Archive for September, 2011
A colleague of mine recently remarked that my blog was too negative; that it belabored the facts; and I was missing the main point of social media – sharing!
I countered by saying, I try to share as much as I can; some of my posts are sharing resources that I created, and I re-tweet points, arguments and resources that I think should be considered or have value.
In regards to belaboring the facts, I responded that I had no idea what that actually means. Relevant facts are always…well, relevant! They, when applied correctly, are argument busters – they help you gage if an idea had merit or not. Value facts; they keep us grounded in reality.
In terms of being too negative I saw his point; taken as a whole, my blog and tweets are more disagreeable then many others. I saw his point, but I emphatically disagree. This is what critical thinking looks like. Critical thinking is the analysis of where a concept is weak or wrong; it is an exploration of negative consequences, oversights, weaknesses, errors, assumptions, etc.
There might be some misunderstanding out there on what critical thinking is. You aren’t thinking critically when you point out the benefit of something or when you are optimistic. Those are other analytical strategies. Critical thinking is the subset of analytic activities that attack – its the reductio ad absurdum and the like. It is the process used in systems analysis (from everything to computer programs to making sure the maintenance schedule for aircraft repair is adequate); it is the process used by your defense lawyer as he breaks down the Crown’s argument; it is the method of Socrates – he never said, “wow, I see your point; I can’t wait to share it with the Sophists.”
We hear people presenting the merits of critical thinking a lot; they present the need that our students have for them; however, we rarely hear anyone embracing someone else’s critical thoughts. It’s much like coffee – when asked, people generally say they like it dark and rich when the truth is the majority of us like it milky and weak (Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti sauce at ted.com). When asked, people generally say that they value critical thinking, then when confronted by it, see it as negativity and then as something to avoid or dismiss (“you say you love the baby, but you crucify the man (Jim Croce).”). Though people say they value critical thinking; they don’t embrace the actual thoughts only the vague unassuming concept. As a profession, we tend to see it as the “black hat” from de Bono’s 6 hats…something associated with negativity. Even in many sources of this method, we are warned to not use it too much.
No such warning exists for the optimistic hat. Well, I don’t want my airplane mechanic to be overly optimistic; I don’t want my lawyer to be (should I need one); I don’t want journalists to be; or farmers (“don’t worry; crops grow themselves; don’t worry, I’m sure the ecoli wont spread”) or educators.
I find the irony a bit too thick to even enjoy when an educator shares someone’s critical argument at face value…when anyone optimistically accepts a critical argument and shares it saying, “great point to consider…” they have missed something fundamental; they have forgotten to be critical. I also have very little respect for someone who prefers to ignore an argument because it is too negative and goes off in search of some great list of 100 apps that every student needs or 100 uses for twitter in your classroom. Without seeking the possible weakness or negative consequences, one’s optimism is reckless and naive.
Another argument swirling around these days is that it is a disservice to children to educate them in “batches.” Meaning, people argue that we shouldn’t group them in grades by age, but we should focus on their abilities. There are some strong arguments in favour of this and I invite people to detail them below; perhaps you will persuade me. Currently, however, I think the idea is flawed and harmful to children.
I think it is beneficial and appropriate to group children by age in school. Schools serve as their primary vehicle to socialize and be socialized. They should primarily be part of a peer group at more or less the same stage of development (not necessarily ability). They learn about friendships and other relationships at school as much as they do about the curriculum. I think the development of these skills will be hampered if we are constantly re-ordering them as their skill sets grow at different rates. I also thing it creates other problems like: should an advanced 5 year old be partners with a 13 year old who is struggling especially in such things as health class or gym?
This brings me to my second point: consider those children who are struggling. People tend to focus on children who are being held back and who’s skills are more advanced in the argument for ordering be ability; however, we should be equally cognizant of the struggling student. By organizing them by level s/he is de facto failing. S/he sees his/her age cohort, his/her peers, continue to advance and drift away while s/he struggles with younger and younger students. This reality must be considered because implicit into the argument of arranging by ability is that students will grow at different rates (some slower), if not, then organization by age would be adequate. We stopped failing students because we started to value the whole child; we started to realize the damage we were doing to an individual by holding them back. The proposal of organizing by abilities seems to be a step backwards in this regards
Finally, and the part of it that bothers me the most: By focusing on ability rather then by social peer group, age, or the whole child, we are visiting on our children a harmful practice that we usually reserve for adults. Students become their ability. This is analogous to adults being evaluated/ranked by their job. We measure the worth of a child by their ability, not human dignity, or peer group, or stage of life. The pressure to excel, to out preform, to rank each other by their relative success in school is visiting the worse elements of the ‘rat race’ on the most fragile members of our society. This really upsets me: I would much rather people see my son as a 6 year old and not as a good reader who needs to be moved up and challenged and who needs to struggle (“don’t worry, you’ll make lots of 11 and 12 year old friends in your new class”). I especially want people to see my autistic 3 year old as a child who should socialize with other children and not as a struggling reader who needs to be left behind the more advanced and promising students…doesn’t every parent?
Making its rounds in the blogsphere and the twitterverse, at least in the regions associated with education, is the mistaken notion that public education/our current education system was created by the industrial revolution to serve the needs of industry. This is not the case; the industrial revolution and early industrial period preferred unskilled and cheap labour; industry preferred people with no marketable skills or options. Child labour was very common; for some jobs, employers actually preferred children.
In order to can an accurate understanding of this period, I suggest reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair published in 1906 or the transcripts of the Royal Commission on the Relationship between Labour and Capital presented in 1889 but detailing interviews from throughout the 1880’s. Both present a picture of ubiquitous abuse of unskilled labour by industry.
It was in reaction to this reality that worker’s movements included in their demands free compulsory education for children. This had 3 benefits for workers and children at the expense of industry: 1) With less labour available, wages generally increase; 2) Children of working class families were cared for during the day; and 3) Educated individuals would grow up to be harder to victimize and generally have more options as they entered the work force.
It was the possibility of freeing people from poverty and abuse that drove the creation of our free, mandatory education system in Canada. It was this realization; this empowerment and betterment, that sustained this institution over the last 100 years or so. It is a promise and reality that still serves as a people today. Industry would prefer uneducated workers and consumers: they are easier to sell to, exploit, and control. Consider reading a book like Fast Food Nation to see a current trend of hiring and abusing people; then you can decide whether it is education that is leading them there.
People who link free, public education to the requirements of industry are wrong. The historical record is clear on the insistence of working class families for it, for their benefit, and the record is equally clear about the resistance of the industrial elite and the costs associated with it.
The idea that public education serves the needs of industry and is therefore outdated and bad for people, cannot properly be used as an argument for education reform as it is unfounded.