Wednesday, December 8, 2010

From non-Science to Nonsense

Here is a question to test your “faith” as an educator: Can All Children Learn?
Don’t rush to answer it. It is a trick question. Let’s see how.

In the February 25, 2008 issue of Time Magazine an article appeared titled, "How to Make Great Teachers." In it a teacher-training "expert" reveals that public education, so-called secular education, should be in fact a peculiar kind of faith-based education.

The expert is quoted as saying that "Anyone without this (article of faith) has no business in the classroom!" The article of faith referred to is "an unshakeable belief in children's capacity to learn." This required article of faith for people in our secular public schools -- is a variation on the commonly encountered, and easily mouthed mantra: all children can learn.

Suppose someone offered as an article of faith, "All vegetables can cure." Suppose, in addition, that our proselytizer insisted that unless a person professed this faith in the capacity of vegetables to cure, that person didn't belong in any hospital, pharmacy, restaurant, farm or whatever place vegetables are handled.

Clearly, it would occur to anyone with the wits to fog a mirror that we would want to know which vegetables, under what conditions, could cure what illnesses. Not only that, we would want to know what evidence was there to support such claims. We would not be surprised if -- indeed, we would expect -- to discover that some vegetables, prepared in some ways, do not cure any known disease.

But even more suspicious is the way the issue has been presented. Why in such vague terms, "all vegetables," "can," with no circumstances mentioned and "cure" without saying what is to be cured? And why would someone need "unshakeable belief" as a condition for employment? Isn't practical knowledge acquired through experience, rather than being absorbed unshakably in advance as an article of faith?

Let's do the drill we would use with vegetables: Which children do we mean, in what conditions, under what circumstances? What can they learn, to what degree, in how much time? Suppose we could establish that 99.9% of children could learn something, somewhere, somehow, after some period of instruction. This would still be far from encouraging to parents, and, especially, to educators who must teach those very specific children assigned to them, in the classroom to which they are assigned, in the time allotted, the specific, complex subject matter imposed by the school.

Not a few people seem to believe that in order to improve American public schools, prospective teachers must be first indoctrinated with the opinion that all children can learn. I humbly offer some counter-suggestions:

1. Use the belief that all children can learn as a litmus-test for stupidity.

2. Cull out any teachers whose hold it "unshakeably" prior to any real experience in the classroom. You don't want such bubbleheads experimenting on your kids.

3. In addition, close down any teacher-training programs which employ the sloganizing indoctrinators, the frauds and the charlatans who waste the time and money of prospective teachers insulting their intelligence, denying their commonsense and undermining their morality with such drivel. Disregard their babbling about what "research" proves. No real scientist makes vague claims about "all" of anything.

4. Finally, if you are involved at the university level, disassociate your teacher-training program with any so-called "accrediting agency" (there are several) that requires adherence to the doctrine. Let us struggle to maintain education -- to the extent it is possible -- on a scientific, scholarly foundation.
Kids, one might hope, are, after all, at least as important as vegetables.

For more on muddled thinking in education, see Illogic & Dissimulation in School Reform

-- EGR