Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Death of Basic Know-How

“Did you see that test?”

“Yeah man.  Mr. $#(@*@*!&^" does that kind of thing on occasion, putting basic algebra equations on the test.  It’s totally annoying.”

“He better knock that shit off.  If he starts putting algebraic equations on test I am fucked.”

The two students engaged in this conversation outside of my classroom have passed the High School Exit Exam and are in a Calculus class.  That’s right.  We aren’t talking about Second Language Learners getting their first exposure to the Devil’s Code (also known as ‘Math’), we are talking about the best-of-the-best not having a basic understanding of the concepts they learned that are supposed to act as a foundation for the information they are learning right now.  It doesn’t seem to be working out.

I reflected on this conversation and others I’d had been overhearing while reading the tweets from EduCon in Philadelphia.  EduCon is my kind of conference.  It focuses on Education issues around teaching, then throws in the integrated technology component instead of the other way around.  It’s refreshing.  It’s also maddening to watch the casual toss-away of basic components of education in such a flippant manner.  Plenty of conversations pop up about ending the use of textbooks, simple calculators, even changing the name “classroom” into something more learning oriented, whatever the hell that means.  All of the conversation has a certain “waldorfian” tone to it (Waldorf being a more ‘humanistic’ and inclusive education, so they say), which is scary because many of those students that come from such an ‘alternative’ method of education frequently can’t do basic theorems because someone didn’t have them focus on fundamental processes.  It creates a student that is so attached to his Ti-85 calculator that when the student is asked to do a problem with parenthesis, said student goes pale and starts to mumble that life isn’t fair.

The same can be said for those advocating the death of the textbook.  Never mind that there is no way that a student in my school should be responsible for a $500 iPad (they have trouble with a $4 paperback), the main issue here is the continuing push to ignore the importance of academic reading.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m totally in the camp that the academic textbook is pretty close to worst thing that can possibly be read.  But that doesn’t mean you ditch it for technology.  It means you actually create a textbook that becomes useful to students in pursuit of their academic goals down the road.  Dumping the text doesn’t prepare them for the reading they are about to do down the road, unless they are planning to skip the undergrad work and pay hundreds of dollars for primary source packets in graduate school.

Finally there’s the academic writing.  Being an active participant in the Twitterverse and Blogosphere is not easy, especially when people become such technocrats that they simply pass foundations and build their educational houses on “engagement” and “love of learning”.  I actually heard the quote “the era of the five paragraph essay is over” recently.  What’s the new literary format?  Blogging.  That’s right.  The tried and true “write how you feel” approach has apparently been put on the throne of writing.  Not only that, but we are going to accept it as a blogged format.  Let’s realize that “blogging” for a 16 year old is not David Brooks columns about Compassionate Conservatism in the New York Times.  It’s a text messaged laced tirade about why Justin Bieber should not date Selena Gomez.  LOL!  In the meantime you have eighteen year old Advanced Placement students still using text speak and first-person in a paper trying to analyze income disparity in China.  Kids need to write more and more, and more “traditionally”, if that’s what you want to call it. 

Technocracies aren’t meant to replace, they are meant to enhance and supplement a student’s learning environment.  When I see a Bill Gates supported school getting so much publicity because they use complex technology, but can’t really explain what their doing with a coherent thought, it makes me question if Edtech Reformers really understand what they are doing.                

blog comments powered by Disqus