some non-traditional assignments over the years, and I am the better teacher for it. My most current discovery is the multi-genre research paper. Between that and open-ended op-ed commentary pieces, I have students doing some of the best writing of my career. On the other hand, I am a relentless advocate for a literature curriculum grounded in the classics, and that is one hill I will die on.

Ultimately, it is, like nearly all things, moderation that is the key.

11/01/2008 4:44 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mr. McNamar, it's good to hear from YOU again. Mrs. C., I apologize for getting technical on you but I hope my response to Michael will help you understand what I was talking about.

Learner facilitator, eh Michael? So that's what we are. I agree with you about moderation. I use cooperative learning about once a week in my American History classes, the idea of multiple intelligences does make some sense to me, and I do try to include minorities and women in my American History classes. In those Masters classes I took, however, they poo-pooed everything traditional. If you had your desks in straight rows, if you ever lectured, if you gave reading assignments out of a text, if you taught any traditional history, or if you gave pencil and paper tests you were made to feel like an educational Neanderthal. Well, I guess I can always sign up for Geico commercials.

11/01/2008 5:20 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Dennis, you're a public school teacher, and you're mostly blogging to other teachers, so I'm going to expect some shop talk. I actually learn a lot by visiting several and gain an appreciation for the hard things they go through each day. I just don't always feel welcome to comment as I am here. :]

I guess I combine some of these "methodologies" because I do stick to the curriculum pretty closely, but we ADD some things in that the children want to learn. So I'm pretty much like you in that I'm traditional but leave room for "student-directed" learning. There is nothing wrong with unschooling or student-directed learning, but there's also something to be said for drilling those times tables whether you like it or not.

And ugh... I don't think I could ever call myself a "learner-facilitator!!" That's too much to ask an employee to handle...

11/01/2008 6:26 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., if you're homeschooling, a lot of the methods pushed by ed. schools would actually make sense. The father of progressive education is John Dewey who set up an experimental school in which child-centered methods were used successfully. The idea is that learning is natural, so you basically let kids decide what they want to learn, and then the teacher "facilitates" it. But Dewey's kids were all from upper-middle class families, they went out and got the best teachers available, and they had a 5 to 1 student-teacher ratio. When you have thirty kids in a classroom from working and/or lower class families, and many of them just want to screw around, the facilitating just doesn't do it.

11/02/2008 2:31 AM  
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