Friday, October 27, 2000

Sound Bites

I was reading an article "Plugged in? Class Computers don't guarantee students
do better"  (a synopsis of the more in depth article
Computers In The Classroom Boost Academic Achievement?
" by
a policy analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at the
Heritage Foundation,
a Washington based public policy research institute. Actually this article
was forced upon me by another of the "sound bite" generation that so often
prevails at attempts of open discussion. You know the type: "I heard it on
Oprah, Monty, Jerry, Dan Rather … therefore it must be true.

Not to belittle Mr. Johnson's attempt at a serious prevailing thought --
that is not my intent Mr. Johnson does a pretty good job of that himself.
My intent is to debug Mr. Johnson's attempt at "sound-bite" journalism. First
I do agree with Mr. Johnson's summation that "Equipping our classrooms with
computers is not the same thing as equipping our children to learn." But
this does not state that technology is bad or as he puts it "We think it
works but we're not sure." In Mr. Johnson's haste to put together a sound-bite
article reflecting the Right Wing Politics of "we spend too much in education"
he neglected to do the research that us teachers have to do everyday just
to justify our lesson plan of the day. Instead of quoting one source a Cindy
Bowman, an education professor at Florida State University perhaps Mr. Johnson
could have looked at the tomes of research put out by numerous professional
education journals (three of which come to mind.
SETP (Special Education
Technology Practice);
(the Journal of technology Education) and
TAM; (Technology and
Media Division of the Council for Exceptional Children) come to mind because
I subscribe to them.
TARGET="_blank">There are many others which a 60 second cursory search through
Yahoo produced.

What we forget in the sound-bite world is that computers are "viewed" as
the end all savior of our schools. This is one thing it definitely is not.
Technology enhances the education development of our students. And while
statistically parents education, home environment, socioeconomic status as
well as one's own preferences play a very powerful in the development of
our stud4ents' abilities -- what do we have left for those who do not benefit
from this sort of life? Technology in schools allows us to connect those
who would otherwise remain unconnected. It allows us to teach to those students
in a different realm a new media as it is. BUT we need educated teachers
teaching this new technology otherwise we end up with thousands of dollars
of ugly paperweights that we can play solitaire with.

Mr. Johnson also brings up a very good point about physical activity in the
school. How it fits in his article I do not understand since children are
either sitting at a desk or sitting at a computer. I agree with Mr. Johnson
and suggest that we put athletics back into the school curricula, that and
music and singing and recess. Yes, I advocate recess for everyone! Except
that recess must be about getting together with other people and playing.
Not sitting in a room drinking coffee and complaining about the world. Real
physical activity, like 4-square, or catch, (for us who need to begin with
less strenuous activities.) I think Mr. Johnson would agree with me there
since America tends to be the fattest and laziest nation of them all.

Again Mr. Johnson hits us with sound-bites. He does not realize that the
computer can be the teacher's assistant: a never tiring, always cheerful,
supportive tutor that can accompany the teacher's academic training. Will
the computer replace the teacher in the classroom?
believes so and honestly so do I. Academics are a step ladder
of experience and understanding. These things can be taught by a sophisticated
machine, albeit a machine which does not yet exist. Will these machines replace
teachers altogether? No, I think there will be a need for someone to organize
the machine's input and output and I also believe that the role of teachers
will hang to one of more behavioral instruction

But again I walk away from Mr. Johnson's article. Mr. Johnson also compares
apples to oranges which we as educators learned back in teaching 101. Yes
the benefits of technology are primarily observational but then so is the
education of our children. To apply a number to fit a statistical analysis
is trying to make orange juice with apples. Mr. Johnson is an educated man
and therefore realizes this -- yet the sound-bites that he utters compare
the national standardized tests as a method for demonstrating improvement
or non-improvement. These tests as most educators will tell you do not represent
nor reflect the knowledge attained by the participant. But it does give us
nice round numbers.

Finally I am left with the lasting image of many scholars and "educated men"
who descended upon modern technology as an abomination. Students would learn
less because there would be less memorization. Students would spend their
time on "play" instead of serious academics. The world was supposed to become
an illiterate mass of imbeciles because of this newest technology , a technology
which would take the education out of those learned institutions and assemblages
and place it into the untrusting hands of the individual, the masses as it
were: this uneducated rabble who would
their awareness"
, "choose" their path towards education.

Today we know this abomination of modern technology as the

Friday, October 20, 2000


"Psycho-babble": what a most unique term. In itself it defines the combination
of words describing the study of the mind or psychology as foolish or
meaningless. As teachers we are exposed to "psycho-babble" not only in its
daily use but often we fall victim to using "psycho-babble" when talking
to and about our children. These are the terms we represent ourselves with
to our peers, to our parents to our children. Meaningless words.

