Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Snake Oil

This video is from a recent professional development session for Chicago public school teachers, the district that was previously mismanaged by current US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

I had to watch it several times to understand what was happening. The only experience I have with repeat-after-me chanting like this is church and political protests. These are professionals, collage graduates, some of whom who have been teaching for decades. Can you imagine this sort of "training" happening with, say, lawyers? Doctors? Architects? Massage Therapists?

The difference between church and protests is that they rarely sound as droning and dour as these teachers, which is, I'm sure, how their students sound when subjected to this dull, degrading sort of experience. They seem either beaten down or to have battened down against the humiliation. It is the worst kind of rote "learning," of mindless repetition, the sort of thing that sucks the joy out of childhood, that makes education unnecessarily arduous and hollows it of thought, which is what ultimately stands at the core of genuine learning. What you see in this video is what is meant by the expression "drill and kill," because it effectively kills natural intellectual curiosity.

Oh, I understand that this clip isn't representative of the entirety of this particular professional development session, or at least I hope it isn't, because otherwise we're looking at a vignette from hell. But here's what I'm asking myself: in what world is this an appropriate way to educate a human being? Even if what we're watching here is merely an experiential "example" of this particular teaching technique, in what world is this considered a valid way to teach anything to anyone, adult or child? What we see here has about as much a connection to education as prostitution has with with romantic love.

When I see this, when I imagine children being taught in this most humiliating fashion, one that demands compliance and debases the essential humanity of children, I see red. It's as if we've replaced the Pledge of Allegiance (which at least has the dignity of being an avowal of unity) and prayer (which at least has the grace of being about connecting with a higher consciousness) with this obedience crap.

From what I understand, this is one of the core teaching techniques employed by many for-profit charter school chains. From what I understand, the person conducting this mandatory "professional development" session is a paid consultant, likely employed by an education corporation, established for the purpose of creating a profit from the labor of our children.

This is an affront to children and to anyone who understands that children are not merely incomplete adults or empty vessels or essentially evil beings in need of a firm hand. You don't think children know this is humiliating? Then you haven't spent time with children, which is literally the case with most of those who come up with this garbage. This is snake oil being sold by charlatans off the back of clapboard wagons. The only thing for which it is possibly good is to help kids pass a standardized test, trivia memorized through drilling, then forgotten the moment the bubbles are darkened. How much do you want to bet that the same people who created our standardized tests are are the ones getting paid for these "professional development" sessions?

There is nothing worth learning that can be best taught using this technique.

When I watch this video I do so in disbelief that it is happening anywhere, to anyone, for any reason.  The instinct of education is as strong as any we possess: it is driven by curiosity and joy, the stuff of childhood. To have it stamped down and perverted in this way is heartless: indeed, I detect a palpable hatred of children beating where a teacher's heart belongs.

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j. wilson said...

stunned. of all the absurd ideas...there's a zillion other ways I can think of to help "develop" an educator. none of which involve this classroom setting unless it is to drive home the absurdity of a modern classroom setting.

thank you for sharing, Teacher Tom!

KBeck said...

You asked "in what world would this style of teaching be appropriate" (or something like that); I can tell you.
I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga from 2009 through 2011. All education experiences are of the rote memorization type--like that demonstrated in the video clip.
Tonga is a "christian kingdom," ruled by a monarch, King Tupou 5th ,but, in actuality, the Kingdom is ruled by the church.
Their education system is based on the obedience model; all citizens are to be trained to obey the King and the church.
It hurt my heart to serve as an education volunteer in this setting.

Anonymous said...

This is chilling. I taught in early childhood education in settings both public and private for almost 40 years, and have never seen anything like this. ( I do remember chanting multiplication tables when I was in 3rd grade. ) If older (MS or HS) students were taught this way in my city, there would be a revolt.

BTW the video did not come through in the email, viewed either on iPhone or a PC.

Grace said...

This is EXACTLY the way my son is being taught in kindergarten. "What sound?" "a" "Yes, a. What sound?" "o" "Yes, o". Drill, drill, drill. Repeat what I just said. This is a perfectly sensible way to instruct teachers who will then use this method with young children. Oh, the teacher in my son's classroom is young and enthusiastic and puts as much "fun" into it as she can, but Tom, this is the NORM in public education. Yes, depressing.

Anonymous said...

As a former CPS teacher this doesn't surprise me even a little bit. In my first months of teaching I attended a PD session that was pretty comparable in content... and had the additional "treat" of being in a building which previously housed a school that had been shuttered for poor performance. Yes, a (for all intents and purposes) abandoned building. It was a ghost town - no running water, no TP, no food - and in the middle of ghetto where there wasn't anywhere else to go to meet human needs. They did have electricity by which to run the boring power point.

I didn't last long in CPS. Years later, my career took me in a direction where teacher training was a significant part of my job description and many of my "customers" were CPS schools. (I was in informal education - NOT a corporate trainer or reformer, for the record.)

My main goal as a trainer was always to create an environment of respect and professionalism. For the most part, I avoided leading trainings on CPS properties, choosing to bring CPS teachers to my (fun, engaging, professional, respectful) space instead.

Michaele Sommerville said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michaele Sommerville said...

And now you know why teachers dread "professional development days" the most.

Want to mutiny? Have fun with your teacher's evaluation throughout the year if you do.

It's crap, and it's RARE when an administrator looks at this and feels the same way.


Sarah said...

Goodness! I'm surprised those teachers are even responding. As an early years practitioner and student in the UK, I can say with certainty that any lecturer who tried to teach like that would be lucky to get even a mumble in response. They would probably be laughed out of the classroom actually.

Joel Zehring said...

In my teaching days, I was inspired by this talk from Sir Ken Robinson:

Seems like the antidote to what you've identified.