Thursday, December 1, 2011

'Tis a Puzzlement!

I really have a dilemma on my hands.  In recent postings I have endeavored to create a vision of a hypothetical graduate of a make believe school system.  What would this person look like if they were taught OR were allowed to learn from a curriculum that this blog was creating.  I had started this development with Leslie Briggs' (Handbook of procedures for the design of Instruction) first area of curriculum concern, that of communications.  Reading, writing, art, drama, speaking, dance, music and a few other subjects that my age I have forgotten already.  We need to teach these subjects and skills, as John Dewey would say, to keep our society alive and moving forward in knowledge.

I was doing well with my thinking and fantasying of that curriculum until two things happened.  First i was introduced to the latest iPhone by Apple with its deceptively intriguing "Siri," a personal digital assistant that you can ask to do things. You can ask it "where am I?" or "Call home,"  or "what is the square root of 23 times 1.25?"  This latter question is how I figure out the theoretical speed of my sailboat when under sail.  Can I do that in my head?  Not really.  But the iPhone 4S can which raises that age old question, "Which knowledge is of most worth?"

I can hear the comments already about what if the battery dies, or what if you drop your phone and it breaks.  Those are logical questions but how many of you keep wood chopped in case your furnace breaks down.  Or do you keep a horse to back up your car?  I'm being silly here but the true question is what knowledge is so important that I need to teach it to my child.  Much of what knowledge we use is incidental in nature.  

And that is my dilemma.  What is most important to teach our children?  I'm struggling with this question.  And the incredible smart phones are beginning to overwhelm me.  Reviewing the last ten years (2002 to 2012) there is so much information or skills that I know that are now obsolete.  Useless.  Worthless.  And much more of my known knowledge is also becoming less valuable.  

I was standing in the grocery check out line the other day and I realized that I was the only one in line that wrote a check for my groceries.  Everyone else in line was paying by a plastic card except for one other--that person paid by smart phone.  I don't know how it works but it was much faster and easier.  I suspect it is the future here today.  I still have to go home, balance my check book, compare it to my checking account (I can do that on-line) to keep tabs on my finance.  I suspect that that gentleman looks at his smart phone and knows exactly what his finances are at any time.  Fascinating.

So to my mathematics colleagues who follow this blog, please chime in as to what arithmetic or numbers or concepts or......  do we need to teach our children.  This is very troublesome.

The second thing that has really bothered me, i.e., kept me up at night thinking is the book, The Dyslexic Advantage:  Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock Eide and Fernette Eide.  This book is making me cry, laugh, wonder, yell, and berate the world of education in general.  It is a textbook with research and stories about those that have dyslexia, a form of learning that is different from the rest.  

I have Dyslexia.  In a world that does not recognize this style of learning it puts that person in a difficult position.  In most cases, we cannot take written tests and do well. In mathematics we can't always "show" our work for we don't know how we got the right answer.  But we are creative and we think outside the box.  There was one test in my background that I scored well on--a test given by the US Air Force during my days of ROTC at my undergraduate university.  I scored well, actually I scored so high that i had to take the test over again.  I still scored well.  It was a test of space and connectivity that the Air Force had found to be a good predictor for pilot training.  But I wore glasses and that kept me out of the cockpit.  Still, my point being that much of our educational process does not work with dyslexic children and young adults.

I highly recommend to any teachers who are still teaching read this book on Dyslexia.  It is the best one so far that I have encountered.  And if a fourth of our school population might have dyslexia then we have a problem--a major problem.  

I wonder if "Teach for America" personnel (I hate calling them teachers until they've had some experience in the classroom) are given any instructions on learning disabilities.  Would they recognize the characteristics anyway or are they getting next day's lessons ready.  Just a thought.

As you can see, setting up a school system is difficult.  How should we go about teaching our children what is important?  I read this morning a short article about a Waldorf school (I have appreciated the philosophy of the Waldorf methods) that is prohibiting computers and iPads.  I'm not sure I can go along with this policy.  But like me, they are struggling with how to teach our children.

As I struggle with this "puzzlement" I wish to thank the teachers who are doing their best to give our children and young adults some guidelines to the future.  It is a tough task.

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