Teacher Professor

January 29, 2010

Fresh from 1956

Filed under: Uncategorized — Teacher Professor @ 6:19 pm

This just in: Educators should take advantage of the popular social-networking site Facebook as a free and timely forum for sharing ideas and improving education, writes Nancy Flanagan, a former teacher who is an education writer and consultant. If teachers can overlook the site’s tendency toward lightweight social content and administrators can work through filtering issues, the site could provide a user-friendly and highly collaborative tool for teachers, schools and professional associations, Flanagan writes. Education Week/Teacher in a Strange Land blog (1/28)

I’m continually surprised by the rate of change in the field of education. I saw a great presentation the other day that had clips from different TV shows:
1950’s Medicine: Dr. Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare- White guy-go it alone, do everything yourself- lots of drama
2000’s Medicine: ER, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy- Diverse group including women and racial differences,team work, shared expertise, and use of technology- and lots of cutting edge drama

1950’s Law: Ellery Queen, Perry Mason- white guy, generally rugged detective, solving crimes alone- lots of drama
2000’s Law: NCIS, Law and Order- diverse group including women and racial differences, team work, shared expertise- lots of cutting edge drama

1950’s Teacher- White woman up in front of the classroom- rows, chalkboards, the cool teachers sat on the teacher’s desk- no drama

2000’s Teacher- (You know it’s coming) White woman up in front of the classroom, often in rows, although some grouping now of children, white boards, the cool teacher still sit on the teacher’s desk and there is still no drama allowed, other than the panic over test scores.

I’ve just recently joined the 2000s myself as a blogger and a Facebook participant.  As someone graduating from high school in the 1980s, I am not a digital native.  But it strikes me that there are several things wrong with the scenario above.

1) Teachers are still predominantly female, white and middle class- teaching kids who are increasingly more and more diverse in terms of language, background and socio-economic levels.  We teach kids to act and think like America thought and acted in the 1950s.  The 1950s were a great time- if you were white, male, non-disabled, and privileged.   If you weren’t,  too bad for you.  And yet, school espouse “traditional values”.

2) Schools still often have the technology of the 1850’s- with a change from chalk to dry erase markers.  Heck, a recent article found that most teachers with “Smart Boards” that are wired to the Internet are really only using them as white boards or screens.  But more importantly, schools perceive technology as “toys” or “entertainment” rather than the cultural paradigm shift it is.  Facebook, blogs and information 24-7 allows us to be connected to other people at a moment’s notice.  And yet, schools are not teaching students how to evaluate information, or how to validate it, so the rampaging rapids that is technology (when does the IPad become available?) sweeps people along with other folks just like them- but not in the same place.  It is possible to read only news that is slanted to your political and nationalistic leanings, blog with people who share your beliefs and interests, and never encounter another frame of reference or analyze the arguments of another side.

3) What connects these two fears together is the fear of the “other”- the person different from what they are “supposed” to be- either in a classroom, or online.   Rather than focusing on the product that is a result of the PROCESS of thinking (ie- informed decisions), we focus on the PRODUCT exclusively (NCLB scores,anyone?) and don’t pay attention to the thinking.  There are some educational philosophers who suggest that the group with power doesn’t really want anyone to “think” or to question, because then the balance of power will be shifted.  Certainly, real thinkers do ask questions, and real questions are uncomfortable, and when kids ask real questions, they’re told “We don’t have time for that”, rather than exploring how to think through the issue.  Or,as a recent school said when they stopped teaching “The Diary of Anne Frank”- “It was a bummer of a book”.  We certainly don’t want children to be exposed to bummers in life, or how to deal when things are not quite ideal, do we?

Which means that while some schools and some teachers focus on thinking and inclusion and true celebration of differences that can only be found through understanding, others see their power, their former thinking threatened.  Heaven forbid that teachers from other parts of the country TALK together…

Which means, that for now, I blog and Facebook during “free” time, since if I were “caught”, people would think that I was “playing”.  And school is serious business…for 1956.

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