professornana (professornana) wrote,

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S Is for Sweep

When we remodeled our house, we installed laminate floors. Initially, I adored their clean look. I loved watching Scout and Rocky learn about cornering too quickly. And then reality set in: they show dirt, every little bitty fluff, scrap, crumb. I spend a lot of time sweeping. And here is something else I have learned, you can sweep and sweep and sweep and never get it all. Thankfully, my eyesight is getting a bit dimmer with age and I can overlook the few things that escape the broom. Why the mention of sweeping? It has to do with an Op-Ed piece I saw this morning as I was sipping that first cup of coffee.

Yet another critic of education decided to add his voice to the outcry about the state of education in America. Here is the link to the Op-Ed piece by Joe Nocera:

The piece that hit hardest with me was the criticism of higher education: "Teacher education in America is vastly inferior to many other countries; we neither emphasize pedagogy — i.e., how to teach — nor demand mastery of the subject matter. Both are a given in the top-performing countries. (Indeed, it is striking how many nonprofit education programs in the U.S. are aimed at helping working teachers do a better job — because they’ve never learned the right techniques.)" Here he is quoting the head of the National Center for Education and the Economy, Marc Tucker, a leader in the standards movement.

I happen to work in a program that emphasizes pedagogy and mastery. I graduated from a teacher prep program that did the same. However, sweeping statements (see I did get back to the broom) such as the foregoing (and there are plenty more in the short editorial) make it nearly impossible to respond coherently without resorting to sweeping statements of my own. There are a couple of salient points, though, that I feel compelled to make.

First, I will never MASTER my content/subject. I do not know anyone who could make that claim. The field of literature and literacy is constantly changing and evolving. And the students are doing the same: evolving and changing and growing. About the most I can say about my learning is that it is constant. I read a new children's or YA book that challenges my preconceptions; I finish a professional book (like Ralph Fletcher's GUY-WRITE) and it colors my perspective.

Second, pedagogy is not exactly all one needs to know to be a teacher. HOW does not prepare you fully. It cannot. Actually working with kids day in and day out is needed to refine the pedagogy into the practicality of teaching. How does one maintain a rich classroom environment? There is not a cookie cutter answer to that or most questions that arise. And the "pedagogy" shifts, too. Anyone else old enough to remember the M Hunter craze where we all had lessons in how to use the overhead projector correctly? Where we wrote lesson plans in 7 parts? When I began teaching ELA, we did packets with kids: grammar packets followed by literature packets followed by writing packets. I think I lasted one cycle before I shredded those. I have taught in self-contained classrooms, ability grouped classrooms, open classrooms, etc. And I have learned and gained from them all.

Here's what I propose we do with sweeping statements: find a rug and throw it over the heap of them. Then, take the broom and beat them down to fragments. As for getting rid of them? Vacuum!
Tags: criticism, education, op-ed
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