Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back to the Future? A continuation....

In my last blog, we started a discussion as to what we might like in our own educational system for children and young adults in today's society.  At the moment it appears that many people are negative about education in general (particularly those who have never taught before) so I decided I wanted a more positive approach to our educational thinking.  I agree with John Dewey that society cannot not exists much less then move forward unless we teach our children what we already know.  If we don't do this task it will mean that each generation will have to start over from the beginning.

And in the last blog I quoted Nassim Taleb who wrote "The Black Swan" who stated that mistakes were a part of learning, indeed, a necessary step in advancing knowledge.  This position was endorsed by Thomas Friedman, a well known writer for the New York Times.

So our first salient position for our new educational system was to have an environment that allowed mistakes in learning.  But we also need students who were interested in learning, had a curiosity about the world around them.  These two features are part of the Affective Domain--values that we can hold.  There are some schools that do not look for these features in their students.  "Make no mistakes, be perfect and listen to your teacher."  However, our task here is to be mistakes galore and what is around the next corner.  Eh?

So now we have a graduate of our system who has values in learning.  But besides the ability to make mistakes and the desire to learn what else should our graduate have?

This is where a curriculum, a course of study, is desirable.  However, we are back to that age old question of which knowledge is of most worth?  What should our graduate have knowledge of, what is important to our student to know?

In the past several years we have seen a plethora of op-ed, and political pieces written as to how we should test or examine todays' student but little on what is being used for the tests.  In the State of Texas there has been an ongoing discussion as to what should be included in the history and science textbooks for their children.  Do we include creationism in the science books?  And do we ignore or eliminate information bout slavery in our history books?  What is important to know for our graduate?

I still like Leslie Briggs' focus on the three aspects of knowledge for students--that of communication, the self and finally, the broad aspect of the arts.  Be aware that at present we are talking about types of knowledge that appears to be important to our graduate--we have yet to start a discussion as to the systematic methodology of teaching and learning.  We're still focused on subject matter--what is important?

Let's start with Brigg's communication.  Our young graduate of our fantasized educational system is to be able to communicate in a variety of methods.  But there seems to be a logical place to start, i.e., speech.  A young human begins to verbalize sounds and noises almost as soon as they emerge from the womb.  Crying, laughing, contentment all are sounds that they can express.  There is an interesting story I think I've already told you about an American women married to a Britisher living in London who worked for the German embassy.  Our woman hero spoke German most of the day at her job.  Becoming pregnant, she worked almost until they day that she delivered a normal bouncing baby.  The young baby exhibited normal reactions at home but when Mom took the baby back to the German embassy, the baby laughed, cooed, and was more then happy as everyone talked in German.  In recent months there has been some research that if mom eats string beans while carrying her child, the child will like string beans after being born.  If mom doesn't eat spinach, the young child will probably not like spinach.  Interesting.  In fact researchers seem to suggest that those cultures that have a variety of exotic foods will have children that prefer those types of foods.   So I suggest that Moms and Dads need to talk to their child PRENATAL.  And I suggest that early childhood curriculum have speech as a major emphasis for the children to practice.  "Stand up and tell the class what you did today to learning something."  "Tell all of us how you tied your shoes."  "Tell me your full name."

I was surprised that at the fifth grade level I had a number of students who did not speak well.  Perhaps because I had been a music teacher and had voice lessons I emphasized good speech in my classroom but I think it should have been done earlier in the grades.  It was difficult to get some of my student to read in a LOUD voice.  I didn't want shouting but in a strong loud voice.  "please read that paragraph over, I can't hear you."  It was difficult for some of them to do this task.

Somehow in this atmosphere of speech, I would like to introduce our young students into another language.  If the predominate language in my class is English, why not introduce Spanish?  I am quite envious that many Europeans speak several languages.  I was visiting a Norwegian elementary school and found several fifth grade girls working on some computers in which the software programs were in Norwegian.  However, they could talk to me in perfect English and ask me questions about the software.  At the fifth grade level.

I suggested Spanish as predictions are that a majority of the United States will be Hispanic in the near future.  But even now we have a number of young students in our schools that speak Spanish.  What an opportunity for them to help a teacher teach a class another language.  Not only would it give them a chance to excel but would allow the children to speak to each other in two languages.  " You teach me English and I'll teach you Spanish."  What a deal!

There was once a private school in Bellevue (WA) that hired only teachers that could speak fluently in two languages, one being English.  But the requirement was to teach part time in BOTH languages each day.  Interestingly enough they didn't really care what the second language was--they just wanted the children to become aware of other languages.  Smart thinking I believe.....

So in summary, we have our fantasized graduate having the courage to make mistakes, be interested in learning and being able to speak well, perhaps in two languages.  Do you agree?

For those teachers already teaching in several languages, accept our thanks and ask that you help the rest of us in this area.  You are very important in our educational system.

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