Category Archives: educational philosophy

Phonics or… creativity?

I just re-discovered, a British website (and actual TV programme?) that hosts a host of information about teachers and teaching in British schools. Obviously most of the content is going to be of more interest to people who actually live and teach in Britain, than to people who don’t (like me), but I enjoyed this 45-minute video by children’s author Michael Rosen from the programme School Matters on the subject of phonics and the teaching of reading. Apparently, phonics is now the British government’s official teaching-to-read method. Michael Rosen, though, is in the “whole word” camp. He visits a number of schools and interviews different people, teachers and researchers and people in government. It’s a very well made video. Rosen’s purpose is to examine whether phonics and testing stifles children’s (and teacher’s) creativity.

I don’t think the whole-word argument is convincingly made in this video, and certainly the question of whether it really is an either-or argument goes begging through the entire 45 minutes. Equally unasked is the question of why the government needs to decide on a single approach at all, and then mandate that for the whole country.

Here’s the video blurb:

Author Michael Rosen questions whether the current political enthusiasm for synthetic phonics, designated literacy hours, and league tables is turning off young readers.

Rosen examines the evidence for claims that these devices have led to higher literacy standards, and finds it wanting. Unlike many critics, he suggests ways of encouraging reading, and he’s not afraid of advocating poetry, often one of the most difficult and frightening tasks facing both teachers and their classes.

In his journey to discovering ways of improving literacy Rosen hears from heads, literacy experts, teachers and academics and even Jim Rose; the man whom he holds principally responsible for the imposition of synthetic phonics throughout the land.

Freedom: what is it?

Doug “Borderland” has another thoughtful and thought-provoking post, this time on start-of-the-year “class management” problems, also called emergence…

To be brutal, I didn’t understand much of it, but I enjoyed the T-shirt, I mean the comments, especially Stephen Downes’, where he discussed the meaning of freedom.

  1. I recently read The Road to Serfdom by Austrian economist F.A. Hayek, originally written in 1944. The Amazon reviews give a good gist of the book (the statement that Hayek influenced Reagan and Thatcher should neither put off the inquisitive reader nor pre-dispose her to agree or disagree). Freedom is only one of several themes in this book, but it presented ideas I had not come across before, in particular the warning that the ideals of socialism (fairness, spreading the wealth, etc) often blind believers to the strong possibility that centralized government control will lead to totalitarianism. At the time, Britain had long adopted many of the laws and concepts of centralised government and a planned economy; Hayek indicated that Nazi Germany was merely a decade or two further along the same road. Very short book, worth a read.
  2. Jon Rappoport’s work somewhat supports Hayek’s thesis that centrally planned and organized government is ripe for abuse by what he terms “cartels”, which aim to gain ever increasing amounts of control over an ever increasing number of areas of human activity, consequently limiting the personal and creative freedom of those humans. The solution, or antithesis, he proposes is for individuals to make full use of their power to desire, to imagine and to realize (make real) what they imagine and desire – the creative force, if you will. He sees cartels as being essentially groups of psychopathic individuals who are in fact unwittingly trying to alienate individuals from their creative power, their freedom, because individuals who have been so alienated are easier to manipulate and control. Freedom, therefore, is something we create for ourselves, using our power to imagine and create what we most deeply desire. It is the antithesis of the desire to control others and demonstrates itself as a refusal to be controlled by others. I connect the desire and power to control, in ever increasing degrees, to centralisation (something Rappoport hints at if I remember, but perhaps I’m projecting). Centralisation – the transfer of power from the many to the few – allows cartels to accelerate their grab for power and control, and is therefore antithetical to true freedom. (Click here for an interview with Rappoport: tho it’s ostensibly about his plans for an arts centre, he essentially lays out his philosophy concerning creative power and freedom).

Hayek also connects centralised planning with the homogenization of thought (leading to suppression of individual thought and dissent), e.g. this quote from E.H. Carr:

It is significant that the nationalisation of thought has proceeded everywhere pari passu with the nationalisation of industry.

Disclaimer: I’m not advocating here the ideas of either Hayek or Rappoport. They are merely two writers whose work has prompted in me a re-think of my understanding of freedom. Click the links and read at your own risk, etc, etc.

Learning styles? Rubbish!

