Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Four

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 4

Aesthetics and the Nature of Assessment

There are no facts, only interpretations. Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche couldn’t have known just how true his aphorism would eventually be in relation to assessing the teaching and learning process as many children at the end of the 19th century didn’t complete much schooling, perhaps only elementary school.  Standardized tests for assessing what the student supposedly knows wouldn’t be invented for another few decades.  From the advent of standardized testing the promoters of standardized tests have claimed the mantle of objectivity that the tests are a scientific method for assessing what a student has learned.  This claim of scientific objectivity–supposed facts about what a student has learned has since been thoroughly debunked by Noel Wilson and standardized testing is rightly seen by some for the less than objective or scientific “interpretation” of student learning that it is.

In assessing (interpreting?) student work, the assessor necessarily starts with some assumptions, notions of perspective from which he/she bases his/her work.  Some claim an objective frame, others a more subjective view.  Part of each frame or notion is “what is the nature of quality?” and “how do we identify it?”, in other words the aesthetics of assessing.  Aesthetics is the proper term as quality is a subset of beauty and the judging a work of art or of student work is properly viewed as an artistic expression and not a scientific one.  What are some different frameworks in which we aesthetically judge the work of students?

Wilson, in his seminal 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”, identifies four “frames of reference” each with distinct assumptions or epistemological bases about the assessment process from which the “assessor” views the interactions of the teaching and learning process: the Judge–think college professor who “knows” the students capabilities and grades them accordingly, the General Frame–think standardized testing that claims to have a “scientific” basis, the Specific Frame–think of learning by objective like computer based learning, getting a correct answer before moving on to the next screen, and the Responsive Frame–think of an apprenticeship in a trade or a medical residency program where the learner interacts with the “teacher” with constant feedback. Each category has its own sources of error and more error in the process is caused when the assessor confuses and conflates the categories.

The Judge frame obviously is in the subjective camp although its proponents will tell you that they are objective.  Most of us view the world through the Judge frame in our day in and day out interactions with the world where seeing is believing and damned be those who suggest that perhaps our perceptions are other than we think.  Those in the Judge frame of mind know and identify beauty, grace, buffoonery, ugly, smart people or idiots and all those other daily descriptors we use—no need for Wittgensteinian word games or post-modern relativities.  If you can’t plainly see what is there well then you’re just an ignoramus.

The General frame’s high priests, the psychometricians, would like you to believe that the General frame is in the objective scientific camp.  It’s not!  With their numbers and statistics, their correlation coefficients and item response theory, their validity and reliability pronouncements, and the supposedly standardization of the testing process, they loudly proclaim their scientificity credentials.  They’re mistaken!  The bulwarks of the General frame, of the psychometric world—educational standards and standardized testing–have rationo-logically been blown to bits, intellectually nuked by Noel Wilson in his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”.  It is a testimony to his brilliant expose that the psychometric community has never refuted nor rebutted the study, attempting to bury it in the dustbin of history by not referring to it at all.

The proponents, growing every day in the competency based education (CBE) and the computerized so called individualized instruction movement of the Specific frame, also claim to have an objective means of assessing student work.  They conveniently forget that the decisions about curriculum, what counts as objectives and activities and/or cut-off points for “competency” or passing a course or year of study are all very subjective in origin.  If nothing else in public education one can count on old malpractices to be recycled into new ones such as programmed learning or outcome based education (OBE) from the 60s, 70s and 80s morphing into computerized competency based education being heavily promoted, usually by those who have a major financial stake in products developed, to accomplish such malpractices.  Those older malpractices were abandoned because they didn’t work and made the teaching and learning process into a dry, dead monotony of worksheets and trivia.

All is not so gloom and doom, though, when it comes to assessing student learning as Wilson offers us a frame in which honesty and fidelity to truth obtain—the Responsive frame.  The proponents of the Responsive frame freely and proudly admit that it is subjective.  The interaction between the teacher and the student and his/her parents is such that the expectation is for the student to more fully understand where he/she is in relation to learning the subject matter at hand.  Some will note that the responsive frame is not as efficient as a grade or simple mark may be.  But in the long run it serves the teaching and learning process far better than any of the more supposedly efficient other three frames.  Discursive give and take between the student and teacher, student portfolios, student performances assessed by both the teacher and student, and many other evaluative activities are valued for the fullness of assessment and student awareness of that assessing in contrast to the stilted assessment of the other frames.

Which frame then embodies the concept of “fidelity to truth”?

The Judge frame is obviously subjective in its practitioners’ proclamations of student learning assessment.  And that fact is fine, except that it is never explicitly stated.  In American public education the Judge frame dominates in the grading of students, even though most teachers will deny that fact for they have the percentages of points assigned to student work to prove that what they are doing is indeed objective.  It’s not!  The usage of percentage of points earned, almost always converted to a simplistic letter grade, is not measuring student work, i.e., objective, but subjective in all aspects from choosing curriculum to devising assessment devices and the number of points used.  So by not explicitly stating up front the subjective nature of the Judge frame “fidelity to truth” is not obtained.

