Sunday, September 20, 2009

There is no “one set of knowledge.”

Here’s a quote from Dennis Littky’s book (The Big Picture):

There is no “one set of knowledge.”

In 2000, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote an article for the New York Times called “One Education Does Not Fit All.” In it, he railed against the use of standardized tests and courses as inconsistent with the new economy. I literally jumped out of my seat with joy when I read this part:

Yes, people need to be able to read, write and speak clearly. And they have to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. But given the widening array of possibilities, there ‘s no reason that every child must master the sciences, algebra, geometry, biology or any of the rest of the standard high school curriculum that has barely changed in half a century. (Robert Reich)

There’s no reason to put education in standardized packages when our kids don’t come in those packages. Who wants a standardized kid, anyway? As a society, we embrace individualism and yet we seem to be OK with our schools becoming more and more standardized (Littky, pages 34-35).

WARNING: I have mentioned one of the key aspects of the Big Picture school to several teachers: “The advisor teaches all of the subjects.” I rejected this idea at first, but I have grown to accept it. The reactions of other teachers are:

“How can one person teach math, history, a foreign language, chemistry, biology, physics, and English Literature? Where is the rigor?”

“How can one teacher be good at all of those subjects?”

“I was terrible at (math, history, whatever). I would make a terrible advisor in that system.”

Two suggestions:

a) Is it so terrible for the student to sit with an adult who has a fear of math or science? If the student lacks a knack for algebra, who better to teach flexibility and optimism than an adult who failed algebra in 9th grade?

b) Let this idea sit with you for a while. It might appear impossible to convince a teacher’s union to encourage members to teach a spectrum of subjects instead of “their favorite” or “their special gift.” For some students, an English teacher who hates math might be the perfect adult to guide the student toward understanding quantitative reasoning. A science teacher who can barely write an essay might be the best writing coach for some students. Students needing additional rigor can be assigned to other teachers/advisors for specific needs. In short, The Big Picture method has pushed me to look at alternatives to “how I was taught.”

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