Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Welcome to the new classroom ברוכים הבאים לכיתה החדשה

I happened into a blog called The Unbearable Lightness of Teaching. This post is titled The Wiki Classroom, which headline alone gives me the creeps, as “Wiki” means “quick”, implying that the process of gaining knowledge should resemble that of making a cake from a mix. Moreover, I found flaws in the author’s argument, which appears to be that the classroom should suit itself to the pupil, and not vice versa. I’ll take it point by point:

“Broadcast learning of old was teacher-centered, molding to the teacher’s own flair and style. It was an inflexible, one-size-fits-all method that utilized individualistic learning.”

How can something be inflexible and individualistic? Isn’t that a contradiction?

“The teacher must follow an interactive model to grasp and hold the learners’ attention, and must present them with real-world applications and issues to which they must synthesize, analyze, and respond.”

This is the core of what concerns me. The above basically describes teacher-as-television: It used to be the student’s job to pay attention to the teacher; now it’s the teacher’s job to “grasp and hold the learners’ attention”. Why should this be? School is not meant to be fun. That’s not to say that it should be intentionally unpleasant; but a world where all knowledge must be Relevant Right Now is a scary one indeed for the likes of us who value the liberal arts.

“Nearly half of those who drop out of high school found school uninteresting or boring, and 70% of these felt unmotivated or found the material irrelevant.”

This is news? Wasn’t this always the case? You mean to tell me that 30 years ago, dropouts found school relevant and interesting, and felt motivated? So now we’re supposed to change the schools to fit…the dropouts?

“Teachers are no longer endless supplies of knowledge; [they can be] circumvented entirely by the Internet.”

Right, but only if one knows how to read, and how to use a computer for something besides Mortal Kombat. You’re saying dropouts drop out because they can now get all the knowledge they need from the Web? I'm trying to picture the dropouts spending their days at the computer, diligently logged onto distance courses in trig and world history...and the signal in my brain is all fuzzy.

What concerns me about this post is the assertion that “Teachers must be prepared to adapt to this generation so that the classroom becomes an extension of their lives.”

Disagree. The classroom should actually be a haven from the plugged-in, wired, constant stream of electronic noise coming at the pupils. It should be a place with decorum (remember that word?), where an atmosphere conducive to learning prevails.
If it starts to resemble MTV, how are the kids going to tell the difference between weekdays and weekends?

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's a male? מיהו זכר

This recent article עברית about a same-sex couple that was refused a family admission to two national park sites got me to thinking about the actual encounter between the family in the story and the employees who refused them admission. Aside from the obvious disgraceful, blatant discrimination involved, another, less explicit yet no less insidious phenomenon is at work here, namely our arrogant presumptions regarding “what is a man” and “what is a woman”.

In both cases, as far as we know (the article does not say that in either case they were required to show their ID cards, on which one’s gender is specified) the employee attempting to bar the couple from entrance based on their family membership clearly assumed both adults to be a particular sex (in this case male) based on what they saw, i.e., based on their assumptions about gender combined with the mens’ actual appearances. Supposing, though, that one of the men had no facial hair, wore his hair long, and wore typically feminine clothing or jewelry. Would the couple then have been admitted? I believe it is safe to presume so.

This puts me in mind of blacks “passing”, a phenomenon engaged in during the 20th century under circumstances wherein blacks were not allowed into certain establishments. The success of passing was entirely based on the assumptions whites held about “what a Negro looks like”, which did not include light complexions and / or Caucasian features.

What I conclude from both phenomena described herein is that both race and gender are nearly wholly socio-cultural (as opposed to biological) constructs: We see what we want to see, i.e., “we” in the case of passing being the members of the white majority; and “we” in the former case being “the vast majority of society that conforms in appearance to what it believes a girl / woman / boy / man ought to look like”. Just another illustration of why I can’t let go of my quixotic crusade to banish gender stereotypes from society. And in closing:

When her child was two, a friend took a parenting class. At the final session, my friend asked the facilatator (a family therapist) what serious problems brought more families to her office than any others. Without even pausing to think, the facilitator replied that with the exception of actual abuse, it was relatives (parents and grandparents specifically) who failed to love a child for who that child is, but instead constantly dinned into the child's ears what a disappointment s/he was.

Among the specific examples the therapist cited: the child who comes from three generations of doctors and lawyers, and wants a career in the arts; the child whose family is heavily into competitive athletics, yet has no interest in sports; and children who do not meet their parents' expectations for gender attire or behavior.
Parents and others who love children, take note...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Sloshing of the Levant הצפת הלוונט

There's only one statement with which I disagree in this excellent article[1] by David Elkan about our water situation (hint: It's bad):
השימוש במים כאן יעיל וחסכוני מאוד בהשוואה למדינות אחרות, הן מבחינה מערכתית והן ברמת השימוש האישי.
English: “Water use here is very efficient and economical compared to [that in] other countries, both system-wide and in terms of household use.”

