Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Musings on Unconditional Surrender

"I am afraid we are getting close to it being too late. Because you can’t change the school system in the short term, we might be just beginning to pay the price for the neglect of the last twenty years.” – Steve Jobs

Sobering, but oh so painfully true. Changing the school system is a long, tedious process that too often pits two extremes against one another with little attempt at compromise. Schools of education, have in their majority, espoused an extremist view of constructivism. Meanwhile, proponents of direct instruction have been the minority voice for the past two decades. On the one hand you have a classical education and on the other a discovery learning model. It’s either one or the other—no compromise, no negotiation, and no resolution in sight.

Is it not possible that we can take the best of both schools of thought and create something even greater? Is a philosophy of unconditional surrender really helping our children or has it just come down to a matter of being right? Aren’t we wise enough to open our minds to the possibility that perhaps the other side is right about some things? That perhaps someone else has a good point about a particular concept and that does not necessarily discredit our own models? That perhaps, there are areas of weakness that can be overcome in some other way?Can we not find synergy and innovation in which the sum is greater than its parts?

In an ideal world we would be enlightened enough to put aside these differences and find the common ground which is certain to exist if we sincerely have our children’s interests and the future success of our nation at heart.

I’m afraid that if we don’t do something today, if we don’t start listening to each other, coming up with convincing research that makes sense and is free of financial or personal agendas, we are most certainly doomed to another twenty years of neglect. That would be a tragic misfortune, for our children and theirs as well.

The chasm between mathematicians and
educators must be bridged if our children are to be better served. ... I look forward to a future where mathematics education is the joint effort of mathematicians and educators." -- H. Wu

"How mathematicians can contribute to K-12 mathematics education", February 26, 2006


Dickey45 said...

Good question. I find that the two are as polar opposites as they can get (methodology/dogma/pedagogy). Constructivists concentrate on how initial concepts are learned - they are not directly taught but discovered. Direct Instruction (DI) people directly teach. It seems to me that the DI method is more amenable to an "eclectic method" in that you can directly teach a concept then go ahead and let the students play with it, expand, discover other uses, generalize, conceptualize to something else, make a project that involves the concept, or talk about it/write a paper in a group.

Just typing out loud.

Catherine Johnson said...

I agree. Direct instruction can encompass discovery approaches; witness Saxon Math.

I don't think "true" constructivism can encompass serious & focused direct instruction -- serious & focused meaning the teacher values efficiency of teaching and learning.

At least, I haven't seen it.

I've read quite a bit of constructivist writings at this point. I've never seen a reference to the fact that childhood is short & there's a lot to be learned in that very short period of time.

The core theory of constructivism, moreover, is not compatible with cognitive science.

So... I have no interest in compromising with a pedagogy that is based on a false understanding of how people learn -- especially not now that we're experiencing constructivism at the middle grades level.

The teaching load constructivist assignments place on parents is very heavy.

And getting heavier.

concernedCTparent said...

The load as a parent is burdensome as is confronting unwavering constructivist ideology day in and day out without becoming disheartened.

It's burdensome for our kids too. Having to undo what was not done properly the first time, having to learn or relearn after you've already been in school for over six hours. And as for time, you're so right, childhood is oh, so brief.

Direct instruction is so much more effective than constructivism. It actually results in time to go outside and discover the world before the day ends.

Those are the precious opportunities lost. Those rare gifts of life where something concrete a child has learned is later applied on his or her own terms, in the real world, and not under the artificial pretense of 'discovery learning'.

So yes, for me an ideal world would consist of direct instruction first and foremost, so that there might be time for those natural collaborations, interactions and true discoveries that can only develop as a result of solid understanding.