In contrast, the praticioners using General and Specific frames claim to be objective with their psychometric machinations and computer determined learning patterns.  But the subjective nature of these frames is hidden behind psychometric jargon and behind the subjective human decisions that determine the course of instruction and grading parameters in either standards and standardized testing or computer and any programmed learning.  The testing bible  itself suggests this supposed objectivity “As in all scientific endeavors. . . .” in talking of validity issues.  By obscuring the subjective nature of those malpractices the proponents of the General and Specific frames deceive the users and the general public.  Where is “fidelity to truth” in that?

Which leaves us with the Responsive frame.  The only frame in which the purely subjective nature of the teaching and learning process and of assessing student learning is acknowledged and used to further the student’s awareness of his/her being.  And explicitly acknowledging that subjective nature, by working in the Responsive frame, allows educators to claim a “fidelity to truth” attitude, outlook and viewpoint.

Anything less than completely encompassing “fidelity to truth” in our assessment practices, which the Judge, General and Specific frames cannot do, can only cause many harms to the students resulting in injustices being foisted upon the students.  And those harms and injustices, by definition, contradict and contravene the fundamental purpose of public education “to promote the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry” leaving us with the only right and just framework for evaluating student learning—the Responsive frame.


  1.  For an interesting history of standardized testing see:  “The Big Test:  The Secret History of the American Meritocracy” by Nicolas Lemann.
  2.  See his “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”
  3.  As defined by oxforddictionaries.com:  Aesthetics (n) “A set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.”
  4.  Scientificity is a pseudo-scientific approach and/or having the appearance of scientific thought.
  5.  Not a peep of a response to Wilson’s critiques of standards and standardized testing is found in the latest version of the testing bible “Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.”  How’s that saying go?  The silence is deafening!
  6.  See footnote #3 of the introduction.
  7.  A more complete discussion of the lack of “fidelity to truth” of some of the practices, of validity and invalidity issues, of educational standards and standardized testing used in supposed measuring of student learning is to be found in Chapters 6

 

 

Advertisements

Education Readings July 28th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Clay in school

‘Primary-school children find clay a wonderfully tactile medium to tell their stories.

The manipulation of clay has a universal fascination for children. When given a tennis-ball sized piece of clay they immediately poke, squeeze, stretch, and roll it into a variety of forms. They add or pull out legs, arms, wings, and horns.  With pinched out lips, noses, scales, buttons and attached pellet eyes, hair and spikes, their clay models possess a directness and dynamism that only this process can provide.’

http://bit.ly/2tL4DFM

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

‘New research suggests that children as young as 3 already are beginning to recognize and follow important rules and patterns governing how letters in the English language fit together to make words.’

http://bit.ly/2tLfoYK

11 brutal truths about creativity that no one wants to talk about

‘Sorry to break it to you, but while creativity is awesome and important, it’s not the be-all and end-all.

If you’re going to do your best creative work — and isn’t that what we all want? — then it’s time to accept these 11 brutal truths about creativity.’

http://bit.ly/2uyYtr4

What Students Remember Most About Teachers

‘And as I looked at you, wearing all that worry and under all that strain, I said it’s about being there for your kids. Because at the end of the day, most students won’t remember what amazing lesson plans you’ve created. They won’t remember how organized your bulletin boards are. How straight and neat are the desk rows.

No, they’ll not remember that amazing decor you’ve designed.’

http://edut.to/2uyUScM

Standards: Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a Fresh Approach

Yong Zhao:

‘Furthermore, he believes that serving the best interest of all students requires a very different approach that starts with a paradigm shift in how we view education. Attempts to standardize individual student outcomes are an unhelpful, if not downright harmful, way to promote the development of human beings, he says. Instead, “we need to start with the individual child, instead of what others think [that child] should become.”’

http://bit.ly/2tEBvvL

So…What Exactly Should Curriculum Planning Look Like – for 2017/18? (Part 01)

Wisdom from Tony Gurr (read to the very end before you explode…).