Harold Jarche shares his scepticism of the learning-styles theory, and I must say I tend to agree. Simple logistics is one objection I have. It sounds great, benevolent and taking into account students’ individual differences and needs, but read this and see if you still agree with it.

The list he offers, tho, has much in common with the principles of instruction espoused by many who subscribe to Multiple Intelligence Theory.

Use Cast‘s Universal Design Principles:

* Multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge,
* Multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know,
* Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.

Here, for example, is an extract from an article by Thomas Armstrong, a long-time proponent of MI in education and the author of a number of books on the subject:

One of the most remarkable features of the theory of multiple intelligences is how it provides eight different potential pathways to learning. If a teacher is having difficulty reaching a student in the more traditional linguistic or logical ways of instruction, the theory of multiple intelligences suggests several other ways in which the material might be presented to facilitate effective learning. Whether you are a kindergarten teacher, a graduate school instructor, or an adult learner seeking better ways of pursuing self-study on any subject of interest, the same basic guidelines apply. Whatever you are teaching or learning, see how you might connect it with

  • words (linguistic intelligence)
  • numbers or logic (logical-mathematical intelligence)
  • pictures (spatial intelligence)
  • music (musical intelligence)
  • self-reflection (intrapersonal intelligence)
  • a physical experience (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence)
  • a social experience (interpersonal intelligence), and/or
  • an experience in the natural world. (naturalist intelligence)

For example, if you’re teaching or learning about the law of supply and demand in economics, you might read about it (linguistic), study mathematical formulas that express it (logical-mathematical), examine a graphic chart that illustrates the principle (spatial), observe the law in the natural world (naturalist) or in the human world of commerce (interpersonal); examine the law in terms of your own body [e.g. when you supply your body with lots of food, the hunger demand goes down; when there’s very little supply, your stomach’s demand for food goes way up and you get hungry] (bodily-kinesthetic and intrapersonal); and/or write a song (or find an existing song) that demonstrates the law (perhaps Dylan’s “Too Much of Nothing?”).

You don’t have to teach or learn something in all eight ways, just see what the possibilities are, and then decide which particular pathways interest you the most, or seem to be the most effective teaching or learning tools.

Here are a couple of old but fun-to-read critical articles of the learning styles theory: Learning styles don’t matter (the whole heterodox site is worth investigating), and Do learner profiles enhance learning?

Cede control to students? Revisited

Dan asks how I’d respond to this solution:

Cede instructional control to the student. Let her direct her own learning. Curriculum and student desire will align.

I teach university students, not high school; uni students are less easy to convince that they absolutely need what I’m teaching; they are IN (the uni) – the major extrinsic motivator for learning English previously.

I tend towards a negotiated syllabus. Here’s why.

In the post that prompted Dan’s question, I wrote about a mismatch between curriculum and student desires.

Pissed Off (Teacher)‘s comment offers one approach to this dilemma, but to work it requires wielding a degree of fear:
if you don’t learn this stuff, you’ll be

  • out on the street
  • unemployable
  • a leech on society
  • one step from prostitution and/or gang membership
  • all of the above

What if students don’t buy that? What if they don’t believe that the consequences will be as terrible as you imply, OR they don’t believe that even if they do learn this stuff, that the world will open to them?

In my situation, the hard part is getting in to university (“hard” is relative, and it’s getting easier all the time, due to demographics). Once they are in, students pretty much sit back and take it easy, indulging in (what they are frequently told is) their last period of freedom before the penal servitude/military service of life in a Japanese company.

Therefore, there is not much incentive for students to work hard. Even getting better grades will not greatly affect the kinds of jobs they will get. What jobs they get depends a lot on the rank or name of the university they graduate from. As this ranking is outside their control or influence, there is not much incentive to work hard and get better grades.

Assuming that you believe what you are teaching is vital (or important) for students’ future well-being, then a possible solution is to negotiate with students to find out what they are interested in, what topics they would willingly (or less unwillingly, at least) read about, talk about, write about.

Another reason for negotiating syllabus might be if the curriculum provided is quite obviously inappropriate, or if it’s appropriacy is challengeable or open to debate. Perhaps students’ reluctance is not so much a matter of “attitude” as that they do not consider the syllabus relevant or suitable. OK, then what would be suitable or relevant?

