A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Okay, I'm going to go scream now....

Apparently some schools have REALLY decided to abandon their responsibility not just to reinforce values but to actually expect kids to learn. I am obviously a walking breathing fossil, since this makes me want to shriek, and I am NOT a shrieker. I particularly like the doublespeak employed in the justification I emphasized:
In a wireless age where kids can access the Internet's vast store of information from their cellphones and PDAs, schools have been wrestling with how to stem the tide of high-tech cheating. Now, some educators say they have the answer: Change the rules and make it legal. In doing so, they're permitting all kinds of behavior that had been considered off-limits just a few years ago.

The move, which includes some of the country's top institutions, reflects a broader debate about what skills are necessary in today's world -- and how schools should teach them. The real-world strengths of intelligent surfing and analysis, some educators argue, are now just as important as rote memorization....

This includes not only letting kids use the Internet during tests, but in the most extreme cases, allowing them to text message notes or beam each other definitions on vocabulary drills. Schools say they in no way consider this cheating because they're explicitly changing the rules to allow it.

In Ohio, students at Cincinnati Country Day can take their laptops into some tests and search online Cliffs Notes. At Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach, Calif., seventh-graders are looking at each other's hand-held computers to get answers on their science drills. And in San Diego, high-schoolers can roam free on the Internet during English exams.

The same logic is being applied even when laptops aren't in the classroom. In Philadelphia, school officials are considering letting kids retake tests, even if it gives them an opportunity to go home and Google topics they saw on the first test. "What we've got to teach kids are the tools to access that information," says Gregory Thornton, the school district's chief academic officer. " 'Cheating' is not the word anymore."

The changes -- and the debate they're prompting -- are not unlike the upheaval caused when calculators became available in the early 1970s. Back then, teachers grappled with letting kids use the new machines or requiring long lines of division by hand. Though initially banned, calculators were eventually embraced in classrooms and, since 1994, have even been allowed in the SAT.

Let me tell you what allowing kids to use calculators did. It created kids who do not deeply understand math because they have to spend loads of time actually thinking about scads of little facts that they should have committed to recall. They do not see the patterns in math. It is a mass of disparate facts to them because they cannot see the "big picture."

Let a kid use Cliffs Notes on a test, and kids will not read. Who would? You can't interpret and think about something you didn't read, so the end result will be further illiteracy.

Pay attention to this, business world. These people will eventually be your workers, although how much work they actually will do is a matter of some mystery.

One of my students today was struggling to read a handout about genetics from her science class. I had to help her figure out about 20% of the words. We then got into a big philosophical discussion about how they feel that their reading education has let them down. I got in trouble early in my career from venturing away from the basal reader and giving my kids various types of nonfiction material to expand the range of material they encountered. My theory: if you constantly cave in to the lowest common denominator of kid behavior, soon kids will be setting the standards in the rest of society, which makes no sense. We recognize that minors don't make the best decisions since we do not hold them fully accountable for their actions. So why let the fact that you CAN cheat set the standard of what is cheating?????

And as to open book quizzes and tests: once in a while, I give my students the option of taking an open-book quiz. They almost always turn me down, because they know all of the questions are then on the levels of synthesis and evaluation in Bloom's taxonomy. I tell them this up front, and if you're my student, you know how Bloom's works. The answers are still not in the book, and there is a time limit imposed such that if you haven't read and interacted intellectually with the material, you will not be able to succeed. During my final exams, I make kids pull out their cell phones and other electronic toys, turn them off, and place them face down on their desks where I could see them.

One of the main problems with education in America today is this unwillingness to fight the good fight. In the name of expediency, we are cutting our own throats, because it is obvious that this pattern of intellectual relativism is causing the denigration of American educational institutions. Why doesn't the public trust us to do a good job? Because of surrenders such as these.


At 1/27/06, 12:42 PM, Anonymous k said...

In Washington state we have to take two high stakes teacher's tests. Praxis I and II. For the first test you were allowed a pencil and water. Some test sites looked over your water bottle to make sure there were no cheat notes printed on the label.
For the second test I showed up with my pencil and water and surprise! We were allowed calculators! One gal brought a bunch of those cheap little ones you get at the grocery store and gave me one. I used it once and was so nervous about it that I doubt I got the answer right!

At 1/27/06, 5:37 PM, Blogger elementaryhistoryteacher said...

You are so right. We are afraid to fight back. Ours is such a strange profession. We take crap and say thank you, give me some more! How many of us leave a conference thinking, "What I should have said was...." We are doing a huge injustice to the students we teach and the parents we serve by not being more vocal about the problems we see and by tolerating inappropriate language and behavior. We also deserve what we get when we continually accept the blame that is laid at our feet by politicians and business leaders, and don't even get me started about how we allow those esteemed educators in the ivory state education towers to dictate how I should manage my classroom.

At 1/27/06, 8:45 PM, Blogger Smithie said...

I realize I’m generalizing but here is a hypothesis.
Teachers work in, help maintain and spend a significant portion of our lives in, an environment of conformity and authority worship. When it comes to going against the grain we ain’t so confident. Teachers want so badly to be told that what we are doing is right and good that (inside the school walls) we will do almost anything any authority tells us to do.

At 1/28/06, 2:42 PM, Anonymous Marcia said...

My teacher let us take a crib sheet into our grade 9 science exam. I spent so much time deciding what was going on the sheet that I learned the material by accident and didn't look at it once during the test.

My grade 12 physics teacher also allowed us a crib sheet. I had zero understanding of physics but still got 80% on the test because I picked the formula that had the same variable as the word problem and then did the math.

Does that make me clever because I manipulated the system or dumb because I didn't learn any physics?


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