Monday, May 16, 2005

Becoming Better

Max De Pree, author of Leading without Power: Finding hope in serving community, writes, "If we're to take on new projects, new challenges, we must be prepared to abandon the obsolete"(15). For educators, every year is a new challenge. Each class is a new challenge. This continual ebb and flow creates for us a task that at times creates plenty of stress. But if we are to become better instructors, we owe our profession the courtesy of evaluating what we do in the classroom. At this point, allow me a moment of political cynicism--if education as a public institution is going to flourish in the eyes of our current administration, perhaps it would do them well to open their minds to evaluating their methods of institution.

My question is, what part of education has become obsolete? What teaching methods should we throw away? And what makes a method obsolete? If students do not take to a style or method, is it obsolete?

The latest education fad holds students accountable to standards. Which implies that prior to NCLB and Ken O'Connor, teachers did not hold students accountable to standards. Some go as far as to say that we should give students as many tries as they need to meet those standards and that we shouldn't punish them with grades. Has grading become obsolete?

Education has become obsessed with standards. Reading standards. Writing standards. Math standards. Science standards. But what about those other standards, the ones that we hold ourselves to? Are they obsolete in education? If the standard isn't measurable on a multiple choice test, is it obsolete?

So, I am wondering about the following units I taught this year and whether they are obsolete:

1. Personal Statements for college essays--if they don't go to college, what's the point.
2. Vocabulary--this one really tanked. Apparently students find it boring, even in a cheesy power-point.
3. Beowulf--modern translation. Still, students didn't see the point of this heroic epic. Too busy watching Braveheart, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings.
4. Canterbury Tales--story contests take a back seat to singing contests.
5. The Tempest--difficult language to understand, no real good movie version, fairly happy ending.
6. Othello--the movies were better. (This Shakespeare stuff, I really am wondering if it is obsolete)
7. Expository writing--do students really need to think critically about the world around them when Jon Stewart, SNL, and Bill O'Reilly do it for them?
8. Literature Circles--unless they plan on joining Oprah's book of the month clubs at local Starbucks, perhaps this is obsolete as well.

What about you? Anything obsolete to add? Sorry, I tried to be serious about this one, but the end of the year blues got to me.


At 6:46 PM , Blogger The Science Goddess said...

Oh, but I always liked "The Tempest" the best. What a great metaphor for education. "Damn you and your books, Prospero!" What happens on that island when education and books arrive? Have your kids chew on that one. :)

If you hang around the classroom long enough, you find out that nothing becomes obsolete. It just becomes repackaged with new terms. Keep what works, and don't worry about the "new." As long as kids are learning, who cares how you get them to engage?

At 7:17 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful thoughts. I have been doing a fair amount of thinking over at my blog, Remote Access, about this same thing. I think a lot of what happens in classrooms, from content to methods needs ot be "left behind" as you put it. Classrooms (mine most of all) are not doing a great job to prepare kids for the soceity they will be adult citizens in. A thorough culling of curricula and methods is most heavily rewuired for all of us.

At 8:35 PM , Blogger Boston Dreamer said...

I KNOW you didn't just say that Shakespeare may be obsolete. You didn't. I hope not. I still use Julius Ceasar, Merchant of Venice, Henry V, and Othello to some degree or another in my World History class!

At 6:57 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Don't worry, I was just thinking out loud. If there is any hint of my thinking Shakespeare is obsolete, it is my own inadequacies as a Shakespearean teacher coming out. So sorry, to get you worked up!


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