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An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 08 Apr 2013, 11:27
by Mike
...which I've discovered recently. He teaches history, but the points he makes are relevant to just about any curriculum area. I've only read a few of his posts and already my head feels like it's about to fall off from nodding vigorously in agreement.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 09 Apr 2013, 03:38
by Caleb
Mike: Thanks for that link. I've started reading that blog. It's great.

Last Monday, I walked out of one of my classes and threatened to quit because of the nonsense of progressive education (or maybe it's not even progressive education but just slackness).

I'll provide some background on the situation. I teach at three schools. My main school is a junior high school that I've been at for two and a half years now. Things are far from perfect here, but I have managed to make some progress. For the same period, I have also taught at a primary school a couple of periods a week. This year, I also started at another local primary school. Over the past two and a half years, I've had all sorts of problems at my first primary school. There are all sorts of issues, some of which go beyond me. For instance, eight teachers, representing half or more of the staff, left that school last year, including most of the assistant principals or coordinators. They also get new (Taiwanese) English teachers every year. Basically, English teachers at primary school don't get tenure and so must pass exams every year (no practical observations are used). Those who score highest get to choose the school they go to, and so on down the list. Predictably, no one wants to end up at my school, so there's a high turnover rate, and those who do end up there tend to be quite bad in one or many ways. So, there are all sorts of systemic issues.

I have mentioned all sorts of issues to do with discipline over the past couple of years. At the end of the last academic year, I was told I had to choose two local schools of four. For various reasons, I ended up staying at the one I had been at for two years, under certain conditions that were discussed in a meeting. The major condition was to do with an improvement in discipline/colleague support. The other (new) school has been pretty good so far, though it's still slack academically.

Of course, things didn't improve, and my new colleague, whilst vastly better than her predecessor (who was truly useless), is still weak and made lots of excuses for the students. So far this year, with one class in particular, I have had all sorts of disciplinary issues, and when I tried to issue punishments to the students, I received no support from my colleagues, so the students constantly gave me the run around. Over the past month, I became increasingly frustrated by this and the final straw came last week when not only did a student fail to give me the punishment I had issued the previous week, but she then began to lie that she hadn't been told, that she hadn't understood, etc. Of course, I had got my colleague to explain the punishment, even though I could do it (because the students claim they don't understand me when I speak Chinese even when I know they absolutely do). That wasn't what drove me over the edge though. It was yet another round of excuses by my colleague as to why it wasn't the student's fault, that she didn't understand, that she hadn't been told, etc., despite the fact that my colleague had been the one who had explained the punishment to the student! It was surreal.

I didn't get angry at my colleague (though I really wanted to!) because I had the presence of mind to know that would have been bad for me, but I still left. I went home and got my wife because I knew I needed a true advocate. I've been caught out before by getting colleagues to speak to principals, etc. on my behalf and watched the colleague cover her own backside whilst hanging me out to dry. When I returned to school, my colleague was very concerned (because she knew she would be on the hook to the principal if I did actually quit).

I'm sure I didn't exactly make any friends, but I basically said I wanted things to change or I would indeed follow through on leaving that school. The upshot is that we have now streamed the two of my classes that are extremely problematic at that school. I removed the lazy and disobedient from my classes. In many senses, that still seems like a cop out because those students shouldn't just be written off. Yet realistically, all I can hope for from the school is that I can teach the better students without them being held back by their classmates who are clowns.

There are still limitations in terms of what I can achieve academically with the better students due to time constraints and my ability to enforce standards (including homework). I'll see how things have improved, if at all, tomorrow. If things don't improve over the next few months, I will leave that school anyway for the next academic year.

Anyway, that's a rather long-winded preamble to my thoughts on all of this.

Often, I have discussions with other foreigners here about education. Predictably, I'm seemingly one of the few non-liberal/progressives in Taiwan, it seems. Yet also interestingly, I'm one of the few foreigners I have met here who actually teaches really poor children. I am one of the few people I know who is really right there on the front line where progressive education is absolutely disastrous. The weird thing about education in Taiwan generally is that although it is becoming more liberal, it is generally still fairly conservative, except in English teaching, or more specifically, except in English teaching by foreigners. There's a weird disconnect between everything else and a foreigner's English class supposedly being lots of fun, student focused and all the rest of that progressive nonsense. Needless to say, I'm not that foreigner, which seemingly rubs everyone (both Taiwanese and foreigners) the wrong way.

To some extent, kids from middle class families can have fun and games with Johnny Foreigner because the rest of their lives, both inside and outside of school, are marked by a certain amount of rigour, both academically and behaviourally (though these things are slipping). So, fooling around a couple of times a week is not going to have major detrimental effects. Yet for poor kids who come from families and communities with all sorts of issues, they don't begin at such a high baseline. If I -- and my colleagues -- am not "it", the light on the hill, then no one is for these kids. Aside from the statistically insignificant handful who may one day become entrepreneurs, if they fall behind at school (both academically or in terms of socialisation, discipline, work ethic, etc.), they fall behind in life. End of story.

What strikes me about liberal/progressive education is how much of a complete betrayal it is of the poor. The irony of someone who is right wing truly fighting for the poor on this issue never fails to amaze me. Increasingly, I also find myself truly disgusted by people on the left who advocate for progressive education. Their hypocrisy, their willing ignorance, and their general immorality on this issue are truly astounding. They need to go out there and work amongst the underclass -- though they never would -- to see the effects of their political ideology (not just in education).

Ultimately, I plan to leave education within the next few years because I realise that I won't improve the system and it takes too much of a toll on me personally. What a tragic outcome though.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 17 Sep 2013, 11:05
by Mike
The author of that blog doesn't post very often, but his entries are always worth reading. This recent one especially so.