Dan’s point about the importance of being engaging could be considered a form of negotiated syllabus. Otherwise, why bother?

Finally, I think that ceding complete control of learning content and direction to a student would work well in a one-to-one, tutorial situation, the ideal learning/teaching method. But I haven’t made it work yet in an institutional setting, and I don’t think it is either practical or effective, though I continue to be amazed by and admiring of people who try it, especially those who seem to succeed with it.

When public education, isn’t

The situation in the US just boggles my mind. My first recent brush with it came after reading this post, then after reading Savage Inequalities and Doc, and again after reading this post.

Now, after reading this exchange between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch on the blog Bridging Differences (HT to Borderland for the link), I understand the situation a little better, although it still boggles my mind: the gap between the rhetoric (“land of the free, home of the brave, best country in the world, if you don’t like it – leave!”) and the reality is so wide that “gap” doesn’t cover it. It’s more like the reality is the opposite of the rhetoric.

Broad Prosperity vs zero-sum games

I blogged earlier some of my responses to reading Kozol’s Savage Inequalities. My biggest impression was the “zero-sum game” mentality of almost all of those who either justify the inequalities or argue against any real attempts to rectify the situation.

I have a feeling that, while there are strong human, Christian (and I’m not excluding other religions of course), and emotional arguments in favour of doing something about these terrible inequities and injustices, there are also strong economic or other arguments to be made. Wouldn’t society be even more prosperous if a much greater effort was made to prevent these kinds of injustices? All of society, not just the poor, because I do not believe that human life is a zero-sum game.

Kozol quotes a Bronx school principal if they do not give these children a sufficient education to lead healthy and productive lives, we will be their victims later on. We’ll pay the price someday – in violence, in economic costs.

Common sense would suggest that this is true, however I would make a stronger argument: namely, that not only will society have to pay later in some way, but that the potential future benefits (even sticking to purely economic ones) far outway the costs of doing something now. In other words, these inequities and injustices should be dealt with now, despite the costs, not just to avoid higher costs further down the road, but to help create more wealth down the road than would be obtained by ignoring the problems and putting the lid on them.

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known.
Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”

R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980

The zero-sum mentality is holding us back.
Here’s a challenge:

Buckminster Fuller challenged us with a bold vision: “To make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”

The title for this post came from this review of an article by economist James K. Galbraith in Mother Jones. According to the Wikipedia entry, Galbraith argues that modern America has fallen prey to a wealthy, government-controlling “predatory class”.

I’m not sure I fully understand what that means, but it seems to be compatible with the zero-sum game thinking exhibited by those in Kozol’s book who argue against making any real changes that would benefit the poor.

The review brings in the concept of Broad Prosperity, apparently originating with George Lakoff in a book called Don’t Think of an Elephant!

In Chapter 8 of George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant!, we can recognize why broad prosperity, rather than merely individual opportunity, should be our goal. Let’s see how the concept of broad prosperity emerges from our values and principles. First, note the connections between the values freedom, opportunity, and prosperity:
“There is no fulfillment without freedom, no freedom without opportunity, and no opportunity without prosperity.”

If we share any of these values, then we should seek a prosperity of which all can partake. (As Rockridge guest scholar Delwin Brown notes, this understanding has deep roots in religious traditions as well.) This is why we would not be content with an extreme case in which the average income of a society rises, but most of its people toil in dire poverty while a few wealthy families grow richer.

These values lead to an important progressive principle, equity:

“If you work hard; play by the rules; and serve your family, community, and nation, then the nation should provide a decent standard of living, as well as freedom, security, and opportunity.”

Most Americans surely share this understanding, which is fundamentally at odds with the views of conservative market idolaters, who argue, for instance, that the minimum wage should be zero.

Continuing from Chapter 8 of Elephant!, the principle of equity then leads us to the concept of broad prosperity:

“An economy centered on innovation that creates millions of good-paying jobs and provides every American with a fair opportunity to prosper.”

Broad prosperity also recognizes that markets are “constructed for someone’s benefit.” They are the products of the laws of people, not nature. As such, we can and should choose to ensure that they are constructed to serve the broadest possible prosperity.