‘I know, I know…most of us are still on holiday…but I am sure there are a few of us out there that are (already) experiencing anxiety about some of the tasks we have to complete when we get back to the factory floor. Especially, if a new textbook was selected just before the semester ended…

Do NOT worry…I am here to help you get over that anxiety and give you the PERFECT curriculum planning tool – shiriously!’

http://bit.ly/2uZfBav

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

How this small country school is turning a profit from the land

‘When a small Northland school was faced with the problem of what to do with their too-large grounds, a bunch of enterprising students came up with their own international award-winning solutions and everyone is now reaping the benefits.’

http://bit.ly/2v66bKX

A Stressed System – We Need To Act Now

‘We are existing in a stressed system.  Children are stressed and show this through behaviour, reluctance to try, opting out.  Teachers are stressed and find it difficult to keep up with what is going on and all of the expectations placed on them and Principals are stressed, spending more and more time on compliance and less time supporting the children, parents and teachers in their school.  I know that a system under stress while it can continue to function, gradually shows signs of this stress, and we are seeing these signs throughout our schools on a daily basis.’

http://bit.ly/2vZ1EpU

Students’ test scores tell us more about the community they live in than what they know

‘Research shows that the outcomes of standardized tests don’t reflect the quality of instruction, as they’re intended to. The results show that it’s possible to predict the percentages of students who will score proficient or above on some standardized tests. We can do this just by looking at some of the important characteristics of the community, rather than factors related to the schools themselves, like student-teacher ratios or teacher quality.’

http://bit.ly/2eMtt1H

Ofsted says non-stop testing is bad for kids. Too late, mate

‘The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, has just declared that “a good inspection outcome will follow” only if schools are providing “a broad and rich curriculum”, and not just creating “exam scribes”. Excuse me while I scream and cram myself into the fridge to stop my blood boiling, because Ofsted is rather late off the mark with this idea. About 30 years too late.’

http://bit.ly/2v6xnt5

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Why schools don’t educate.

Notes taken from John Taylor Gatto’s acceptance speech as New York Teacher of the Year 1990

‘Compulsory schooling is an invention of the state and in the early days in the US school attendance was resisted and children learnt to read at home – today home schooling is on the increase and these students are testing higher than their schoolmates.Gatto doesn’t believe we will get rid of schools anytime soon but that if we’re going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance we need to realize what school do well even if it does not ‘educate’. He believes that it is impossible for education and schooling to be the same thing.’

http://bit.ly/2bWvrc6

The killing of creativity by the technocrats.

‘Somehow, just because Hattie has amalgamated every piece of ‘school effectiveness’ research available ( mainly it seems from the USA) his findings, it seems, ought to be taken for read. The opposite ought to be the case – we need to be very wary of such so called ‘meta research.’. More worrying however is that the approaches he is peddling is pushing into the background the home grown innovative creative learning centred philosophy that was once an important element in many classrooms. Overseas experts always seem to know best – or those that return with their carpet bag full of snake oil.’

http://bit.ly/WeTrMo

Education for the student’s future or for our past?

‘A small country like New Zealand has a a great chance to develop a creative education system if it had the wit, the imagination and the intelligence to do so at the top. But to do this it would need to get rid of the constraints that currently diminish such a possibility. By tapping into ideas from such countries as Finland, by listening to creative teachers and schools , by inviting real educationists to visit , and most of all by having a real conversation with all communities about what they want for all their children, it could be done. There is plenty of wisdom to be tapped and it sure is not limited to those who skulk around the corridors of power.’

http://bit.ly/2uvCyRX

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Three

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 3

Justice Concerns and Educational Malpractices

‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historically in Western thought justice along with fortitude, prudence and temperance has been considered one of the four cardinal virtues. Comte-Sponville considers it the only cardinal virtue “that is an absolute good in itself.” The other virtues can be considered good only in certain contexts; for where is the prudence in being so cautious as to not venture forth in the world for fear of calamity, in being courageous (fortitude) in a cause that is evil such as a suicide bomber who kills innocent people, or in temperance in being so ascetic with satisfying bodily desires–eating, drinking, making love so as to deny ourselves those simple pleasures?

The two components or types of justice are: justice as agreement and compliance with the law and justice as equity and fairness. I concur only with justice being a “good in itself” when it is concerned with fairness and equity (a difficult state to determine) but not when the justice of what we are dealing with is the law and the law is itself unjust in fairness and equity. Aristotle said “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” For ancient Greeks like Aristotle and Socrates whatever the law dictated was what was just, so much so that Socrates refused help to escape his sentence to death for impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens. He believed that fulfilling the social contract, the law of the time in carrying out the death sentence was the only course of justice. Was justice really served by his legal execution, even if self-inflicted? I leave the answer to others as it is beyond the scope of this book to delve into all the justice concerns involved with Socrates death.

Ideally laws would satisfy and ensure equity and fairness concerns obtain. But it doesn’t take much to realize that many laws are not just in equity and fairness concerns. Mankind, as noble as Aristotle may have wished, can indeed be less than noble than animals in the application of laws. But we humans do judge, especially in regards to issues of educational practices.

Aristotle also said “The just, then is the lawful and fair, the unjust the unlawful and unfair.” True justice therefore consists of laws, rules, policies and practices that promote the most equity and highest degree of fairness. Aristotle’s definition serves well as a starting point in analyzing, and in judging whether an educational practice is just with the caveat that, as Comte-Sponville notes, “morality and justice come before legality, at least where the essentials are concerned. . . . And what is essential? Freedom for all, the dignity of the individual and the rights of others.”

