I started writing a response…

February 28, 2007 at 1:54 pm 2 comments

…to a comment I received about one of my posts yesterday, and it turned into so much information that I decided it would be more appropriate to just create a new post and provide my responses to some of the comments made.  I hope I manage to explain my views in a way that doesn’t offend, because that’s not my intent.  Anyway, enjoy!

The fact is that what you love is not always going to correspond with what they love.

Please know that I do understand that students will not always enjoy the things that I do.  In fact, I would say 80% of the things that I find enjoyable, my students roll their eyes at.  Believe me, I get it! 🙂

What if they love the French Revolution?

Then by all means, they should learn about it!  I am happy to provide them with all the resources they need.  (But please also allow me to extend a challenge: Show me a student who loves the French Revolution….)

You may not feel studying history is relevant…

If I felt that way, I would not have taken so many college history courses, nor would I actually be teaching it.  My problem is this: while history is very relevant to me, I am not sure that all of it is relevant to my students.  I am planning to write a post (or, more likely, link to a colleague’s) about the new television show, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader.  I figure, if a man who got his degree in history doesn’t know random historical facts, it’s probably because he isn’t using them day-to-day like I am.  To me, not using them implies not needing to know them.  As such, these facts are essentially trivia.  Fifth graders know them because they’re learning them in elementary school; but how many of those facts will they still know once they’ve graduated from college?  Instead of cramming trivia into my students’ heads, I’d rather them learn how to find the information they need in a timely manner, as well as how to correctly gauge the validity of sources.  I believe that students will be better prepared for the workforce they’re going to enter if they know how to do these things than if they are able to spout off hundreds of pieces of information with no real day-to-day application to their careers.  I’m not saying it’s bad to know about the French Revolution; I am simply asking, “How many of us use that information on a day-to-day basis?”  If we don’t use it regularly, then perhaps we should reconsider it the next time we sit down to write curriculum.

…but it’s one of my favorite subjects and inspires me to continuing learning on a daily basis.

Me too.  But the thing I have to remember is that just because it inspires me to continue learning doesn’t mean the same is true of my students – as was also pointed out in the original response to my post (see the first comment above).  Some of them get that feeling from science.  Some of them get it from math.  At my school, most of them get it from their specialty course – we require all of our students to focus on a specific career “specialty” area; these include medical/dental, legal, hospitality/entrepreneurship, education, visual arts, and advanced technology.  My point is that whatever it is that inspires a student to learn, that’s what they should be learning about.  With project-based lessons (as teachers in my school try to do), a student is allowed to go in-depth with whatever interests them and then present that information to the entire class.

I want teachers to show my kids the spectrum so they can find out what motivates them.

I would like to see a shift away from teachers being the source of all knowledge to student-directed learning, where the student is in charge of what they learn and how they learn it.  I have some students who are really into military history.  Others would rather focus on the social implications of war.  By having each student study the topic they’re interested in, every student stays engaged.  Having students present their findings to the class at the conclusion of a unit gives each student the opportunity to showcase his or her expertise in a particular area AND has the added effect of exposing the rest of the class to viewpoints they may not have previously considered.  With new viewpoints come new interests and, it follows, new sources of inspiration for continued learning.  When students are interested, they learn.  Far too many of our students today aren’t even interested because the information we’re forcing them to take in doesn’t apply to them.

If you are approaching history as just a set of facts…

The thing is, there’s a Big, Bad Test standing between my students and their futures.  I have a state that requires me to do more with less every year, and an education system that has never met an educational standard it didn’t like.  The school year is staying the same length, but the amount of history I have to get through increases by one year…well, every year, so now I have less time to spend on any one topic.  I’m working with a student population that is about 80% minority, a large majority of whom don’t speak English at home.  Throw in the fact that more than 70% live below the poverty line, and you get this: many, many, many students who just want to get out of high school so that they can get a job – any job – and help take care of their families.  Our school’s goal is to provide them with training so that they can get a job in their specialty area, but for financial reasons, it doesn’t always work out that way.  They don’t necessarily have the luxury of waiting around for the “perfect job.”  There are bills to pay.  And for those reasons, for many of my students, yes – history is just a set of facts.  A set of facts, most of which they’ll likely never use in their real lives, but that they’ll be tested on – and if they don’t know their trivia, they don’t get to graduate.

And now we get to move on to the legislative answer to our math/science “problem”: four mandatory years of math and four mandatory years of science in high school.  More information, less time, higher stakes.  Is it really the best answer?  At some point, the dam is going to break.

And you can bet I won’t be standing there with my fingers plugging the holes, trying to prevent it.

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Entry filed under: Education, HighStakesTesting, Relevance.

Teach it because you have to, not because it matters. Obsession, fulfilled.

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