The concept of broad prosperity is one that Kozol would probably agree with. It seems to match what he is calling for in his book. The concept also highlights a broader context: the inequities that Kozol describes are not limited to schools (Kozol also describes hospitals which are obscenely under-equipped), and I feel that a solution to these inequities cannot be limited to addressing concerns of schools or education, in the same way that AIDS cannot be considered merely a medical problem. (And, no, that doesn’t mean we can give up trying to find a medical cure.)

The Dream Deferred… again

I’m nearing the end of Savage Inequalities. As I am not affected in the slightest by what happens in US schools, I was mainly reading it in order to gain some understanding of the mindsets of the people involved. The first third or half of the book is mainly descriptions of schools Kozol visits, starting with the horrific East St Louis schools. The latter half of the book has more facts and figures, including quotes from court cases, and tries to explain why the horrors not only came about but also why they are allowed to persist, and (even worse), why they are being exacerbated.

When I first came across Pissed Off (Teacher)’s blog, I couldn’t believe my eyes. This is NYC???!!? After reading Kozol’s book, I can now well believe it (he describes much more horrific schools), tho I can’t accept it. I asked, as does Pissed Off Teacher, how can people tolerate this injustice as acceptable?

Nationwide, black children are three times as likely as white children to be placed in classes for the mentally retarded but only half as likely to be placed in classes for the gifted: a well-known statistic that should long since have aroused a sense of utter shame in our society. Most shameful is the fact that no such outrage can be stirred in New York City…Even the most thorough exposition of the facts within the major organs of the press is neutralized too frequently by context and a predilection for the type of grayish language that denies the possibilities for indignation. Facts are cited. Editorials are written. Five years later, the same facts are cited once again. There is no sense of moral urgency; and nothing changes.

In an earlier post, I quoted Kozol’s description of the complicated system by which schools in the US are financed. But why no outrage?

There seems to be a deeply-rooted belief amongst US citizens that “equality” is a dirty word because it involves taking away from those who have and giving it to those who have not and that this is unacceptable. One newspaper derided this policy as that of “Robin Hood”. I always thought Robin Hood was the good guy, but he is not in the US, apparently. To justify this justification of inequality, people go through amazing mental and semantic gymnastics. Big budgets don’t boost achievement trumpets the Wall Street Journal. It is not money spent by parents, but the value system that impels them to spend money, which is the decisive cause of high achievement in [the affluent districts’] schools. The Journal does not explain how it distinguishes between a parent’s values and the cash expenditures that they allegedly inspire…. In disparaging the value of reducing class size in the cities, the newspaper makes this interesting detour: “If deep cuts can be made – reducing large classes by perhaps half – solid benefits may accrue, and research suggests that even smaller cuts can help the performance of young children in particular. But, as a universal principle, the idea that smaller classes automatically mean more learning doesn’t hold water.” Huh?

There seems to be a huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality.

According to our textbook rhetoric, Americans abhor the notion of a social order in which economic privilege and political power are determined by hereditary class. Officially, we have a more enlightened goal in sight…


The crowding of children into insufficient, often squalid spaces seems an inexplicable anomaly in the United States. Images of spaciousness and majesty, of endless plains and soaring mountains, fill our folklore and our music and the anthems that our children sing… It is a betrayal of the best things that we value when poor children are obliged to sing these songs in storerooms and coat closets.

Kozol refers to the profoundly rooted American ideas about the right and moral worth of individual advancement at whatever cost to others who may be less favored by the accident of birth. Perhaps as a kind of explanation, Kozol points out how, while reading is measured against a standard, most other tests are norm-referenced, meaning that for some to do well, some must not do well. This seems symptomatic of a majority of people’s thinking.

If Americans had to discriminate directly against other people’s children, I believe most citizens would find this morally abhorrent. Denial, in an active sense, of other people’s children is, however, rarely necessary in this nation. Inequality is mediated for us by a taxing system that most people not fully understand and seldom scrutinize.

Another common theme that comes up in the book is the thinking that welfare, charity, or simple human compassion are somehow bad. Kozol asks some NY school children if they can explain the [appalling] physical condition of the school. Hey, it’s like a welfare hospital! You’re getting if for free… You have no power to complain, says one boy.

