Don’t Know Much About History

Is anyone else thinking that we should get over our obsession with job readiness and coding and start teaching civics, history and critical thinking again?

It is ironic that in an election year full to the brim with historical myth, deceit, ignorance and intolerance all anyone can say about education is “coding! More coding!” Remember when education used to be viewed as essential to democracy?

In the most elite private schools and liberal arts colleges students do more than math drills, ELA exercises and an hour of code. They learn how to think. They are empowered to express informed opinions. They are empowered to see themselves as agents of change, to think critically and engage in democracy.  But we continue to manage public schools like factories- with economic rather than human, democratic goals. Beneath this reality is an insidious assumption that only our elites should learn how to think and engage critically in the democratic process, and that all everyone else needs is vocational training.

But education should be about more than job readiness for everyone, not just the already privileged. If I’ve gained anything from watching this circus of an election cycle, its a powerful reminder of the importance of history, critical thinking and empowerment in education.

The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think — rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.- John Dewey

A democratic form of government, a democratic way of life, presupposes free public education over the long period; it presupposes also an education for personal responsibility that too often is neglected. -Eleanor Roosevelt

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Ain’t Misbehaving- Class Size and Problematic Student Behaviors

Yet again, I was reminded this September of how much class size matters.

Last year, the second grade classes I taught each week all had 27-30 students and it felt like every class had numerous children with disruptive behavior challenges- fighting, calling out, pushing, extreme anger and frustration, lack of impulse control, distraction- there were a lot of kids who were neither motivated, nor engaged. I felt like I was constantly redirecting, problem solving and disciplining and it was impossible to make time to meaningfully resolve every issue or address every need.

This August, when I looked at a 3rd grade teacher’s class list, I thought oh man- this is going to be a rough class, because I saw so many of the kids who I had struggled with as second graders.

And then school started. And things were different- with those very same kids that I used to fall asleep worrying about. Suddenly, the behavior problems were gone.  Why?

Now that class only has 16 kids in it.  16. 16  kids who are focused and calm, respectful and excited to learn and share their ideas. No, they are not suddenly perfect kid-bots, thank goodness. They still are quirky, and wiggly but the behavior problems, the serious ones that I devoted huge amounts of time and energy to managing- those  are gone. And its the very same kids. 3 months later. The same teacher. Smaller class.  Hand wringing, constant redirecting gone.  It is dreamy.

What happened?

Well, in a class of 16 every child is getting what they need. No one needs to compete for attention. No one is forgotten. Conflicts get fully resolved. Parents build close relationships with teachers.  Every voice is heard. Students have physical and emotional space- more freedom to be independent and explore.  The room itself is quieter, safer and calmer. Most important, in a small class teachers can quickly build relationships that lay the foundation for meaningful learning and growth.

Imagine if all classes in public schools were this small. Certainly there would still be students who struggle.  But imagine how many of the misbehaviors that we address every day would disappear. How many suspensions and disciplinary actions we might avoid.

We need to ask ourselves- by having large classes in early childhood are we the ones creating so called “behavior problem kids”? How often do people say of misbehavior- oh he is just trying to get attention. She just wants attention.  As if that is not a valid need for a child to have. All children want and need attention! And love! And recognition! And a sense of significance!  And it is really hard to get those things in a class of thirty other 7 year olds.

This is why my friends who teach in private schools have 15 students and 2 teachers in a class. Because class size really does matter and everyone who has ever tried to teach a roomful of 32 children understands that beyond a doubt.

If only the DOE and powers above would invest in teachers instead of blowing money on testing, consultants and developmentally inappropriate and soon to be obsolete technology. If only this one small class wasn’t a fluke and classes of 32 became a thing of the past- especially in early childhood. Because every year as my classes shrink or expand, I see how much class size really does matter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personalized Education is a Scam

Personalized education is code for students sitting in front of computers programmed according to their level in math, reading etc. This kind of “education” is great for tech companies, but research shows it is not so great for kids.

My experience proves the same: all my “high achieving students” spend their weekends at museums, parks and zoos, in art classes or building structures at home. All the kids that spend their time on a DS, computer or staring at the tv are the ones with delayed language development, non-existent problem solving skills and poor self control. My main goal every day is to level the playing field with lots of messy, hands on, interactive learning experiences and an emphasis on interpersonal skills.

Learning is a social process and relationships between students and teachers are the basis for all real learning.  Children learn by doing- with their bodies, their senses, their voices and with each other. This is not my opinion, it is proven by decades of research.

Computers are fine and can be a useful tool for skill building, research and  creating student materials. Pencils are also useful for learning, but no one is saying that they can fix everything missing in education.  There should be computers in classrooms, but they can never replace teachers and can never replace the social, active and sensory experiences that constitute real learning.

I’m glad I have a computer in my classroom, but if I had to choose I’d take scissors, glue, and construction paper any day.

http://dianeravitch.net/2015/12/12/leonie-haimson-did-mark-zuckerberg-make-another-mistake/