Sunday, June 20, 2010

What should teachers teach?

Since the birth of our nation and since the beginning of public schools in Boston we have agonized as to what we should teach our children.   The basic problem has been whether we teach the young person for a job or do we teach the young to be educated.  I don't know how many words I've heard on both of those positions.  And I suspect that argument will continue for many years.  

Along the way many interesting tales have emerged.  When the device which we now call a typewriter was first invented, women who learned to use it were called "Typewriters."  They would go to a company and say, "I would like a job, I am a typewriter."  The machines eventually took on the name, typewriter.  Now there are children in school who have no idea what a typewriter is.  

There is also a museum in Boston that supposedly has a letter written by a company that said that "this company has no intent to hire "Typewriters."  You, as a customer, will always get a hand written letter such as this one."   Isn't it interesting that today we are grateful if we get a boiler-plate e-mail from a company and heavens, if we try to talk to them by phone.  

But the question remains, what should our children know when they finish school? Should schooling be so that each child will be able to do a job?  Where does college fit in?  Do we teach our children so that they are prepared for college?

Then there is that old statistic that I have always wondered about; you've seen it several times.  It goes, "We will have eleven (to fifteen, depending upon the author) jobs in our lifetime of which five (up to eight and beyond) have not yet been invented."  I don't know who first wrote that statement but it has been fluttering around for over a decade in various forms.  Margaret Mean wrote something to this effect, that "we should teach our children to walk along paths that we have yet to see."  Either way the question as to what to teach our children remains.  

Another old saw to worry us is the statement that there will be one hundred and thirty seven new jobs invented in our lifetime.  Okay!  I've got three to go!  I'm teasing.  New jobs are being designed, composed, invented, though up, by the hundreds everyday.  Given all this "new stuff," what should a person learn?

I've just re-read then ending to Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education where she suggests what we use to teach in the classroom: the arts, reading, writing, science, social studies, arithmetic, literature, and so on should be the focus for our present day curriculum.  To some extent I agree, but I noted that she left out keyboarding, googling, computer skills, internet skills, and ethics.  I'm not surprised as I believe her to be a true idealist.  I found her last chapter very interesting.  I have now returned to John Dewey's Democracy and Education.  (Yes, yes, all on my Kindle--more on this later.)

[A digression.  A few months ago I finally found Google Scholar.  What a delight.  Apparently it is in Beta testing but for my dollar it is a find.  I will probably be a pain to my medical team as I read all the latest on heart problems.  Type Google Scholar and ask your question.  You will be surprised]

With Google Scholar I finally find Leslie Briggs' book on Instructional Design and the Curriculum (Sequencing of Instruction in Relation to Hierarchies of Instruction), published about 1967.  One of my favorite.  (maybe I should 
look for an old copy).  But I remember Briggs writing that we in education only need to teach three things to our children.  First, How to Communicate.  This section includes reading, writing, dance, music, arithmetic, drawing and art.  The second thing we need to teach is about "the Self."  Who are we?  What makes us tick?  How do we improve?  The third area Briggs call simply, "The Arts" but he included science, history, literature, geography and just about everything else not in the first two sections. His communication area would do well today--just add all of the new technology.

The one area, that of the Self, still not has been well accepted in the public schools and although I have little to no data, I suspect the private schools have ignored this area as well.  I think the schools think this infringes on the parents rights.  Perhaps but I think we can do much more in this area. 

You will note that Briggs did not mentioned teaching for jobs or work.  Rather he was looking at the old question, "What is an educated man?"   I would change that to "what is an educated person?"  In the next few weeks I will follow up on some other people who have suggestions for our modern day curriculum.  What should we be teaching our children. And when should we teach different subjects?  Briggs had something to say about this as well.  Hmmmm, keyboarding in the first grade.   A difficult task but let's see if we can make our way through this fog.

Thanks to Leslie Briggs, many years ago for getting me to think about what a curriculum should be.  Maybe he is why I fought testing for so long.  Thanks, LB.

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