Monday, March 08, 2010

Magic Bull

Have you read the Times Magazine article by Elizabeth Green?  I think it's interesting--perhaps the techniques described in "Lemov's Taxonomy," which much of the article focused on, work.  Who knows?  I've never heard of it before.  Nor has most any teacher on the planet.

But there have been good teachers for a long time.  I've had many.   A lot of my college teachers were smart, impressively so.  That was enough to get my attention.  It's trickier, of course, to deal with adolescents. 

I know a few teachers I find particularly impressive.  I've watched them teach, and their techniques and approaches vary wildly.  Perhaps if they all used Lemov's Taxonomy they'd all be automatons, indecipherable from one another.  Hard to say, not having seen it.  Or perhaps they'd all be better, much better, even.  Hard to say, not having seen it.

But I do come away from the article with some questions.  What does Lemov say about the kid with interrupted formal education, the one who stopped attending school in fourth grade and didn't show up again until ninth, in a country where his native language is not used?  What about not only that kid, but also the many others who cannot function in their native languages, let alone in English?  What does he say about the brain-damaged kid sitting with a paraprofessional in your class, the one who should be in a special education class your school does not offer?

In fact, since these techniques are used in charters, which contain kids of 100% proactive parents, what does he say about teaching kids of absolutely everyone?  What does he say about the girl who came from Korea last week, painfully shy and deathly afraid to speak?   What about the two kids in your classes who are utterly illiterate, who speak English fluently but were dumped in your class because a guidance counselor couldn't figure where else to put them?

How does Lemov deal with the trailer when it has no heat?  How does he teach in an auditorium or cafeteria containing five other classes?  What does he do with a kid who hasn't eaten breakfast because he got to school to late?  Or the one without lights in his home?  Or the one without a home at all?  What does he do when Eva Moskowitz kicks him out of his classroom?

I don't know.  Maybe his method works.  But there's more to this education thing than just teachers, and I'm not certain Lemov has considered it.  When you have an administration that doesn't give a damn about public schools, the media in its pocket, and billionaires that fund campaigns designed to fool the public into thinking things are getting better, it's more complicated than that.

If his method works, fine.  I'll take a look at it.  But I don't believe in magic bullets.  Almost every September I hear the new thing that's going to take the place of the last new thing, even if it's an old thing from 15 years ago.  But they don't fool me.  I know next year there'll be a newer thing, and even if it's really an older thing, that will be the thing they're looking for.

Until next year, when there's an even newer thing, or possibly a reheated thing from 20 years ago.  It's anyone's guess. No one ever asks me which things I like, or which ones work.  Do they ask you?  Why should they when some 22-year-old graduate fresh out of college can figure it out?  And if her mother already works for the Department of Education, well, then she must know what the hell it is she's talking about.
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