Combining our justice concerns with the fundamental purposes of education as described above we can establish a guiding principle with which to judge educational practices and outcomes: An educational policy and/or practice is just when it promotes the welfare of the individual so that each person may savor the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the fruits of their own industry.

Furthermore we must keep in mind as Comte-Sponville notes that “justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number.” For example educational practices such as grading, the testing and selection criterion for entry to “magnet schools” or select public schools, or standardized tests like the ACT when mandated as compulsory by the state and whose results are used by post-secondary institutions to sort and separate and therefore reward and punish students either through selection or denial of admittance should be rejected as being unjust due to the inherent discriminatory nature of those practices even if they are valuable for efficiency in selection for various institutions.

Continuing with Comte-Sponville’s thoughts in his chapter on justice: “without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy. . . without justice, values would be nothing more than interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.” In other words there can be no promoting of the welfare of, the well-being of the student as outlined in our fundamental purpose of public education without the entirety of justice being considered. Without justice considerations public education quickly devolves into a “what’s best for me” scenario in a Spencerian atmosphere of dog eat dog rule of the jungle.

Although both types of justice, as law and as equity and fairness are important in this study of educational malpractices it is the latter that are more applicable and important. The blind and uncompromising application of the law, of educational directives of federal, state or local origin can be viewed as a corruption of justice. Aristotle states that “the equitable is just” while also stating that equitable justice is “but a correction of legal justice.” Or as Comte-Sponville makes clear “Let us say that equity, which is not different from justice but a form of it, is applied justice, living justice, concrete justice—true justice. . . Justice does not make just people, people make justice.”

So where does that leave us when educational practices are found to be conceptually error filled resulting in invalid outcomes that by definition are unjust, that end up discriminating against many students? Lamentably, the vast majority of educators choose expediency-legal justice over justice as equity and slough off justice as equity concerns. A brave few though have challenged the unjust malpractices of the status quo usually paying a heavy price in personal health, welfare in family and professional life. Those brave souls have followed a perhaps not well known American tradition, that of civil disobedience. Let us finish up our discussion of justice with the words of an American author and philosopher who knew well the deprivations (time spent in prison) of civil disobedience:

“The mass of men [and women] serves the state [education powers that be] thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailors, constables, posse comitatus, [bureaucrats, administrators and teachers], etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt.”– Henry David Thoreau [my additions]

And one last thought from Mahatma Gandhi “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” Mahatma Gandhi.


For a complete discussion of Justice see Comte-Sponville’s “A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues” Chapter 6 Justice.

Education Readings July 21st

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Ivan Snook: Assessing teachers – a plea for caution

‘In recent discussion of teaching in New Zealand it has been assumed that the achievement of students and schools can be directly attributed to the work of teachers. In its most naïve form, the claim is made that “good teachers” (that is those whose students achieve good grades) should be singled out (and somehow rewarded) and those who do not should be identified (and somehow punished). The report points out how wrong-headed this proposal is since it takes no account of the nature of the students or the progress they may make over a period of time.’

http://bit.ly/2tEFI1Z

Lifelong teachers require slow-burn training

‘New modern learning environments, increasing diversity and the ever-changing world of technology demand new skills and knowledge from teachers. How should we prepare teachers in times like these?

Well that depends on the teachers we want.’

http://bit.ly/2tEQLrL

Learning vs Education

‘Life is always teaching us things, whether we notice it or not. It teaches us lessons by giving us experiences. We cannot not learn at all. For the education system, this is when the school system programs your mind by indoctrinating you with often, false ideas and beliefs, while the average person denies or even defends this.’

http://bit.ly/2uAVI9i

How to Design a School That Prioritizes Kindness and Caring

‘Abri Weissman, a senior who heads up the Making Character Count Committee, has seen a ripple effect of kindness spreading through the school, especially during the second semester. Without prompting, friends have told her stories about sweet gestures coming from classmates, none of which originated in her committee. She sees students from different grades opening up to each other, and being friendlier—a result, she believes, of the mix-it-up exercises. The morning music and enthusiastic greetings have had a positive effect, she added.’

http://bit.ly/2tgWZ1S

Brain-training games ‘do not boost cognition’

Debunking of yet another fad…

‘The past decade has seen a rise in popularity of brain-training games that claim to improve a range of mental skills. However, a recent study that measured brain activity, decision-making, and cognitive ability found that playing commercial brain games offered no benefits above those of playing online video games.’

http://bit.ly/2uB74uf

Factors Contributing to School Success by Disadvantaged Students

‘A new US study contributes to this by examining disadvantaged students’ own perceptions of what it takes to succeed at school. It found that strong peer relationships, caring supportive teachers, family and community support, and strong motivations all contribute significantly to school success by disadvantaged students.’

