If I Squint Really Hard, I Might See Your Argument - The Jose Vilson

If I Squint Really Hard, I Might See Your Argument

by Jose Vilson on April 22, 2008

in Jose

Fry Squinting

I love blog carnivals, because every time one comes up, not only do new and experienced people check out my rants, I also learn a lot from the plethora of posts (and the education carnival is growing by the month!) A month back, The Tempered Radical wrote an excellent piece about separating work behaviors from academics, and while I agreed, I also found myself thinking hard about the merits and demerits of this and other pillars of my classroom. I’m usually on the left in every issue that comes up with education, but sometimes I’ll veer somewhere near the middle, a frightening thought for someone who engages in protests and anarchist revelry every so often.

For example, let’s take TTR’s argument. He states,

We feel it’s important that the number grades you see represent academic ability only because then you as parents are given an accurate indicator of their knowledge and skill in each content area.  When grades are inflated because a child “works hard” or deflated because a child “misbehaves” or “fails to turn in assignments,” then parents never truly have a clear picture of what their children actually know.

That being said, we also understand that work behaviors—-coming to school prepared, completing homework assignments on time, following directions, being motivated and excited, participating in classroom conversations—are absolutely essential to a student’s success.  In fact, in many ways, a student’s work behaviors is a more accurate indicator of how successful they will be in the future.

I agree to a certain extent. A fellow teacher of mine made a poignant statement about 2 students we used to teach when she said, “Student A will definitely make it because, in spite of his inability to focus now, his mother and father are on his case, and that’ll turn into him being responsible. Student B on the other hand, intelligent as he is, prefers lazy and doesn’t have anyone at home really checking up on him, so there’s a higher chance that he won’t do well.” Deep but true.

But it brings me to thinking about how best to incorporate TTR’s argument into the numerical grade. Unfortunately, if parents aren’t responding to the work behavior rubrics as they should, then we need to shift the grading policy so it accurately describes everything going on in the classroom. That’s why I’m somewhere in the middle on that.

While I’m at it, I also see a plethora of blogs (including this one) discussing high stakes testing, and frankly, I’m not that much on the fence about the issue. To the contrary, I think the way high stakes testing has affected NYC (and many other cities) schools has been detrimental to everyone but the people who get to manipulate the statistics for their own political gain instead of actually treating the problem. Of course, we also see an influx of third-party members dictating how kids will be tested despite the state standards being written out in clear form.

What seems to be missing from all this discussion, though, is the need for true national standards, and a real national test. No matter what anyone says, one of the big reasons why this country doesn’t have it all together is because states and districts get to dictate what their community needs mathematically rather than a national agenda for what certain students should know by certain grades. I agree that not all 6th graders are made alike, but we have to give a 6th grader a common ground from one state to the next, particularly because for students whose parents are constantly on the move.

But these ideas and others, which I’ll develop in part 2 on Thursday, are theorems and really have been up for discussion possibly since the beginning of education, but I do find myself agreeing with parts of a lot of solid arguments, often contradictory, but usually in line with my thinking at that point and time. If I squint really hard though, I start to see that some of our arguments can really take its own shape, and hopefully if everyone kinda squints, we can focus on our goal: teaching the kids.

jose, who can’t believe he’s publishing this late …

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Amauri T. April 23, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Interesting topic. I can see merit to both approaches, but I’d tend to side with you. the general trend in society is to split things down into silos. that’s good for making specialists, but maybe not so good for making well rounded people. Coincidentally I cam across this article today:

http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/5015/

It’s about the move to teach ‘thinking skills’ separately, and often devoid of, actual knowledge. Seems related to this topic, and in that case the author comes down against silos as well.

Reply

Bill Ferriter April 23, 2008 at 5:28 pm

Jose wrote:
What seems to be missing from all this discussion, though, is the need for true national standards, and a real national test. No matter what anyone says, one of the big reasons why this country doesn’t have it all together is because states and districts get to dictate what their community needs mathematically rather than a national agenda for what certain students should know by certain grades.

Hey Jose,

First, glad I stumbled onto your blog today. I hadn’t read it before, but John Holland pointed me in your direction and I’m glad he did. Looking forward to following your thinking for awhile.

Second, I couldn’t agree with you more that national standards are needed. It’s actually a bit hard for me to believe that we haven’t moved in this direction earlier. I guess the whole “central government is bad because the King of England wouldn’t let us practice our own religion” thing still hasn’t rubbed off yet.

Standardization of curriculum seems like a no-brainer in a nation where people are just as likely to move three times before their 18th birthday as they are to grow up in the same neighborhood as Eddie Haskell and June Clever for their whole lives.

The trick is to make the standards specific enough to be meaningful but broad enough to allow local communities to put emphasis on topics/subjects that they feel particularly passionate about. If a community believes that arts education is important, a national curriculum should allow room for the arts to be emphasized too.

I think that means a set of national standards needs to be narrowly focused on only the most essential outcomes. My problem with every curriculum that I’ve ever seen is that it buries teachers in a crush of supposedly important standards and outcomes, leaving no room for flexibility, creativity or inventiveness.

If we could pull off a national curriculum focused on a limited and reasonable number of essential outcomes, I’d be in for sure.

Anyway….Looking forward to push back on this one…Half the people I know breathe fire when I argue in favor of national standards.

Rock on,
Bill

Reply

Socrates April 26, 2008 at 2:33 pm

You’re definitely on the money about the need for national standards and a national test (though that alone, as you correctly imply, would not be enough). The reason we don’t have national standards is that, broadly speaking, the Democrats (or the unions that run them) don’t like standards, and Republicans don’t like the federal government. Hence, NCLB’s biggest flaw: state tests that vary so widely that the kids in, say, Mississippi still get left behind because their test is so easy.

Reply

Katrice July 27, 2013 at 9:36 am

I’m curious to find out what blog platform you are utilizing? I’m having
some minor security issues with my latest blog and I’d like to find something more risk-free. Do you have any suggestions?

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: