Friday, November 11, 2011

Stories from my Friend Bernie #1.

“Ain’t Nothin’ New Under The Sun”

Many of the reformers and educrats speak and act as if education and its problems are brand new, as if they have never existed before now. The fact of the matter is,”Ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.” As long as I’ve been teaching, students have cut classes, failed tests, not done homework and dropped out of school. These things didn’t just start now. As long as there have been schools, these problems have existed. The solutions to these problems are not new. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented. All we need to do is to use and apply the solutions that already exist, that have been tested and tried, and in those cases where the older problems don’t work, you can create newer solutions. Take the problem of bullying for example. This is a major problem today, but its solution already exists in a simple thought which has been around for thousands of years. It’s called “The Golden Rule.” I sincerely doubt that anyone likes to be bullied- including bullies. Given this point, it would seem logical that if one doesn’t like being bullied and if one treats others the way he/she wants to be treated, and then no one would bully anyone. This also applies to the shootings that take place in so many of our communities. I am sure that none of the shooters would appreciate or want to be shot; therefore, if those people treated others the way they’d want to be treated, there’d be no shootings. After all, aren’t tolerance and cultural diversity based on or related to The Golden Rule as well? Think about it. Can you have intolerance if people are treating others the same way they want to be treated? Can diversity not exist if people are treating other people with the same respect they want/expect form others? The words and the terms are new world, 20th and 21st century, but the ideas that address them are old school old world. I like to tell my students that there is nothing new under the sun. After all, new ideas don’t just spring up out of nowhere. New ideas are instigated and inspired by ideas that already existed. Someone may add a new twist to it or build on it, but even a “brand new” idea isn’t completely brand new.
To prove this idea, look at the rules listed below. Which, if any of these rules would you say would be valuable or vital in the 21st century?
• The love of learning
• The pursuit of knowledge
• The ability to think for 20 oneself (individualism)
• The ability to stand alone against the crowd (courage)
• The ability to work persistently at a difficult task until it is finished (industriousness, self-discipline)
• The ability to think through the consequences of one’s actions on others (respect for others)
• The ability to consider the consequences of one’s actions on one’s well-being (self-respect)
• The recognition of higher ends than self-interest (honor)
• The ability to comport oneself appropriately in all situations (dignity)
• The recognition that civilized society requires certain kinds of behavior by individuals and groups (good manners, civility)
• The willingness to ask questions when puzzled (curiosity)
• The readiness to dream about other worlds, other ways of doing things (imagination)
• The ability to believe that one can improve one’s life and the lives of others (optimism)
• The ability to believe in principles larger than one’s own self-interest (idealism)
• The ability to speak well and write grammatically, using standard English
I’m just guessing that you picked all of them, and if you did, that’s funny because these rules which you picked as vital for the 21st century, were actually the rules in a schoolroom in the 19th! Not only does this “experiment” prove there is nothing new under the sun, it proves the elements needed to enjoy success today are the same rules that were needed 150 years ago, and probably long before that, that what was true then, is true today, because truth never changes.
Today so much emphasis is placed on technology when people speak about education: Smart boards, calculators, laptops- these and many more things are indispensable if students are to succeed academically. The problem with this is that technology changes almost daily. When they made the wheel, that was technology. Today, technology is the iPhone and the iPad, and the computers that can fit in the palm of your hands, (when at one time a computer would take up a whole room). Unlike truth, technology never remains the same, it always changes- it has to- that’s why I tell students not to depend on it.
Today educrats and reformers argue that students must have access to technology if they are going to succeed. Truth be told, not only do many of them have access to it, they are experts at it. IPhones, twitter, Facebook, iPads, texting- trust me, they are experts. Believe me, they know how these things work. They get technology! Here’s the problem. Their use of technology isn’t academically based. They are using it, they are experts at it, but their use of it has little or nothing to do with anything they are learning in school. This means that in and of itself, technology will not change anything. Only if its use is directed to facilitate or to complement learning can technology have any positive impact on education.
The simple fact is that no matter what the technology is or how it changes, the basic things, the truths are still the same. Students still have to be willing to acquire knowledge, have a love of learning, consider the consequences of their actions, recognize higher ends than their own self interest, comport themselves appropriately and ask questions when they are puzzled. Schools still must do what schools were created to do which is to provide access to education and knowledge, and to afford students the opportunity to obtain the education and the life they are willing to work to achieve, not do what parents and society are responsible to do, they must still offer their students challenging and competitive subjects and courses of study in order for them to successfully compete in the world in which they live.
For most of the problems that exist in education today, the answers are already available. You do not need visible signs of “impact” demonstrated on the classroom walls, or proficiency ratings of 80% for the whole class, or multi-paginated, multi-tiered evaluations and assessments. All you need are the solutions that have been tested and tried since the beginning of time, and the will to put them into practice, even though they are not as sexy or as exciting as the “new” technologies and ideas.

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