http://bit.ly/2gLL7mH

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Policies root of school failures

‘New Zealand’s education system is failing due to poor policy-making decisions based on skimpy scientific analysis, some of the country’s leading education experts say. A new report released by the Education Policy Response Group slams the Treasury’s agenda for education, saying it is fundamentally flawed.’

http://bit.ly/2u8EG1z

Difference Between Knowing and Understanding

‘Finding the difference between knowing and understanding can be difficult. It is hard to find a distinction between the two because they are both abstract processes of the mind and the brain. Being able to know their differences can lead us to a better awareness of ourselves, who we are, and what we want.’

http://bit.ly/2tExpTU

Educational doping: how our school system encourages fake achievement

Think of a place where doping is both prevalent and systemic in a public institution and you’re probably thinking sports in Russia or East Germany, right? I’m going to argue that such doping occurs right here in New Zealand – in our education system. I don’t, of course, mean that schools are secretly feeding students speed before exams.  Rather, it’s what happens when learners are helped to achieve assessment results that exceed their actual levels of capability.’

http://bit.ly/2toevoS

Digital Technologies and Research

‘While the potential of technology to support teaching and learning is well established, an understanding of how to integrate technology in ways that are pedagogically sound and enriching for both young people and educators is less certain.’

http://bit.ly/2u6BVfr

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Henry Pluckrose – creative educator

“‘Henry Pluckrose, who has just died at the age of 79, was one of the most inspiring teachers of his generation. He believed that children have intellectual, emotional and aesthetic capacities that few adults realise and too few schools exploit’. From Guardian Newspaper obituary. As a teacher ‘his classroom resembled an artist’s studio, buzzing with activity and creative energy. Arts in the broadest sense formed the basis of his curriculum; not just art and craft, but also drama, music , poetry and dance. He gave particular emphasis to direct personal experience, taking children to museums, art galleries, churches, historic buildings, woods, fields and parks.’”

http://bit.ly/17FbdHV

At last – a book by an inspirational teacher.

“’Welcome to the Aquarium’ is a compelling personal account of teaching full of wise advice on how to set up and maintain an effective and caring classroom. I can’t think of any recent book which talks about teaching through the eyes of a teacher. It is wonderful change from the dry academic books on education that are more commonly available; books that develop their ‘wisdom’ from a safe academic distance.”

http://bit.ly/2uHem00

Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractices in American Public Education: Chapter Two

By Duane Swacker

About Duane

Chapter 2

Fidelity to Truth in Educational Discourse

‘We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because the lie is more comfortable.’  Solzhenitzyn

In his book “Truth: A Guide” Simon Blackburn, editor of the “Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy,” concisely states that truth is “the control of belief by fact.”  Seems quite simple!  But in his book Blackburn outlines the many battles fought over what truth is over the course of at least the last two millennia by many philosophers, thinkers and writers.  Almost all the well-known names of the Western canon—Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hume, Descartes, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein to name just a few, can be sorted into differing alethiological camps.  Anyone who has studied the subject soon understands that determining a final answer to the question “What is truth” more likely than not realizes that it is quite difficult to firmly answer (not counting those of a faith belief tradition who claim to have “The Truth”) and that perhaps the best way to address the subject is to just leave it alone (a minimalist position).

But just leaving truth alone is not feasible for a study such as this.  Far too many believe that they have truth, however they determine it, on their side. At the same time many mistake expediency for truth.  What happens when it is shown that their truths are actually falsehoods and their conclusions are invalid and that the results of their false beliefs and practices are unjust and harm the most innocent of society, the children?

Yes, truth matters!

Realizing that all truths are contextual not only in time, space and experience this study is limited to examining the veracity of claims of truth and validity (for how can something be truthful if it is not valid?) for the fundamental positions upon which educational practices of today are based.  The educational practices examined—grading, educational standards and standardized testing–in this study are found overall to be riddled with error therefore lacking in validity and truth.

The flip side of truth is error.  Truth implies that something is without error.  How does the concept of error play into the discussion of truth?  Noel Wilson elaborates: “Error is predicated on a notion of perfection; to allocate error is to imply what is without error; to know error it is necessary to determine what is true. And what is true is determined by what we define as true, theoretically by the assumptions of our epistemology, practically by the events and non-events, the discourses and silences, the world of surfaces and their interactions and interpretations; in short, the practices that permeate the field. . . Error is the uncertainty dimension of the statement; error is the band within which chaos reigns, in which anything can happen. Error comprises all of those eventful circumstances which make the assessment statement less than perfectly precise, the measure less than perfectly accurate, the rank order less than perfectly stable, the standard and its measurement less than absolute, and the communication of its truth less than impeccable.”  In other words all the logical errors involved in the aforementioned educational practices render any conclusions invalid.

