Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school teacher (remember the hormonally-challenged?) living in Southern California. He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I guess I believe more in fostering intellectual growth than in dispensing the random flotsam of content standards. Part of the difficulty encountered in secondary education is our compartmentalized approach to acquiring information. It is no wonder that so many of our students do not make connections from one course to another or from one domain to another or that many of those same students cannot make even an extension from one concept to another within the same course.
For some time now I have been thinking about a concept to which I have given the name intuitive education, or education-by-intuition if you prefer. By this I mean to indicate that much of what is to be valued in education, and from those who are to be valued for their manner of imparting knowledge, is not necessarily supportable by quantifiable data nor is it necessarily amenable to normal research methodologies.
If we take the premise that Howard Gardner, Thomas Armstrong, and others are correct and that there are multiple paths to learning that which is valued by society, then it is a supportable corollary that there must be multiple roadmaps to those destinations of learning and guidance may be provided by some very disparate mapmakers and gatekeepers who provide access.
If a given percentage, something above the fiftieth percentile, of a student population is best instructed using some specific and delineated technique, that merely reflects that a given majority or majority-plus is most amenable to that particular teaching technique. It does not follow as a matter of course that any, or all, other techniques are of lesser benefit, but merely that they may be of benefit to a lesser percentage of the student population.
Those very students who did not learn successfully through the majority technique may, in fact, learn best or even only through someminority technique. If a teacher insists on delivering instruction only by means of a technique shown to be successful to the dominant population of students, then that teacher colludes in excluding the remaining minority percentage of students from the knowledge base being transmitted. To rely only or exclusively on teaching methodologies which are shown to be the most effective for the widest audience may be statistically viable in theory, but it is humanistic arrogance in practice.
I fear for those students, exposed as they are, year after year, to the most well-intentioned and data-driven teachers who have succumbed to the pressures of instruction designed and delivered on the premise of “the most for the best to attain the highest.” By such criteria the less will always be condemned to receive the least, confirmed by their remaining the lowest.
What I am arguing for is the overt recognition of the multiplicity of nuanced decisions of delivery made moment to moment by the professional classroom educator. Not all students learn or can learn from any one specific teacher nor can any one teacher be successful in delivering material across all domains of learning. This is one of the most compelling arguments for diversifying instruction and instructors, as found at the secondary level - of the flawed yet focused teacher striving to make a difference. If there should be “no child left behind,” a lofty but perhaps ultimately unattainable goal, there should at least be no child overlooked nor teaching strategy too easily slighted.
What, if anything, is logical about the methods and manner of teaching currently employed in public education? Little is left to the daily imaginations of the recipients and virtually nothing is allowed as an aberration to the expected norms of the transmitters. Teachers and taught, both comprise the captive audience on a symbiotic merry-go-round. Only those who are spun off by the centrifugal force of behavioral values outside the acceptable range seem placed in such positions to adequately assess the effectiveness of what is actually learned.
Obviously, I continue to question the adequacy of our current school environment and standards. What strikes me most unacceptably is the demand for formulaic regimentation. Such teaching is self-inflicted perversity.