We Need to Teach So that Kids Will Care

11/13/2011

Someone I respect says we shouldn’t teach kids stuff they don’t care about.

It sounds appealing. On some level this seems to make sense.

It is also patently absurd.

We have to teach kids things they don’t care about for all kinds of reasons.

The first reason is because we don’t have to teach them the things they do care about. They learn those things with or without us.

Dinosaur Exhibition Beijing

You know this if you have spent any time at all with boys between the ages of three and six and wondered how they know all they know about dinosaurs. You know this if you have ever talked to a teenager about their music.

We have to teach kids things they don’t care about so that they will care about things they don’t know about yet. Like genocides, or famines, or global warming.

Or how to use a chain saw.

Man using a chainsaw with all recommended safe...

I wish someone had taught me how to use a chainsaw. I didn’t care about it when I lived in Manhattan, it wasn’t important then. I could really use that knowledge now that I have a backyard with trees down in it.

As I see it, the question is not whether we should or should not teach kids things they don’t care about. The question is what it is that they don’t care about that we do need to teach them about.

This is not really something anyone I know can determine. I know I can’t.

I have problems just dividing knowledge into those things we academics call subjects. I have a very hard time figuring out where math ends and science begins, how people can think that what we call social studies doesn’t overlap them both and that it is all blanketed by English.

Kowledge is holisitc. It is all one giant fuzzy rapidly expanding blob with no beginning, no end, no edges at all. It cannot be created and cannot be destroyed; it can only be uncovered or revealed. And it is our job to reveal it, as much of it as we can.

I don’t think it matters much what order we teach things. Jerome Bruner says anything can be taught to anyone at any time. The only thing that changes is the level of complexity. He contends that anything can be, should be, retaught repeatedly at increasing levels of complexity.

I just know that it is absolutely essential that we teach kids one very, very important thing, something we all know but don’t focus on. We need them to know it and to focus on it, to make it the driving force in their life.

The other side of the globe.

We have to teach kids that the world has not always been the way it is now and it will not always be the way it is.

We have to teach them that they have the power to change the ways things are.

And we have to remember that so do we.

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The Dull Edge of Education

11/03/2011
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - JANUARY 5:  A screen shot ...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

New York City bans all student electronics from its schools.

No cell phones, no iPods, no Blackberries, no iPads.

Yes, the city that cannot provide enough working technology in classrooms to allow more than two students use computers at a time in most classrooms has decided to maintain its stand against students bringing their own technology to school.

According to our chancellor and his boss, the billionaire mayor, who really runs the schools, education is teacher-delivered and nothing should distract from that one-way flow of knowledge.

Isn’t odd that this city that likes to think of itself as being on the cutting edge of finance and fashion is so far behind the times when it comes to education? Isn’t it odd that the man who fancies himself the savior of education has such an old-fashioned view about how it happens?

Last night reporters for Schoolbook, the new collaboration between WNYC radio and the New York Times, confronted chancellor Walcott and asked him if he would consider changing the rule regarding student-owned technology. He said no.

When the reporters commented that some believe cell phones could be useful in education he reportedly replied, “And cellphones can also be not useful in class as well.”

And another door slams in the face of our students.

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