Thursday, September 25, 2014

Φ Is Still a Bad Middle-class Parent

Via Ed Realist, some videos on proper classroom management.

Ed writes:

Could Relay’s techniques be used to educate all teachers? Oh hell no. Relay’s techniques are designed for mid-ability, low income black and Hispanic children in elementary and middle school whose parents are desperate to remove them from schools that aren’t allowed to expel troublemakers. In return for a guarantee of expelled troublemakers, the parents sign up for all sorts of commitments and expectations that parents with any other choice would laugh at. And Relay’s methods won’t work without that anvil hanging over the kids’ heads. Or, as I said in my last post, white kids don’t do KIPP.

Regular teachers often find these exemplaries…..unconvincing. My terms range from “flatly incompetent” to “pretty damn creepy”.

I must yield to the expertise of others in assessing whether and under what circumstances the classroom management techniques demonstrated are scalable. My personal experience is that, Game Theorists and Dog Whisperers to the contrary, Alpha behavior is really hard to mimic successfully. But I am apparently alone among "White People" in watching these videos and saying: "Wow! Children behaving and following instructions! With no yelling!"

These videos contrast favorably with my own daughter's tales of public school classrooms, which often sound like they operate on the ragged edge of chaos. Though, I hasten to add, it is middle-class white people chaos. By which I mean that the chaos is usually more-or-less directed at the subject matter, and doesn't involve physical assault. Ed, I think, would call them "engaged learners". That may be true, but I'm not convinced that the trade-space between engagement on the one hand, and quiet civil behavior on the other, is quite what she alleges. And if she's wrong, then I pick quiet civility, even at the expense of having my daughters required to, for instance, rise from their desks at a four-count.

In this vein, Carol Burris writes:

I do not fault the teacher in the video for her style. She is performing as taught by a system that, in my opinion, better prepares students for the dutiful obedience of the military than for the intellectual challenges they will encounter in college. In schools taught by RGSE teachers, the Common Core State Standards will be, I fear, merely heavier rocks in the pail.

As I watched the video, I thought about the rich discussions, open-ended speculative questions, ample think time and supportive feeling tone that I find in the classrooms of the teachers at my school. I remember the same culture in the middle school where I taught. Both are diverse schools that serve students with little as well as students
with much. Suburban parents would be horrified by the magic finger wiggling and drill techniques used in the video clip. How sad that charter school students are treated as if, were they were given one second to think, the teacher would lose control. How horrifying that student grades and punishments are put on public display. The dignity of the learner comes in second to his or her compliance.

The snobbery here on display deserves a post on its own, but I want to focus on the dismissive remark about military service. The irony is that peacetime enlisted service is quite beyond the measured intellectual ability of, by my calculation, 73% of the American black population -- and that's assuming they actually graduate from high school. And getting elementary school students to come up with opinions about stuff doesn't actually make the discussion of those opinions "rich" in Socratic sense. I appreciate that charter schools sell themselves, dishonestly perhaps, as the gateway to college for poor minorities, but it doesn't change the fact that military service is, for many of them, an optimum outcome.

But even if I concede that my decided lack of middle-class horror at Relay's classroom management techniques is not representative of my community peers . . . so what? Who cares that these schools aren't "for" the middle class if the poor minority parents whose children attend the schools are happy with them? Yes, the threat of expulsion is held over them . . . so what? Yes, the discipline and family expectations are filters exerting positive selection effects . . . so what? Don't be so quick to discard what you see working before your eyes in favor of something that doesn't actually exist.


educationrealist said...

You misunderstand (although I agree about the military snobbery).

1. Many teachers dislike the methods.

2. Whether or not they dislike them, public school teachers can't enforce the methods. Charters can enforce them by virtue of expelling those who don't comply.

So you can't hold this up as an exemplar, because it can't work in public schools, which can't hold them to that sort of behavior.

And if you don't know the difference between "attentive" and "rigid", I'm not sure what to tell you. Suffice it to say those teachers couldn't function in public schools because public schools can't expel the disobedient. Anyone who understands that doesn't see good teaching, but controlled classrooms.

And for that matter, the content's pretty crappy.

Dexter said...

Ed Realist is fundamentally confused about "academic freedom". He thinks it applies to students - e.g., "Relay must guarantee its students academic freedom". It does not. There is no guarantee at all (and there should not be) that students will be allowed to learn only what they want to learn and in a manner they wish to learn it. And why would you allow students such "freedom"? They don't know what they need to know or why they need to know it.

Academic freedom principally applies to professors at research universities; it means they can choose what they want to research and not be punished for it.

To a lesser degree it allows teachers to choose what they want to teach and how they want to teach it.

Dr. Φ said...

Ed: Thanks for visiting.

I don't think we disagree about any facts. I concede that many teachers don't like the methods. I also concede that the threat of expulsion (or some other punishment sufficiently frightening) is an important component. And I appreciate that rigidly "at attention" is not the same as "attentive"; but at least the rigid student isn't interfering with the attentiveness of his classmates.

I have no knowledge of the content.

Dr. Φ said...

Dexter: I don't believe Ed has ever addressed "academic freedom" outside the context of teacher training.

Dexter said...

Doesn't matter. If the students are future teachers, they still should not have the "freedom" to determine how they are taught or what they are taught. No doubt the curriculum for them can be less rigid for them than for students who are future doctors or engineers but still they should shut up, take notes, and study the material.

heresolong said...

Ever notice that it's always "sad" or "horrifying" when people try to do something differently than how you wanted it done, even if your system if failing. I applaud anyone who tries something different and actually attracts parents who care. Our public education system has failed.

Dr. Φ said...

Carol Burris, who uses "horrifying" a couple of times in the section quoted, is remarkable in her lack of self-awareness.

But for all my complaints about the public schools, saying they have "failed" is painting with too broad a brush. Even "inner city" schools are generally doing as well as they can with their demographics, given the externally imposed constraints.

But yes, even as suboptimum as our system is, it's good that some students can escape.