The quotations Kozol uses from newspapers, governors, politicians, etc, to justify the continuation of the injustices are fully of generalities, talking of “principles” and concepts. They never speak in terms of specifics; it’s all lost in generalities. It is hard to imagine these people speaking with such confidence if they were taken to the schools and places Kozol visited, brought face to face with the children and teachers there, and required to explain to them face to face why they will be denied basic materials and safe environments.

Frequently, says a teacher at another crowded high school in NY, a student may be in the wrong class for a term and never know it. With only one counselor to 700 students system-wide in NYC, there is little help available to those who feel confused. It is not surprising, says the teacher, that many find the experience so cold, impersonal and disheartening that they decide to stay home by the sad warmth of the TV set.… Listening to children who drop out of school, we often hear an awful note of anonymity. I hated the school… I never knew who my counselor was, a former NYC student says. He wasn’t available for me… I saw him once. One ten-minute interview.. That was all.
We have children, says one grade-school principal,who just disappear from the face of the earth. This information strikes one as astonishing. How does a child simply disappear in NYC? Efficiency in information transfer – when it comes to stock transactions, for example – is one of the city’s best developed skills. Why is it so difficult to keep track of poor children?

The unspoken answer is obviously, because people don’t care; the poor children don’t matter. Who cares if they come and go?

Janice, who is soft-spoken and black, speaks about the overcrowding of the school. I make it my business to know my fellow students. But it isn’t easy when the classes are so large. I had 45 children in my fifth grade class. The teacher sometimes didn’t know you. She would ask you, ‘What’s your name?’
You want the teacher to know your name,
says Rosie, who is Puerto Rican. The teacher asks me, ‘Are you really in this class?’ ‘Yes, I’ve been here all semester.’ But she doesn’t know my name.

This shines a different light on the conversation about care and its importance for teachers (a conversation going on over here). Quite clearly, the message being given (and received) in many inner-city and other poor schools is You don’t matter, you’re not important, we don’t care about you, there’s no reason why we should because you don’t have much value. So it’s ok if you have no gym, if the doors don’t hang straight or close properly, if you have to share your textbooks with 3 other classes, if there aren’t enough chairs to go round, if your school has 6 computers for 600 children.

I read that Philadelphia School District is facing $67 million in cuts.

The critical reviews on Amazon for this book are enlightening.

The Education Debate

Dan Meyer posted a thoughtful piece after watching Freedom Writers, an(other) inspirational school movie. I’m unable to post comments on Dan’s blog for some reason, so I’m posting my comment here.

Quick update: IMDB offers quotes from the movie, including this:

Andre: It’s the dumb class cuz. It means you too dumb.
Jamal: Man, say it to my face cuz.
Andre: I just did. See what I mean? Dumb?

The dumb class.

a pervasive complex of martyrdom. Hmm, food for thought. I disagree mostly with JD Hirsch’s push for a unified curriculum, “What every child should know” etc, but his analysis of the romanticisation of teaching philosophy, the rosy glasses thru which otherwise rational people allow their vision to be distorted, I think is accurate and could usefully be read and considered by every teacher who favours “hands-on, project-based, student-centred learning”. Not that I don’t believe in those approaches; it’s just that it’s easy to get behind ideas, as Hirsch puts it, that sound good, and fail to check if they actually work or not.

That said, I think everyone involved in this debate needs to be real careful. The issue of education is one that people feel passionately about, and have deep-rooted, what I can only call ideologies about this, making reasoned debate extremely difficult and rare. I hope this blog can be one of the rare places it happens. (A great (or terrifying) example of ideologies at work is described in Doc: the story of Dennis Littky and his fight for a better school.)

Setting up straw men is a dishonest debating tactic, loved by ideologues and politicians – people who aim at persuasion, not revealing the truth – and the writing on education is full of this tactic, on both the liberal and conservative sides. Caring ? sadly ? is how the majority of my co-workers and co-bloggers have framed the objectives of our job. Really? I know and have read many who point out the importance of the emotional state in learning, but that is only in order to promote better teaching, not as an aim in itself.

And on which “side” should we place someone like Pissed Off (Teacher)? Does it sound like the administration and supervisors she works with care about the kids? Is she a wimp, trying to avoid responsibility and wriggle away from accountability, just because she cares about her students?

