Why I cry at night
Those of you who are looking for upbeat lesson ideas should immediately go look at this If Hollywood taught science class link. Lots of fun things to think about with that one. Lots of applications in any subject and it requires students to think about what is really true in order to make fun of the Hollywood stuff. It’s like reverse psychology.
Now stop. If you want to read why I cry at night continue below.
- This Ted Talk on Motivation by Pink
- This book review mentioning the false gods of NCLB
- This Netflix Culture Presentation
So all this stuff has come together over the last little while and it all gets at why teachers and students, especially in k12, are having such a dismal time3.
Education is designed around grades for motivation when dealing with students4 and now we have standardized testing scores for teacher/admin motivation. The bigger players at the divisions are driven by aggregate scores, numbers of AP tests taken and other garbage indicators.
Pink’s whole talk is focused on how research shows over and over again that extrinsic motivators (rewards/punishments) for “21st century tasks” (really, anything that requires sophisticated thought) has been proven to either not work or to actually do harm. The extrinsic motivator works really well for simple problems and easy tasks with clear destinations. Rewards narrow focus and “concentrate” the mind. But for real problems, difficult problems, you don’t want narrow minds restricting possibilities.
Is it any wonder that students have trouble with critical thinking and problem solving in school settings (but not in video games etc.)- they’ve been brought up in k12 doing nothing but simple tasks with clear rules and obvious goals and they’re being focused on them through the narrowing lens of grades and/or shame.
We’re also asking teachers and administrators to solve incredibly complex issues, to fix our educational system, to meet all these standards5. But the whole time, it’s while under threat. It’s no wonder the solutions are things like extending the school day, cutting electives and studying during lunch. Narrowed minds clouded by fear don’t come up with good ideas. Even charter schools like KIPP come up with “innovative” ideas like keeping kids in school for 10 hours, working on weekends, 2 hrs of homework nightly . . . .
Pink’s suggested approach has three pieces – autonomy (self-direction), mastery (getting better at something that matters), and purpose (doing things as part of something larger than the self). That’s pretty much the opposite of the direction public school is headed both for students and for teachers.
The False Gods of NCLB
That brings us to Zhao’s review of Touching Hearts, Educating Minds.
In his book The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, the late cultural critic and New York University professor Neil Postman points out the importance of purpose and refers to it as “god,” not the “God,” but the reason for existence, the purpose for parents to send their children to school, the reason for children to stay in the classroom, and the reason for societies to have schools. As Postman says, “for schools to make sense, the young, the parents, and their teachers must have a god to serve, or even better, several gods. If they have none, school is pointless.” (Postman, 1996, p. 4).
Recent education reforms exemplified by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) have identified test scores and memorization of a standardized set of information as the god that schools should serve. As a result, school leaders, teachers, and the children are all forced to sacrifice themselves for this god. But this god is imposed by a few outsiders, the government, businesses, and the uninformed public. This god is not the god for the teachers and students. The imposition of an external purpose not shared by the children and their teachers, who are the souls of education, essentially drove intrinsic purpose of education out of schools.
Seems pretty dead on to me.
Finally, and oddly enough, there’s Netflix. These ideas make me want to work at Netflix but, shamefully, I can’t really believe a place works like that. The whole thing is worth going through6 but I really like this point.
Normally, good companies start out with lots of high quality people but the company is small. Then it grows to a certain size and things become too complex to be run on the available talent, lower quality people are hired, structures are needed to compensate so the company starts to focus on implementing processes and rules. That leads to some stability but it also drives out high performing individuals (thus driving the need for even more focus on process/rules).
That’s were we seem to be at in education. The focus on standards, centralized pacing guides, etc. They’re all about process. We’re focusing more and more on process and rules while driving more and more high quality teachers out of education.
How’s that for some pessimism?
I’ve been reading a lot of people lately- Alfie Kohn for one and Peter Gray as well. The combination is enough to depress anyone involved with education, especially k12. The birthers, the “YOU LIE!” guy, the sheer lack of critical thinking going on.
There are ways to solve these problems but it seems as a society and through our government we’re moving farther away from the solutions.
1 Not sure what else to collectively call a Slideshare presentation, a video and a blog post. You’ve got to love the Internet for making such a varied combination possible in one place.
2 Oh, and some Hydracodone for a recently root canaled tooth probably helped.
3 Or it at least explains my irritation with education.
5 No comment on the worthiness of these standards.
6 Think how your co-workers might fare in The Keeper Test (slide 29).