Now, let’s delve into Comte-Sponville’s concept of “fidelity to truth.”  What is meant by fidelity to truth, that of being faithful/true to truth?  Preliminarily and primarily, Comte-Sponville states “All fidelity is—whether to a value or to a person—is fidelity to love and through love.”  Since he considers love to be the greatest and hardest to achieve virtue that statement rightly precedes all his other thoughts on the subject.  We can follow that up with the consideration that fidelity is the “will to remember” truthfully and that fidelity “resists forgetfulness, changing fashions and interests, the charms of the moment, the seductions of power.”  Fidelity to truth means “refusing to change one’s ideas in the absence of strong, valid reasons, and. . . it means holding as true. . . ideas whose truth has clearly and solidly established.”  At the same time fidelity to truth means rejecting discourse that has been shown to have errors, falsehoods and invalidities.  However, “Being faithful to one’s thoughts more than to truth would mean being unfaithful to thought and condemning oneself to sophistry.”  To be unfaithful to truth, to be in error, then is to reject that which makes honest communications, policies and practices cogent and a human good, a virtue.

The characteristics of truth in public educational discourse can be understood as encompassing fidelity to truth in the following:

  • Speech and/or writing accurately describes policies, practices and outcomes (discourse).
  • Using the correct/intended meaning of a word in light of the context.
  • Discourse serves to enlighten and not obscure meaning.
  • Discourse is free of contradictions, error and falsehoods.
  • The “control of belief by fact” (S. Blackburn).
  • Discourse is based in skeptical rationo-logical thought processes in which a “scientific attitude” holds sway.
  • Discourse based on/in faith conventions is eschewed and rejected outright due to separation of church and state constitutional concerns.
  • Discourse of expediency based on the rationalizations of “Everyone is doing this”, “It is dictated by the State Department of Education” or “NCLB mandates that we have to do this” is firmly and rightly rejected.

In rejecting expediency over truth as a guide to or rationale of instituting practices that are based on fundamental errors and falsehoods resulting in invalid conclusions that many times harm students, we should keep in mind Hanna Arendt’s concept of the “banality of evil.” She concluded that the Holocaust did not occur because of the monstrosity, the evil of the people involved but by the small everyday functioning of ordinary people, perhaps at best not knowing of or at worst of turning a willing blind eye to the results of their daily task along with the daily work of others that compounded into the atrocities of the Holocaust.  The vast majority of “Good Germans”, including Eichmann, believed that they were just following orders as they had been brought up (educated) to do.  Eichmann even believed that he was “saving” as many Jews as he could by instituting certain procedures.

Now, I am not suggesting that some of our current public education laws, policies and practices are the equivalent of the Holocaust.  What I am pointing out is that in order for everyday banal evils to occur, as with some public education practices that cause harm to innocents and that do not allow for students to enjoy their constitutional mandated benefits and rights in utilizing public education, are made possible by teachers, administrators, boards of education, state departments of education, the federal department of education, etc., many have to and have put expediency over truth.  And in putting expediency, especially expediency of self-interest, over truth we regrettably allow unjust practices to flourish and cause untold harm and psychological violence to be perpetrated against the students who have little means to refute and reject such malpractices.

As Comte-Sponville puts it:  “Should we therefore forgo our self-interest? Of course not. But it [self-interest] must be subordinate to justice, not the other way around. . . . To take advantage of a child’s naivete . . . in order to extract from them something [test scores, personal information] that is contrary to their interests, or intentions, without their knowledge [or consent of parents] or through coercion [state mandated testing], is always and everywhere unjust even if in some places and under certain circumstances it is not illegal. . . . Justice is superior to and more valuable than well-being or efficiency; it cannot be sacrificed to them, not even for the happiness of the greatest number [quoting Rawls]. To what could justice legitimately be sacrificed, since without justice there would be no legitimacy or illegitimacy? And in the name of what, since without justice even humanity, happiness and love could have no absolute value? . . .  Without justice, values would be nothing more than (self) interests or motives; they would cease to be values or would become values without worth.”  [my additions]

And in speaking of justice one must consider its various meanings and aspects and how it plays out in examining educational malpractices.  Which I shall begin in the following chapter. 

Education Readings July 14th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

Teachers Don’t Want All This Useless Data

‘One of the most frustrating things I’ve ever been forced to do as a teacher is to ignore my students and concentrate instead on the data.’

http://bit.ly/2u7mXZl

Is teacher burnout contagious?

‘Burnout among young teachers appears to be contagious, indicates a new study. It found a significant link between burnout among early-career teachers and exposure to both a school-wide culture of burnout and burnout among the young teachers’ closest circle of colleagues.’

http://bit.ly/2uPihF1

Making Cyberschool Creepier

Looking forward to the ‘digital curriculum’? Maybe you should read this.