It’s not black or white, and it’s not a 2-sided issue, “caring vs professionalism”. It’s a lot more involved and complex than that.

Martyrdom has an interesting younger sibling: playing the victim. The Republicans have pretty much had things all their own way in public affairs for the past 7-8 years and before that under the elder Bush and Reagan. Yet many of them play the victim, whining about how the entire US (the media, the schools, the universities, the courts (!) even) is run by rabid left-wing nutcases who make them feel intimidated and afraid or even unable to speak out freely about their conservative views. I couldn’t believe my ears when I listened to actual Republicans. Is this (mis)perception manipulated and exploited by some for political and personal gain? Is the Pope Catholic?

(I only know that it’s corrosive … on a day-to-day, post-to-post basis…to teach while feeling like the harmlessly insane…. no one seems to be listening to this side closely enough. Now that isn’t martyr talk or victim talk is it? No! Of course not.)

Another point where one needs to tread very, very carefully, is in avoiding being conned. Cons use people, usually enthusiastic people, to further their own, hidden, agendas, not yours, and not the ones they sound like they are promoting. They are masters of rhetoric and sophistry. I worked with a guy for several years before I realized that he had approached me only so that I would give his enterprise a veneer of professionalism and solidity; he loved it when I pointed out how “our” approach was solidly supported by pedagogical theory, but he himself didn’t believe any of that shit and he couldn’t have cared less, just as long as people bought the product.

I’m not a big fan of the “inspiring teacher” film genre. A friend once gave me Dangerous Minds to watch, but was taken aback when I told him I was more impressed with the apparent bankruptcy of a “system” that allowed such decrepit schools and dangerous environments to develop in the first place.

(Curiously, while many of these movies depict outstanding, strong-minded individuals [would you call Louanne Johnson a wilting bleeding-heart-liberal violet?], the kind of pedagogical approach many of the protagonists use kinda goes against the “student-centred, project-based, free expression” approach many enthusiasts seem to favour.)

Finally, here’s a quote from Tom Englehardt which kinda sums up my position on this debate. If you’re still here, thanks for reading:

Every now and then, I go to some event — I covered the demonstrations in front of the 2004 Republican Convention and then the Republican delegates on the convention floor — and essentially ask people why they’re there. In our media, we almost never hear people speak in more than little snippets…
So we seldom hear their real voices or how they actually think, and they almost invariably turn out to be more eloquent and complicated than we expect.

(My emphasis).

(Related comment on Borderland)

Can critical thinking be taught?

Having fun reading the brain-teasing posts of Artichoke,
especially this one with a ton of interesting links. This one (RTF file) in particular is relevant to autonomy, altho the title is “critical thinking”. In fact, it is one of the first articles I can remember reading which links autonomy and critical thinking; an obvious connection, but I hadn’t thought about it deeply before.

The article essentially asks, Is it possible to teach critical thinking skills? Basing himself on Lamm’s “Cognitive Map of Instuction”, the author Harpaz posits there are essentially 3 theories (or “logics”)  of instruction, and that these logics conflict “in the realm of their practical results. The patterns of instruction neutralize one another in terms of their educational effect.”

The three logics of instruction are “a necessary product of the three components of the human condition: society, culture, and the individual.” The three patterns are therefore imitation derived from the “super-goal” of socialization; molding derived from the “super-goal” of acculturation, and development derived from the “super-goal” of individuation.

Harpaz then examines the teaching of critical thinking in the 3 patterns. Do the patterns of imitation suit the goals of teaching critical thinking skills? He basically says, No: there are too many contradictions. He therefore suggests a fourth pattern of instruction for which he borrows a term from Lamm, “the undermining didactic.”

