Monday, January 17, 2011

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Teacher

As public education moves away from facts and towards the nebulous world of 21st Century skills, more students than ever believe that our classrooms are supposed to be zones of fun. This teacher doesn't believe in the idea of a fun classroom; instead, I believe what Amy Chua, author of the widely debated, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, believes about parenting, "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences" (from WSJ excerpt). The growing trend towards student centered learning, and allowing our students to determine what they study, how they study, is clearly hurting our level of academic accomplishment.
I'd also suggest that as we have given children much more in the way of respect, we have reduced the level of respect that our teachers deserve. I know that I feel a great sense of debt to many of the teachers who helped to shape my mind and offered me the skills to navigate my life successfully. About parents, Chua writes, "the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud. " What if our students felt that same sense of respect towards our role in their life?
But this can't happen so long as society continues to strip authority from adults and give it to children. Part of why great charter schools succeed is because they recognize that children lack structure, lack expecations, and lack accountability.
I'm in favor or Chua's ideas of expecations and accountability.


At 11:41 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Braemar-
Amen. My mother-in-law was forever saying something like:
You can not 'put an old head on young shoulders'.

Therefore giving hte decisions to the young shoulders is a huge mistake.

At 8:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Part of why great charter schools succeed is because they recognize that children lack structure, lack expecations, and lack accountability."

Responding to the above -
Great charter schools have only figured out what Catholic schools have known for a hundred years. If you can control who is admitted, and who leaves, you can produce much better results. Charter schools may take every student, but those students will self-select into the school knowing the requirements are high. The few who choose not to succeed in the successful charter school will be asked to leave (won't they?). What are the stats on dismissals from successful charter schools - I would assume they head right back to the public schools who are obligated by law to educate regardless of the student's personal commitment to his/her education.

Appreciated your comments on Chua,nonetheless, and will look at the link you put up.

At 3:42 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Anon--as I've mentioned before, the charter school movement is not the silver bullet. However, the charter schools that provide the structure, the expectations, and the accountability are helping more low SES and minority students.
KIPP schools enroll over 80% minority students and over 80% low SES.
In terms of expulsion and attrition, the numbers are hard to find overall. One KIPP school, KIPP Delta College Preparatory, reports that in 2009 the attrition rate was 17.6% a 7.6% decrease from the previous year. And their expulsion rate wat less than 1%.
But what matters is that the students at these KIPP schools have a better chance of success than if they were retained in a low-performing public school.
The fact that there is a positive school culture and sense of accountability means that the focus in on academics and not classroom management.
Charter schools need to be considered as part of the overall solution, not the only solution.

At 7:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I'm not denying charter schools do a good job with the material they have. What I am saying is that they're really not operating on logic that's any different than a private school. This "private public" school system wouldn't work without a door that could be shown to students who failed to rise to the occasion of the academic work. Why is it impossible for the regular public school system to require students to meet high expectations? Wouldn't this solution be cheaper at the national level? (I do recognize that under the current structure it would be a tremendous financial burden for some school systems, and not for others). Aren't our educational problems really just a matter of cultural will?

What happens when all the motivated (perhaps, albeit, poor) students head off to the "high expectations" charter school and leave all the unmotivated kids behind, and even more alone in an academic cesspool than they were before those departures? The better students should be rewarded for their efforts, and used as the example to the low performers, not removed from the mix. Why not reward high performers with a shorter school day, and eliminate the absurd public discussion related to increasing days and hours for all students regardless of academic need. If I was a strong student, I'd be mighty irritated that my day was extended because others couldn't do the work.

I read the Chua piece in the WSJ. Thank you for directing your readers to this. It's both impressive and disturbing. It also strikes me as a lot of Chinese patriotism, akin to the type of books that are written by Americans about American greatness. I love a good romance, but it's unlikely that Chua is as representative of all Chinese mothers as she claims to be. The one thing I'm taking away from her story is the ideal of REQUIRING a young person to succeed. I do agree with her position that children are always capable of more than they produce when left to their own decision making powers, and yet (as Chua points out) they can be very convincing in their claims of incompetence.


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