The whole issue of "research" in education is a difficult one. Although throughout most of my teacher training I was quietly convinced that much of the research we were expected to read was (1) relentlessly driven by ideology, (2) carefully designed to reach a predetermined conclusion, and therefore (3) flawed, I couldn't quite put my finger on why this was the case.

In that respect it's interesting that Dr. Ben Goldacre is mentioned in that post, because his book Bad Science (very much worth a read) actually helped to clarify matters for me regarding educational research. My belief now is that since it's virtually impossible to conduct properly double-blinded research in education, the results will never be particularly informative, especially if the research is driven by the desire to reach a particular conclusion (which research never should be anyway). Quite ironically, then, it appears that Goldacre is a paid-up believer in a "research-based" (an abhorrent term) approach to education.

I think Mr. Hunter (a pseudonym, by the way) is right to warn against the creeping of scientism - Frank Furedi's term - into the world of education. A classic example there is the fact that (as one of the commenters mentions) somehow it has become broadly accepted that class sizes have a minimal effect on student performance. This is obviously a convenient point of view for education academics (since the implication is that teachers' "professional development" is the key factor, said professional development to be conducted by, erm, guess who), but every experienced teacher knows that it's nonsense. The problem is that with a scientistic approach to education you can only deal in the quantitative realm, which will never be enough for a broad view of the whole thing.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 17 Sep 2013, 11:23
by Gavin
Just a brief note on this but I have mentioned Ben Goldacre in the past too. Okay, in his books he champions impartial science, but in real life he is also quite foul mouthed and left-wing.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 17 Sep 2013, 11:45
by Mike
Gavin wrote:Just a brief note on this but I have mentioned Ben Goldacre in the past too. Okay, in his books he champions impartial science, but in real life he is also quite foul mouthed and left-wing.

Yep, that book was written from an avowedly left-wing perspective (rather ironic, in a way, given that it was largely dedicated to debunking the sort of "alternative medicine" fads which are periodically popular among the left), but as a description of scientific method for the layman I found it informative and enjoyable.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 18 Sep 2013, 03:06
by Caleb
Mike: I would not say that class sizes have a minimal effect on student performance, merely that such an issue is not the primary issue. For me, the issue isn't quantity of students, but quality, which I would break down into two sub-issues. The first is the range of abilities. The second is the proportion of poorly behaved students in the class.

On the first point, they give me classes where at one end of the scale, I have kids who already completed the entire curriculum three years ago in private classes. At the other end, I have kids who have spent four years learning English and arrive at one of my schools unable to write the alphabet or tell you their name, how old they are, count to ten or distinguish the eleven basic colours. In Chinese, some are so "logically challenged" that they do not know that the first sound of the word for dragon fruit, huo, is literally huo as in fire (fire dragon fruit) and thus, cannot even begin to write the name of that thing in their own language. Such children, when presented with a map of the world and asked to label its continents (with the Chinese names provided for them) managed to put South America where Africa should be, and North America where South America should be (you'd think that if the names of the continents began with "North" and "South", as they do in both languages, that they'd be arranged in a vertical plane). I could go on and on about some of these kids. No doubt I am just not operating a differentiated classroom, with finger paint in one corner, and Chaucer in another.

Then there's behaviour. The other day, I taught a class with a kid with Asperger Syndrome. He walked into the class late, having hit another kid in the face with a basketball during the break. Then, he threw the basketball at its bin, but instead hit a marching band drum, sending musical equipment everywhere. He then proceeded to open his pencil case on the floor. The final straw was when he would not stand up to do the beginning of class greeting with all of the other students. Yet five minutes after having been kicked out of my class, he was sent back again. Any lesson with him in it is a complete circus, which all the other kids love and encourage, of course (though they don't realise just how much he holds them back from learning). Maybe he has a genuine condition (I still wonder how much a good foot up the backside might help), but why the hell is he even in my class? It obviously doesn't work for him or the other students.

I'll take twenty students, even of below average general intelligence, who are on the same page than ten where one is a MENSA candidate and two can't even put the correct shoe on each foot and/or feel compelled to throw said shoes at others.

As far as I'm concerned these days, 90% of problems in education could be solved by: 1) streaming kids according to ability, 2) strong (and real) discipline. Since we can't actually say this though, we have to beat around the bush with a whole lot of other nonsense, including the whole debate over class sizes.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 18 Sep 2013, 11:29
by Mike
Caleb wrote:As far as I'm concerned these days, 90% of problems in education could be solved by: 1) streaming kids according to ability, 2) strong (and real) discipline. Since we can't actually say this though, we have to beat around the bush with a whole lot of other nonsense, including the whole debate over class sizes.

I know what you mean, but in my experience even with fairly level-ability classes you can achieve a lot more (not necessarily in terms of test results, but in a broader sense) with a class of 25 as opposed to 30.

"Teaching for the mixed-ability classroom" was all the rage while I was doing my Dip.Ed. Of course it was only a necessary skill once streaming became taboo, and it was too late to re-introduce it. Having said that, the education bureaucrats here in NSW have reintroduced a sort of streaming-by-stealth; they've basically allowed any comprehensive school to take on a "selective stream", and a great many of them have done just that, mainly to avoid being written off as another one of those hellhole comprehensives.

I always laugh when I hear one of these arch-PC education academics (usually called Gwyneth or Raewyn or Elspeth) maintaining shrilly that streaming "labels students as failures", happily ignoring the fact that streaming can in fact (a) ensure that kids aren't either perpetually confused/frustrated or perpetually bored, (b) allow for movement within the streams as the years go by, when ambition and hard work start to trump innate ability in some cases.

Re: An excellent education blog...

PostPosted: 20 Sep 2013, 01:05
by Caleb
Mike: Of course, I'd also take a smaller class given the opportunity, but I think there are much bigger fish to fry first.