‘Do you think that cyber-education is just kind of creepy, with students sitting alone in the glow of a computer screen, navigating hundreds of little standardized quizlets and activities, their every keystroke and answer compiled in an undying data file that will follow those students around forever. Do you find it hard to imagine how it could be worse? Well, a company called LCA Learning has found a way.’

http://bit.ly/2tHkT9h

Reading With Your Children: Proper Books Vs Tablets

‘Increasing screen use is a reality, but does it contribute to a loss of interest in reading, and does reading from a screen provide the same experience as the feel of reading on paper?

We looked at this in our research on shared reading. This has been a neglected topic even though it is clearly a common context for children when they read at home. It might be their regular homework reading of a book from school, or a parent reading them a favourite bedtime story.’

http://bit.ly/2ufWdp5

Being Busy Is Killing Our Ability to Think Creatively

This article is targeted at adults but is easily adapted to the classroom situation.

‘Little good comes from being distracted yet we seem incapable of focusing our attention. Among many qualities that suffer, recent research shows creativity takes a hit when you’re constantly busy. Being able to switch between focus and daydreaming is an important skill that’s reduced by insufferable business.’ 

http://bit.ly/2tcPDvk

Some unpopular thoughts on teacher evaluation

‘I’ve been working on teacher evaluation for most of my career as a teacher, administrator, and teacher educator; first being evaluated, then doing the evaluation as an assistant principal and subject area coordinator, then helping design a state-wide beginning teacher evaluation initiative. After nearly 40 years in education, all I can say is that the current system is the worst I’ve ever seen.’

http://bit.ly/2uaV0Qd

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Here’s Einstein’s Advice to His Son on How to Accelerate Learning

‘Geniuses might be distinguished by their ability to grasp incredible complexity, but that doesn’t mean if you somehow managed to corner one the greatest minds in history for a chat you’d be perplexed by what they had to say. According to Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, the true hallmark of genius is the ability to explain things simply.’

http://bit.ly/2t2zzRw

Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation

‘Teachers are increasingly being asked to embrace new ideas and styles of teaching, but schools don’t always give their educators time or the mental space to absorb and apply those concepts. That’s why the idea of “unlearning” was worth exploring for Beaver Country Day School, a private 6-12 school in Massachusetts, which serves as something of a lab for unlearning in practice.’

http://bit.ly/2ugAbDr

No classrooms, lessons or homework: New Zealand school where children are free to roam

‘Deep among the streams and Kauri trees of rural south Auckland, New Zealand’s newest and most alternative school is in session. The weather is fine so a bout of fishing is in order, followed by lunch cooked on an open fire. Homework and classes? Indefinitely dismissed.“We are called a school but we look nothing like any school out there,” says Joey Moncarz, co-founder and head teacher at Deep Green Bush School, which is in term two of its inaugural year.“We don’t do things like telling kids it is time to write or learn maths. When they are interested in doing it, they do it.”’

http://bit.ly/2t2haoe

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Messages about education.

What messages are students getting from their schooling?

‘I have been reading an article on the web about the pressures being placed on young children and their teachers in the United States to achieve expectations set by standardized tests. In the process teachers have had to narrow their curriculum to ensure their school does well when results are published.  Another article described a young student who has been held back twice and now is three years older than her classmates because she obviously hadn’t passed appropriate tests. This is what happens when politicians impose simplistic solutions to complex problems.What ‘messages’ about learning, and American culture, are being given by such an education?’

http://bit.ly/1KWBtml

On Knowing – Jerome Bruner 

“The themes Jerome Bruner covers in his book concern the process of knowing, how knowing is shaped and how it in turn gives form to language science, literature and art. The symbolism of the left hand is that of the dreamer – the right that of the practical doer.The areas of hunches and intuition, Bruner writes, has been all too often overwhelmed by an ‘imposed fetish of objectivity’…’The lock step of learning theory in this country has been broken, though it is still the standard village dance’. Today we still have those ( usually politicians) who wish to test for learning ignoring, according to Bruner, that ‘it is difficult to catch and record, no less understand, the swift flight of man’s mind operating at its best.’”

http://bit.ly/Vn6Str

Fundamentals in education 

‘If we are concerned with the education the full potential of all students then how we ‘see’ the mind, how we imagine we learn, is important. We are, hopefully, well past the ‘blank slate’ or the ‘filling the jug’ metaphors, long the basis of traditional ‘one size fits all’ schooling.’

http://bit.ly/13b5vRO

Education Readings July 7th

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allanalach@inspire.net.nz

What’s Going on Inside the Brain Of A Curious Child?

Thanks to Michael Fawcett for this one.