Has Elkan ever seen a native-born Israeli wash her floor? I recall being dumbfounded when I first encountered this phenomenon in 1978. My roommate at Tel Aviv University announced that being Friday, it was time to wash the floor. She handed me a squeegee and proceeded to pour bucketsful of sudsy water throughout the apartment, instructing me to squeegee it out…out where? Out the door? Into the stairwell? And what about rinsing? I was raised with the foreign notion that soap needs to be rinsed off on order for the soaped-up object to actually be deemed clean. Apparently different rules apply here: Soap grunge accumulated in corners, around the edges of the rooms, and around furniture legs apparently "doesn't exist".

I, a newbie to the system, was confused. Isn't Israel an arid region? Aren't we supposed to conserve water? Then why are people behaving as if they live in Canada, or northern Europe? And don't the majority of Israelis live in multi-storey dwellings? So who invented this rule that you pour water like there's no tomorrow, then squeegee it outside?

This went beyond denial; there appeared to be a total disconnect between "the proper way to wash an Israeli floor" and reality. I theorize that the immigrants in the early days of the state, both European and Middle Eastern, somehow sought to prove to themselves that they were now in a modern country with all the amenities, i.e., if water came out of a tap, there must be plenty of it. It's the only explanation I have for this bizarre floor-washing obsession.

I observed more of the same in the kibbutz children's houses where I worked. On one occasion I was even reprimanded for leaving squeegee tracks on the just-washed floor. It was then that I resolved that if I were ever to be in charge in a children's house, I was going to wet-mop the floor. With plain water. No pouring, no squeegeeing, no soap grunge. I found validation for my resolution in Martha Meisel's householding column in the Jerusalem Post. Remember her? She actually interviewed the manufacturer of the ubiquitous terrazzo tiles that were standard flooring up until this century. She asked the manufacturer what the optimal product is for washing his tiles. The reply? "Water"[2]. Hah! I knew it! We don't need all those suds! Now I had facts to back up my "foreign notions".

My day finally arrived. I was working in the kindergarten and was instructed to wash the floor. I duly stacked up the chairs on the tables and tried to get as much furniture off the floor as possible. I then proceeded to sweep thoroughly, paying particular attention to the edges of the room. Then I wet a floor rag with plain water, hung it over a squeegee, and began to mop. The result looked fine to me. Gong! I was informed that what I was doing was not "washing the floor properly". Exasperated, I resolved that when I had my own house (not shared), I was going to clean its floor MY WAY.

Indeed, for 35 years, I've been sweeping thoroughly, then wet-mopping my floor with nothing but water, after which it dries instantly — clean. While there's no way I can prove it — I haven't done a comparative bacteria count — I raised three healthy kids in a home thus mopped, and the floor looks no less clean than any other. Why, then, are otherwise intelligent householders, in light of the looming drought tax and the Save Water Campaign, willing to dry up their yards and gardens, but they're still sloshing water onto their floors like sailors on a ship's deck? Does everyone else own stock in the Ritzpaz company? How does David Elkan call this profligate sloshing of water throughout our arid land "efficient and economical"?
Someone please enlighten me.

1 couldn’t find link to English version
2 I’m sure the same is true for ceramic tiles; both are a porous mixture of cement and marble.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Should Birthright Visit Hebron? האם מוצדק ביקור "תגלית" לחברון

What interests me most about the article headlined thusly is how the reporter skirts around the ideological aspect of the question, dealing solely with the (red herring of) the security aspect. This implies that the only considerations to be taken into account when planning the Birthright itinerary are those of security, as opposed to considerations of showing a balanced picture of Israel to visitors, say, or considerations of identification-by-omission with the settlers (whom, to be fair, the reporter described as some of the most militant).

Truth be told, I agree with Daniel Guttman: The Tomb of the Patriarchs is our roots, is our story, and it is legitimate to take Jewish visitors there. However, Guttman and associates conveniently left out the other side of the equation: He refrains from then asking, “Has this site become a locus of cult worship? Is keeping it in Jewish hands worth strife, bloodshed, keeping another people subjugated? Worth an entire generation living under occupation that breeds hatred? Is it worth being here at any price?”

What I wish the reporter had reported was the presumed ensuing dialog between the Birthrighters and Guttman. I hope I’m not naïve in assuming that at least one of the former — if not more — voiced the above-mentioned questions. Now a clip of that conversation would send me straight over to YouTube. If anyone reading this knows of such a clip, do let us know.