Teachers teach facts instead of concepts. Teachers teach from the textbooks and barely understand what is in the book anyway. There is not enough hands-on learning. All teachers really do anyway is to show videos most of the time. What should really happen is that a teacher should learn how to do science, intensively, with one project and that way, really understand how to teach it.
And so on and so forth.
If you find yourself agreeing with everything I just said, then I have one more thing to add: Get a brain, moran!
OK, maybe I’m being a little hard on you, but you were asking for it.
You were asking for it because you are agreeing with a litany of complaints that are usually regurgitated when people have the opportunity to complain about our system of education, but where the people doing the complaining don’t know much about what actually happens in schools.
A while back I was at a public discussion on education and when the panel opened up to Q&A things like those listed above came spilling out of the mouths of various curmudgeons in the audience. There was a lot of blaming the system, and there was more than a hint of blaming the teachers themselves.
At that panel, I went a little berserk and let into these private citizens, explaining to them that they were repeating themes that people in education had started to address at least a decade or two ago, and that in any reasonably good school, such as an average (or above) public school in a state that is not Texas or Louisiana, science teachers teach concepts more than facts, know a lot more than the texbooks, that there are lots of hands on experiences in the classrooms both because teachers want that and because in many cases it is required by the standards, that teachers in fact use videos judiciously, and that there are many (though not enough) programs to help teachers engage in what is called “content” on their own so they can become experts in something they are teaching.
There are also incentives to do that, or at least, ways in which a teacher can partly get reimbursed for the educational costs involved. For instance, Amanda got her MA a while back, and that has made her a much better teacher and also got her a raise. We figure she’ll make back almost as much as she spent to get the MA as long as she waits until she’s 80 or so to retire.
Her MA is not in “teaching” (educmacation) but rather, in Biology, and she worked on a very intense and very real research project as part of that. Now, for two or three years she’s gone back to that research lab and worked during the summers, on related projects, in order to keep her hands in the process. When she teaches the science of biology to her AP students she is sometimes teaching about stuff she helped figure out in a major research lab.
Anyway, that’s not what I really wanted to talk about. The other day, I was in a phone conference with my friend Desiree Schell and her friend and my colleague, fellow Science Blogger and Science Education researcher Marie-Claire Shanahan, and for some reason I started ranting about that education panel I mentioned above. And something very interesting happened: It turns out that Marie-Claire has been actually studying this phenomenon … of what people say about science education … for some time, and has written about it.
In a recent blog post, Marie-Claire talks about what people say about what is wrong, or what needs to be done, about education, and she gives an example (which I won’t repeat here) and remarks:
Educators, critics, and scientists often argue for improving science education by teaching the processes of science, emphasizing critical thinking, and actively engaging students in doing science. Almost always, this is argued to be a great improvement over “traditional” approaches to science teaching that prioritize the rote learning of facts-an approach that is said to have dominated in the past. The problem is, it’s always a different past that we’re talking about – for us, it’s maybe the 80s, for those involved in writing the book, maybe the 40s.
Holy crap! I love this. This resonates with so many different things I’m interested in. I am very interested in the pattern of human thinking in which the past is simplified, compressed, made unidirectional, and often just plain gotten wrong, as a foil for argument or as a convenient point of comparison. And when you challenge people on this sort of thing they can get really mad. Try telling someone that it is not true that “people were shorter back then” or that it isn’t true that everyone died when they were 14 “back then” or that people didn’t really live like “peasants” prior to the comparatively recent invention of “peasantness” and they’ll often get mad at you. And here, Marie-Claire is telling us that our favorite complaint about what is wrong with education and our favorite suggestions as to what to do about education are falsehoods and old, traditional ideas, respectively.
Anyway, you should go read Marie-Claire’s post. And then, on Sunday Night listen to her (and me and a bunch of other people) talk about this and related topics.
#139 Culture and Tradition
NOVEMBER 20, 2011
This week, we’re featuring a panel discussion on the origins and influence of tradition, with biological anthropologist Greg Laden, science education researcher Marie-Claire Shanahan, ethnomusicologist Kyra Gaunt-Palmer, and primatologist Eric Michael Johnson. We’ll discuss where traditions come from, why some endure and some fade, and whether they appear in non-human populations.
We record live with our panel on Sunday, November 2o at 6 pm MT. The podcast will be available to download at 9 pm MT on Friday,November 25.