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Thread: In America, Nerds are Unpopular Because Schools are Prisons

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    That is a tautology. You are saying that the fact many people agree with Graham proves that many people agree with Graham. No?
    No. I'm saying that the fact that many people claim Graham's characterization matches their experiences and observations lends credence to Graham's characterization.

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    And what do you make of the fact that many people say it doesn't?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    And what do you make of the fact that many people say it doesn't?
    I've only encountered a handful so far, but see Graham's follow-up.

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    Over the course of the last decade, I've visited many tens of schools around the country and spoken with hundreds of educators. A stock question of mine has been, "What barriers impede teaching and learning?" The vast majority of the answers center on the lack of teacher training and effective programs, and more generally on a lack of adequate funding. Poor behavior was certainly cited from time to time, but never as the primary response, and never as a pervasive climate, either prison-like or to a lesser extent. The "penal setting" that you and Graham cite runs counter to what I've observed, counter to the research I've read, and counter to what educational leaders ranging from Duncan to Ravitch to Gates are pursuing to improve our schools.

    That said, the one anecdote versus another back-and-forth seems unlikely to bear any fruit. Dave, I'm interested in your thoughts on what an alignment of "student society around education" looks like in practice. Is this adult-organized or student-organized? To what extent doesn't it exist today? If it doesn't, how might it be brought to be?

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    Default Expectations of Teachers

    I'm not as well-read or experienced on the topic of this thread as many, but I've watched the debates on the educational system degenerate into a polemic on unions. I don't fully understand it. Teachers used to be one of the most admired professions, then they became viewed by many as benefit-devouring slackers. I still wonder what people expect of teachers -- whether those people are supportive of public school unions or supportive of private/charter reforms where teachers are quantitatively measured (or a bit of both).

    I agree with the author of the review linked below. I think way too much is expected of teachers, either way. Perhaps the focus of this review is more the large urban school systems where the societal and economic situations are the most dire. It may be that some of this translates into 'underperforming' suburban districts as well.

    http://www.thenation.com/article/162...s-so?page=full

    In fact, the work of the many researchers Brill approvingly cites—including Kane, Staiger and Stanford’s Eric Hanushek—shows that while teaching is the most important in-school factor affecting student achievement, family and neighborhood characteristics matter more. The research consensus has been clear and unchanging for more than a decade: at most, teaching accounts for about 15 percent of student achievement outcomes, while socioeconomic factors account for about 60 percent.
    I don't have a lot to add to the debate at hand. It seems, though, that the debate should focus much more on what happens outside of the schools rather than solely within them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Over the course of the last decade, I've visited many tens of schools around the country and spoken with hundreds of educators. A stock question of mine has been, "What barriers impede teaching and learning?" The vast majority of the answers center on the lack of teacher training and effective programs, and more generally on a lack of adequate funding. Poor behavior was certainly cited from time to time, but never as the primary response, and never as a pervasive climate, either prison-like or to a lesser extent.
    Had you asked a group of 19th century physicists "what barriers are impeding your progress?", would the absence of "reconciling quantum mechanics and general relativity" from their responses mean that quantum mechanics and general relativity are consistent?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The "penal setting" that you and Graham cite runs counter to what I've observed, counter to the research I've read, and counter to what educational leaders ranging from Duncan to Ravitch to Gates are pursuing to improve our schools.
    Please cite the research that "runs counter" to Graham's characterization. Are you claiming that any idea not advocated by Duncan, Ravitch, Gates, et al is prima facie incorrect?

    All great truths begin as blasphemies. (George Bernard Shaw)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    That said, the one anecdote versus another back-and-forth seems unlikely to bear any fruit.
    I’ve cited multiple web pages bearing threads in which many posters endorsed Graham’s characterization as consistent with their experience or observation. That’s hardly “one anecdote versus another”.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, I'm interested in your thoughts on what an alignment of "student society around education" looks like in practice. Is this adult-organized or student-organized? To what extent doesn't it exist today? If it doesn't, how might it be brought to be?
    Displace competition for popularity with an explicit competition for subject domain mastery across knowledge-space ("the game"), where attaining the ultimate level of subject mastery would require teaching that subject to other students. To facilitate this, two new subject domains should be included in each student’s annual curriculum: “the principles of learning” and “the principles of teaching”.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Displace competition for popularity with an explicit competition for subject domain mastery across knowledge-space ("the game"), where attaining the ultimate level of subject mastery would require teaching that subject to other students. To facilitate this, two new subject domains should be included in each student’s annual curriculum: “the principles of learning” and “the principles of teaching”.
    How would you bring that about? At its core, I think you have an important point, which I understand to be that we need to instill a stronger sense of the value of learning (and so by necessity of teaching) in our students. And if we take Paul's comments from last night into the mix, it becomes clear that we have to nurture these values in society as a whole.

    All of which raises the questions: What is the value of teaching and learning? What is the purpose of education? Is the ultimate benefit to society as a whole? Or is it to the individual student? Or both?

