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The Schools Our Children Deserve : Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and "Tougher Standards"
In this "lively, provocative and well-researched book" (Theodore Sizer), AlTe Kohn builds a powerful argument against the "back to basics" philosophy of teaching and simplistic demands to "raise the bar." Drawing on stories from real classrooms and extensive research, Kohn shows parents, educators, and others interested in the debate how schools can help students explore ideas rather than filling them with forgettable facts and preparing them for standardized tests.
Here at last is a book that challenges the two dominant forces in American education: an aggressive nostalgia for traditional teaching ("If it was bad enough for me, it's bad enough for my kids") and a heavy-handed push for Tougher Standards.
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 05, 2000
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Adobe DRM EPUB
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Excerpt from The Schools Our Children Deserve by Alfie Kohn
FORWARD ... INTO THE PAST Abigail is given plenty of worksheets to complete in class as well as a substantial amount of homework. She studies to get good grades, and her school is proud of its high standardized test scores. Outstanding students are publicly recognized by the use of honor rolls, awards assemblies, and bumper stickers. Abigail's teacher, a charismatic lecturer, is clearly in control of the class: students raise their hands and wait patiently to be recognized. The teacher prepares detailed lesson plans well ahead of time, uses the latest textbooks, and gives regular quizzes to make sure kids stay on track. What's wrong with this picture? Just about everything. The features of our children's classrooms that we find the most reassuring--largely because we recognize them from our own days in school--typically turn out to be those least likely to help students become effective and enthusiastic learners. That dilemma is at the heart of education reform--or at least at the heart of this book. On the relatively rare occasions when nontraditional kinds of instruction show up in classrooms, many of us become nervous if not openly hostile. "Hey, when I was in school the teacher was in front of the room, teaching us what we needed to know about addition and adverbs and atoms. We paid attention and studied hard if we knew what was good for us. And it worked!" Or did it? Never mind all those kids who gave up on school and came to think of themselves as stupid. The more interesting question is whether those of us who were successful students "achieved this success by memorizing an enormous number of words without necessarily understanding them or caring about them."' Is it possible that we are not really as well educated as we'd like to think? Might we have spent a good chunk of our childhoods doing stuff that was exactly as pointless as we suspected it was at the time? It's not easy to acknowledge these possibilities, which may help to explain the aggressive nostalgia that is loose in the land. Any number of people subscribe to the Listerine theory of education: the old ways may be distasteful, but they're effective. Doubtless, this belief is reassuring; unfortunately, it's also wrong. Traditional schooling turns out to be as unproductive as it is unappealing. Thus, we ought to be demanding non-traditional classrooms for our kids, and supporting teachers who know enough to reject the siren call of "back to basics." We ought to be asking why our children aren't spending more time thinking about ideas and playing a more active role in the process of learning. In such an environment, they're not only more likely to be engaged with what they're doing but also to do it better. Parents have rarely been invited to consider this point of view, which is why schools continue operating in pretty much the same way, using pretty much the same set of assumptions and practices, as the decades roll by. In this chapter, I'll try to explain what traditional schooling is, then make the case that it's still the dominant model in American education and explain why this is so. After that, I'll turn to a more recent, and closely related, phenomenon: the widespread call to raise "standards" that has come to dominate discussions about school reform. Once we understand more about the support for traditional teaching and for Tougher Standards-- arguably the two dominant forces in our educational system--we'll be ready to analyze them critically and explore alternatives that may make more sense for our children. Two Models of Schooling Let us begin by acknowledging that there are as many ways of teaching as there are teachers