Without going into great detail here, (I will at any other time), suffice
it to say that I do not believe that "psychology" is a science. I have been
told that it is a "soft-science" yes, by those who feel the need to justify
this existence. Psychology was founded less than one hundred years ago and
yet the science of education has existed since the beginning of thought.
But where does the relevance fall? As laypeople around this country we tend
to put more authority onto the "psychologists" of this world instead of the
educators. Why is this? Medical and other research "professional" journals
have put forth the claim that 90% of what we "know" about the human brain
has been discovered in the last 5 years. And yet! We "treat" these brains
with a muddled sense of professionalism based upon psychological tenets which
were developed years before we fully understood how and why the brain works.
This is something akin to writing on a computer with a chisel and a mallet.
Fortunately we are only hammering the chisel into the minds of our students.

I bring this up because I am curious. As a Special Education teacher I have
to be licensed by the state, certified by the Department of Education and
educated by a certified teaching college. I am a teacher certified et al
to teach children with Emotional/Behavior and Learning Disorders. And yet
when we put together the information regarding how to teach and educate these
children people want to know what "psychology" is involved. And yet we have
therapists, and other para-professionals who will remove students from our
classrooms to pursue that concept for which we are licensed, certified, and
regulated to. Why?

Why is it we require teachers to be certified and stipulated in order to
teach Special Education students but then tell them to take a back seat to
a "therapist" with less education, less certification, and less regulation?
Now I know this could become an argument of higher education and I do not
mean it to be. I will not state that a two year degree is less than a four
year being less than a six year etc I believe that there exists many educated
people who never had a lick of the higher education whip. (This would also
include real world or life experiences.) What I am ranting about is the fact
that we negate the individuals who have become educational professionals
and then negate their worth.

The more immediate question is why do we negate the worth of our teachers?
Because they choose to work in a profession most people would not tolerate?
Because they work extensive hours dealing with behaviors not allowed the
work arena? Because they like working hard for little pay? Because they put
up with the training of our children because we are too busy "playing"? Come
on I've heard the arguments: "This is my life. I only have one chance of
it. I'm going to live my life before I dies." And yadda yadda yadda.

It seems that the faster this society moves the further separation exists
between parental responsibility and social responsibility. That leaves the
teacher to bear the brunt of it -- the responsibility that is.

Friday, October 13, 2000

The Time is ...

The time is … Today's date is October 13th. I just removed my September
desk calendar and updated everything for October. Why? I do not know since
I cannot find my calendar under the mess of my desk anyway. But what I do
find are these important scribbles on the right hand bottom corner: names
with a number or letter following; series of numbers; things that were important
when I wrote them as a reminder for myself. This week I was reading through
the local alternative newspaper
"The Shepherd
and of course read my horoscope. (My favorite thought on horoscopes
are put forth in one of Douglas Adams' books: it seems that these two men
had a falling out over some nonsense like women or whiskey or something to
that effect. One of the men steadfastly read his horoscope everyday. The
other found himself a position with a newspaper to write the horoscopes for
the paper the first read. Of course the first man did not know this, but
he read his horoscopes more eagerly because they were always full of doom
and didn't just seem to address him personally, the second man deliberately
addressed the first man by name.)

Mr. Adams wrote it better than I can recreate it. So the horoscope I read
is not exactly accurate and sometimes is really funny. This week however
it mentioned that I would no longer be in a quandary about unsolved mysteries.
Not because I had solved those mysteries but because I was no longer interested
in solving them. While the author may have been cheeky in the unsolved mysteries
part I did reflect on this concept. Yes, I was no longer troubled by some
of those things that were bugging me in the beginning of the year. NOT because
I had solved them but because they no longer mattered. In a round about way
this is comparing my life with that other adage of "Don't sweat the small

That brings me back to the calendar with my important scribblings which of
course are meaningless as we move on through time.

If moving through time can be viewed as meaningless then what are our roles
as educators? Is our role to teach important dates and facts and memorize
passages and figures? Or is it to teach the transference of knowledge? I
have on my desk a dog-eared photocopy of a paper by Jerome C. Harste of Indiana
University "To be literate, learners must be able to take what they know
and adapt it to their audience and situation". And this is where we are falling
flat on are backsides. We do not teach for transference. Instead we use a
"standardized test" and we teach the facts and figures which can then easily
and safely be tallied up as to whether they are right or wrong so that we
can supply a series of numbers which will eventually be scribbled in the
corner of someone's desk calendar.