    These are questions I have ideas about — I am fairly certain, for example that higher standardized test scores is not the ultimate goal of education — but as yet no good answers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    I'm not as well-read or experienced on the topic of this thread as many, but I've watched the debates on the educational system degenerate into a polemic on unions. I don't fully understand it. Teachers used to be one of the most admired professions, then they became viewed by many as benefit-devouring slackers. I still wonder what people expect of teachers -- whether those people are supportive of public school unions or supportive of private/charter reforms where teachers are quantitatively measured (or a bit of both).
    Paul, my hypothesis is that the anti-union stance is just one part of the polarization of politics in general. I suspect that the dislike of unions correlates fairly highly with the political party to which one belongs. Those on the right don't like unions (a) because they advocate for higher wages than what they think the "pure free market" warrants and (b) because they have a fair amount of political power that disproportionately supports the left.

    Certainly, there are things about unions that could be improved. All unions should be "open shop" in that no one has to join them, nor pay dues if they choose to decline. And the power of unions to protect their membership should not be so great that management can't reasonably get rid of poor performers.

    That said, to be anti-union is to be un-American, in my opinion. "Freedom of Assembly" may not technically be the correct term, but it's correct in spirit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    I don't have a lot to add to the debate at hand. It seems, though, that the debate should focus much more on what happens outside of the schools rather than solely within them.
    I think that we have room for multiple debates. Our educators and the leadership and funding system that surrounds them should focus on the former (although there's a welcome move of late on the part of schools to enhance the school-home partnership). More broadly, our leaders in general should of course be addressing societal ills beyond the school walls.

    At risk of taking this thread even farther off its original topic, one key problem is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, and more specifically, the problem of unemployment. Companies have the cash to hire, just not the demand. The demand isn't there because people don't have the money that came first from a second parent joining the workforce and then (inadvisably) from using the (often imaginary) equity in their homes. More simply, the demand isn't there because too many people don't have a job to give them money to spend, and too many others have gone into money conservation mode.

    As I see it, the solution is government stimulus. Pay for needed infrastructure projects, pay for teachers, pay for police, pay for fire, and free up those receiving that pay to spend, priming the pump for the private sector to add needed jobs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Over the course of the last decade, I've visited many tens of schools around the country and spoken with hundreds of educators. A stock question of mine has been, "What barriers impede teaching and learning?" The vast majority of the answers center on the lack of teacher training and effective programs, and more generally on a lack of adequate funding. Poor behavior was certainly cited from time to time, but never as the primary response, and never as a pervasive climate, either prison-like or to a lesser extent.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Had you asked a group of 19th century physicists "what barriers are impeding your progress?", would the absence of "reconciling quantum mechanics and general relativity" from their responses mean that quantum mechanics and general relativity are consistent?
    You seem to be suggesting that educators would be unaware of poor behavior as an impediment to teaching and learning in the same way that 19th century physicists would be unaware of quantum mechanics and general relatively. This analogy of yours doesn't work at all--behavior is clearly a known dynamic.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    I’ve cited multiple web pages bearing threads in which many posters endorsed Graham’s characterization as consistent with their experience or observation. That’s hardly “one anecdote versus another”.
    That's EXACTLY one anecdote versus another. You're not suggesting that the opinions of perhaps tens of self-selected posters on a set of relatively obscure web sites constitute evidence in any scientific meaning of the word, are you? I can imagine a research study that would address the question of the extent to which schools are "like prisons" or populated by educators who "didn't want to have too much to do with the kids," but said study wouldn't look at all like that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Dave, I'm interested in your thoughts on what an alignment of "student society around education" looks like in practice. Is this adult-organized or student-organized? To what extent doesn't it exist today? If it doesn't, how might it be brought to be?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Displace competition for popularity with an explicit competition for subject domain mastery across knowledge-space ("the game"), where attaining the ultimate level of subject mastery would require teaching that subject to other students. To facilitate this, two new subject domains should be included in each student’s annual curriculum: “the principles of learning” and “the principles of teaching”.
    I like the idea of "principles of learning" and "principles of teaching." And I like the idea of including students teaching students in the educational program. The latter certainly occurs today to some extent (the reading fluency program Six Minute Solution from Cambium Learning Sopris builds in such a component and student tutors in Wayland High School's Academic Center being two such examples.

    What is less clear is how educators create an environment in which "competition for popularity" is displaced by "competition for subject domain mastery." Is it the competition that's important? Or the subject domain mastery? Might a different approach have students work together for this mastery rather than against one another?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    How would you bring that about?
    Overcoming the massive inertia that plagues our educational system is the fundamental challenge. As I've said before, I don't have the solution, but strongly suspect that it must be viral rather than imposed.