Here are some bits I underlined:

A more crucial contradiction appearing in instruction for critical thinking in the pattern of imitation is a result of the “hidden curriculum” of this pattern – the covert messages sent by the practice of teaching, of which the teachers and students are unaware….Anyone learning critical thinking through imitation has also learned, in addition to the skills of critical thinking, that his or her opinions and motivations are of no importance; that to know is to remember; to think is dangerous, since thinking can disrupt the precise replication of the teacher’s words; authorities must be obeyed, because they know; knowledge is objective, cumulative and unequivocal; problems are well-defined; every problem has a clear-cut solution; one’s worth is dependent on others’ opinions of him/her; learning involves futile suffering….[my emphasis, my favourite!]  In short [someone] proficient in the skills of critical thinking…but [not] a critical thinker…

The pattern of imitation is driven by the principle of “visible results”, meaning that behaviors acquired in the pattern of imitation are public behaviors. They may therefore be easily modeled, exercised and evaluated. They also suit the school framework (which is not coincidental, for schools were originally created for the purpose of socialization, and are therefore governed by the pattern of imitation)….

Any content, including philosophy, can be taught through the use of the three patterns of instruction. Though it is perhaps more pertinent to teach philosophy in the “commuity of inquiry”, it is not obligatory to do so. Philosophy can be taught in a lecture designed to cover the “material” in order to succeed at an exam, which determines the extent of memorization of the “material” – in other words, the pattern of imitation. (In most places where philosophy has been taught, this has been the method.) The pattern of imitation is dominant in the average school, and other patterns of instruction introduced in schools tend to disappear under its shadow.

…in the average school… open and critical discussion will come to an end when the teacher, principal or supervisor thinks that he is not “keeping up pace” or “covering” the chapters of the “traditions of the great cultures” indluded in the curriculum. In other words, in the contexty of school learning , instruction to critical thinking tends to be ritualized…

It is questionable whether dispositions of critical thinking can and should be molded by the pattern of molding. By its very nature, the pattern of molding cannot develop a critical attitude to the beliefs it is attempting to instil, thereby contradicting the idea of critical thinking. The essence of this idea is that no belief is protected from critical thinking, including the belief in critical thinking itself. Ultimately, it is quite possible that unexamined lives are worth living.

Conceptions that reduce the term “critical thinking” to autonomous or authentic personality, and claim that it is possible to develop such a personality through the use of “negative education” – meaning education that avoids forcing any “extrinsic aims” upon the students (including critical thinking) – are a version of the pattern of development… No approach to critical thinking is suited to the pattern of development. This is surprising, considering the fact that critical thinking is an essential and declared goal of this pattern….Non-critical “true believers” [does this have the same overtones as the phrase used by John Gatto, I wonder?] are bound to the belief (or “meta-belief”) that their beliefs are derived from some foundation in the world, that they are forced upon them. Experiencing choice through freedom undermines a person’s propensity to attribute a deeper essence to the world than to  himself, in other words to be non-critical.

Charles Silberman noted in his once popular book Crisis in the Classroom
that the decisive mistake of teachers is that they think students learn what they teach [Silberman, 1971, p.181]. The analysis proposed here adds another decisive error: that teachers think they are teaching what they teach. Teachers teach content; but the students learn primarily from the pattern of instruction the teachers use and from the messages inherent within it.)

A hierarchy seems to exist in the three primary categories, “skills”, “dispositions” (or internalized values and principles) and “personality,” which comprise the “ideal types” of education to critical thinking. The “personality” category is broader than that of “dispositions,” for (autonomous or authentic) personality is likely to supervise or criticize its own dispositions; while “dispositions” precede skills, which they guide and actualize. Since we [“we”? Only one author is in the byline!]  claim  that education to critical thinking must adopt only one pattern of instruction, it is fitting that it employe the pattern centered upon the most basic category. This is the pattern of development, whose goal is to develop autonomous personality, recognizable by its critical relationship to its beliefs.

[What is needed] is a process necessitating a pattern of instruction not easily plotted on Lamm’s “Cognitive Map of Instruction”. However, it suits a pattern of instruction described by Lamm elsewhere: the pattern of the “undermining didactic” (Lamm, 1972).

…pedagogical tact is always needed, especially in this undermining pattern of instruction. This educational process aims to develop the personality’s flexibility, openness and autonomy. It does not educate directly to critical thinking, because it is impossible to do so.

…The seed of the “fourth pattern” exists in all of the approaches discussed above. Its roots lie in the Socratic dialogue, as well as in Dewey’s and Piaget’s concepts of thinking and learning.

A Google search on  “Cognitive map of instruction” brought up this article which I will peruse later.

Am back to Blogjet, as once again Firefox’s Performancing extension is letting me down. Is it a problem?