‘Blackwell, like many others teachers, understands that when kids are curious, they’re much more likely to stay engaged. But why? What, exactly, is curiosity and how does it work? A study published in the October issue of the journal Neuron, suggests that the brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.’

http://bit.ly/2trl1YV

8 Ways The Internet Has Changed Learning A Language

Thanks to John Hawthorne.

‘It’s no secret that the internet has changed everything, from shopping to friendship to entertainment to music. The internet is also revolutionizing the process of learning a new language. It’s opening many options that never existed twenty years ago.

This isn’t to say that it’s less challenging to understand and speak a foreign language, but the process has changed dramatically.’

http://bit.ly/2sIlFUD

Learners Should Be Developing Their Own Essential Questions

‘Although essential questions are powerful advance organizers and curriculum drivers, the problem is that the essential questions are typically developed by the educator not the learners.  The educator may find these questions interesting and engaging, but that does not insure that students will find them as such.’

http://bit.ly/2uMmU1G

The Diminishing Role of Art in Children’s Lives

‘But according to new research conducted in the Netherlands by the Dutch school inspectorate, the amount of time children spend drawing by hand both in and out of school has been reduced over the last 20 years; the study also found that their artwork has declined significantly in quality and complexity since a similar study was conducted two decades ago.’

http://theatln.tc/2sO9QHR

The danger of students doing what they’re told

‘The more teachers continue to issue instructions to learners about what to do and how to do it, the more we develop completely the wrong mindsets and dispositions for the world in 2025. The world is now exponential and schools need exponential change to happen now. There is no longer time for the traditional analog and linear systems that school use when planning for change. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee! it’s time for school administrators to reconsider how planning and decisions are made and acknowledge that within the new context, the industrial education model is now damaging our children’s future opportunities.’

http://bit.ly/2tOgUrM

Summer Break: The Least Understood And Most Maligned Aspect Of A Teacher’s Life

‘Imagine just two normal people – they seem nice enough – standing in line having a friendly conversation. It’s hot outside, so you might hear the usual topics discussed: the weather, the best place to buy ice cream, which public pool has the best prices – that an oh I don’t know, how easy teachers have it with their summers off.’

http://bit.ly/2sOAFeU

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Shifting Needs in a Digital World

‘With a shifting world, comes shifting needs. And along with shifting needs comes a shifting role that schools must take on in order to best prepare students moving forward. We must revisit the graphic above to explore and best support students with their changing needs in our digital world.’

http://bit.ly/2s3Qejh

Why ‘Personalized Learning’ Can Feel So Impersonal

‘Personalized learning, in its broadest application, suggests tailoring instruction to meet the needs, strengths and interests of each learner. Great teachers already do that everyday—with or without technology. It should be a goal both broad and laudable enough to unite teachers and technologists, parents and policymakers.Yet there is clearly a gap between how educators and entrepreneurs perceive “personalized learning” and many other technology-infused terms in education.’

http://bit.ly/2uM6Ay4

Does Zuck Want To Be The Next Gates with Personalized Learning

‘Pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg are gearing up to invest hundreds of millions of dollars a year in a new vision of “whole-child personalized learning,” with the aim of dramatically expanding the scope and scale of efforts to provide every student with a customized education. The power couple’s Big Initiative has announced its intent to “support the development of software that might help teachers better recognize and respond to each student’s academic needs—while also supporting a holistic approach to nurturing children’s social, emotional, and physical development.” So, slap the child in front of a screen, but somehow have the child turn out physically and emotionally well-rounded.’

http://bit.ly/2tj6sIj

Liberal Arts in the Data Age

‘From Silicon Valley to the Pentagon, people are beginning to realize that to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges, we need to think critically about their human context—something humanities graduates happen to be well trained to do. Call it the revenge of the film, history, and philosophy nerds.’

http://bit.ly/2tKtXLp

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Developing a democratic curriculum.

Developing democratic schools – James Beane

‘Relating back to the ideas of John Dewey  James Beane  believes that if people are to live democratic lives they must have the opportunity to learn what that way of life means. His ideas are based on the ability of students to participate in their own education. Democratic schools share a child centred approach but their larger goal is to change the undemocratic conditions of school themselves and in turn to reach out to the wider community.’

http://bit.ly/1JglCA9

On Knowing – Jerome Bruner

“The themes Jerome Bruner covers in his book concern the process of knowing, how knowing is shaped and how it in turn gives form to language science, literature and art. The symbolism of the left hand is that of the dreamer – the right that of the practical doer.The areas of hunches and intuition, Bruner writes, has been all too often overwhelmed by an ‘imposed fetish of objectivity’…’The lock step of learning theory in this country has been broken, though it is still the standard village dance’. Today we still have those ( usually politicians) who wish to test for learning ignoring, according to Bruner, that ‘it is difficult to catch and record, no less understand, the swift flight of man’s mind operating at its best.’”

http://bit.ly/Vn6Str