    "A problem well stated is a problem half-solved." (Charles Franklin Kettering)

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    At its core, I think you have an important point, which I understand to be that we need to instill a stronger sense of the value of learning (and so by necessity of teaching) in our students.
    It's essential that each student understand why education is important and how it is accomplished — starting at age 3 and progressing in depth and intensity as that student's skills and interests expand. Teaching is a critical part of learning; as Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself." However, more than this understanding will be required to replace the default competition for popularity with a competition for the mastery of knowledge and the acquisition of skills.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    What is the purpose of education?
    In my view, the purpose of our educational system should be to enable each student to reach a point where both their desire to learn and their ability to learn are self-sustaining.
    Last edited by DHBernstein; 08-14-2011 at 05:14 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    You seem to be suggesting that educators would be unaware of poor behavior as an impediment to teaching and learning in the same way that 19th century physicists would be unaware of quantum mechanics and general relatively. This analogy of yours doesn't work at all--behavior is clearly a known dynamic.
    Educators are aware of poor classroom behavior. With respect to default student society (competition for popularity) and its adverse impact on education, however, educators are as clueless as those 19th century physicists. The analogy is sadly accurate.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    You're not suggesting that the opinions of perhaps tens of self-selected posters on a set of relatively obscure web sites constitute evidence in any scientific meaning of the word, are you?
    Oh, I see. Cited web pages bearing first-person accounts that substantiate a characterization you reject – these aren’t “scientific” evidence. But your still-uncited reference to “research I’ve read that refutes Graham’s characterization” should carry weight? Be serious.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I like the idea of "principles of learning" and "principles of teaching." And I like the idea of including students teaching students in the educational program. The latter certainly occurs today to some extent (the reading fluency program Six Minute Solution from Cambium Learning Sopris builds in such a component and student tutors in Wayland High School's Academic Center being two such examples.
    A small step in the right direction, but neither is systematically applied across all knowledge domains.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    What is less clear is how educators create an environment in which "competition for popularity" is displaced by "competition for subject domain mastery." Is it the competition that's important?
    Absolutely. Graham’s point is that a competition among students will always arise. With no guidance, what arises is a competition for popularity; with appropriate guidance, educators can stimulate a competition for the very objectives that the educational system seeks to attain. Aligning the goals of educators and students would reduce friction and accelerate learning.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    In my view, the purpose of our educational system should be to enable each student to reach a point where both their desire to learn and their ability to learn is self-sustaining.
    Eloquently put. It's this self-sustained desire to learn, for example, that drives many graduate students. Selling learning for the sake of learning, however, will be quite the challenge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Oh, I see. Cited web pages bearing first-person accounts that substantiate a characterization you reject – these aren’t “scientific” evidence. But your still-uncited reference to “research I’ve read that refutes Graham’s characterization” should carry weight? Be serious.
    *sigh* The back and forth in this thread (onto which I've admittedly thrown plenty of kindling) is sounding more and more like an argument about religion, in which both sides are as certain they are right as they are the other side is wrong. Without a rigorous, controlled study — which would be nearly impossible to perform, much less ethically dubious — there doesn’t seem to be much chance of satisfaction on either side.

    The things we all seem to agree on — that many schools fail miserably at sustaining a nurturing learning environment, that students’ own neurological development should inform the curriculum, and that a respect for teaching and learning needs desperately to be instilled both inside and outside schools — are all, on the other hand, seeds for productive discussion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    *sigh* The back and forth in this thread (onto which I've admittedly thrown plenty of kindling) is sounding more and more like an argument about religion, in which both sides are as certain they are right as they are the other side is wrong. Without a rigorous, controlled study — which would be nearly impossible to perform, much less ethically dubious — there doesn’t seem to be much chance of satisfaction on either side.
    Rick: "I came here for the waters"
    Captain Renault: "The waters? What waters? We're in the desert."
    Rick: "I was misinformed”

    -- from Casablanca

    Anyone seeking satisfaction here has been misinformed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Oh, I see. Cited web pages bearing first-person accounts that substantiate a characterization you reject – these aren’t “scientific” evidence. But your still-uncited reference to “research I’ve read that refutes Graham’s characterization” should carry weight? Be serious.
    Dave, please tell me that your attribution of this quote to me (highlighted in bold blue, above) was simply an error, and not a deliberate falsification. In post 49, I wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    The "penal setting" that you and Graham cite runs counter to what I've observed, counter to the research I've read, and counter to what educational leaders ranging from Duncan to Ravitch to Gates are pursuing to improve our schools.
    I said *nothing* about research refuting Graham. Rather, I've read countless articles and research pieces on education, none painting a "Lord of the Flies" picture that Graham describes as follows.

    Quote Originally Posted by Graham
    While there, the authorities fed you, prevented overt violence, and made some effort to teach you something. But beyond that they didn't want to have too much to do with the kids. Like prison wardens, the teachers mostly left us to ourselves. And, like prisoners, the culture we created was barbaric.
    Not only could I not cite in any practical way cite what I've read, doing so would mean nothing, as the absence of proof is not remotely the same thing as proof of absence. But that's my point: to my knowledge, there is no research supporting Graham's hyperbolic and teacher-insulting rant. The onus is on him--and others who make the school-prison comparison--to back the contention up. Failing that, we're simply playing around in opinionland.

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