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?


  1. As someone who is working on "interactive education," I think there's truth on both sides. It's hard to ignore the reality of today as it affects kids in the classroom -- and those "old days" of "teacher as seer" will not return. The trick remains, as it was 30-40 years ago, to somehow engage the mind -- the methodology may change, but the eventual goal has not.

  2. You took the words right out of my mouth, sister, that is why I left teaching: I felt like a walking entertainment company.

  3. Hi Yam, I took your suggestion to visit your blog - looks good. The two women in my life (sequentially, I am not a Mormon!) both kept their names and I'd say most married women I know have done the same.

    On the topic of your post - I don't know how school can sustain itself in this instant gratification age. Not only are teachers expected to be entertainers, they can't keep up with Google no matter how well informed they are on any topic.

    At one time, school was the only window out of a very small mental room. Books, and the worldly words of a teacher could kindle a child's imagination. Formal education was a ticket out of what could be intellectually stifling parochialism. Not only that - the pace of everything was slow and it was expected there might be a bit of boredom from time to time...but daydreams could be productive, too.

    Now, boredom is banished and constant stimulation the norm. I love to learn and find the Internet a gold mine but I also love to read and keep things at a slow pace - no multitasking, no iPod, no Blackberry for me.

    Some years ago I considered teaching, took some training and got to the point of student teaching. Then I realized it was an impossible task - I would never be able to be the kind of teacher that I would demand of myself.

    These are hardly words of encouragement. If someone were to ask me to suggest a design for school in this modern world, I'd be at a loss.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Clif. I've done lots of thinking about what my model school would be. It would include: 1) Starting Arabic in 3rd grade, and English in 5th, seguing into immersion; 2) Uniforms and rising when the teacher enters the classroom; 3) Addressing teachers by their surnames (which ideally are not their husbands' surnames! : ) )

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