ABOUT EDUCATION; NEW STUDY FINDS LACK OF CREATIVITY
THE curriculum is ”sterile.” Topics of great human interest ”on the way to the classroom are apparently transformed and homogenized into something of limited appeal.” Students ”scarcely ever speculate on meanings” or discuss ”alternative interpretations.” Teachers ”teach as they were taught” years ago in their own schooling. All the messages received by them ”conspire to reinforce the status quo. The cards are stacked against innovation.”
These are not observations on a single dismal school; they are conclusions gleaned from a summary report by the dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Los Angeles, in a seven-year study of American schooling. The study, considered one of the most extensive critiques of contemporary public education, dispatched teams of researchers into 1,016 classrooms in elementary, junior high and high schools. In addition, it collected curriculum information and samples of textbooks and other teaching materials from all 50 states and the districts in which the schools examined are located.
If the improvement of schools so much talked about and so widely desired simply continues on its present course, the Dean warns in his report, the schools will remain very much as they are.
He complains of a ”sameness” of instruction, with teachers doing virtually all the talking. He found that, on the average, only seven of 150 minutes of instruction in the course of a school day involved teachers’ responses to individual students. Feedback and guidance to help students understand and correct their mistakes were often ”almost nonexistent.”
Few activities, the Dean reports, called for, or even permitted, planning by students. The fact that social studies, which ought to spark a great deal of excitement, actually rated at or near the bottom of the list of interest, the Dean said, ”must give us pause. Why this sterility?”
One major reason, he believes, is that while a great deal is expected of the schools, from teaching the fundamentals to creating civilized adults, ”whether schools are satisfying places for the students who attend them is largely irrelevant or of only passing concern.” The message teachers get from outside the school is ”back-to-basics and more discipline,” a message that does little to stimulate imaginative planning by teachers and leaves even less room for change. Most teachers, in their training, read about some of the more interesting alternative ways of teaching, such as those advocated by John Dewey and by other reformers since his time; but the Dean found that in their classrooms teachers have little or no opportunity to test such ideas.
This means that for most students school is a place in which to listen, to respond occasionally when called on, to read short sections of texbooks and write short responses to questions on quizzes. Students rarely, the study found, read or wrote anything of some length. Most of the time, they listened or worked alone.
The same, he added, is also true of most teachers. Many of the 1,350 teachers in the study’s sample appeared not to be working together on problems of importance to their own schools. Nor did they meet with teachers from other schools, inside or outside their districts, to deal with matters of common interest. When efforts were made to help them improve their teaching, they usually attended short-term or even one-shot courses, initiated by the district or the county, often imposed by outside consultants.
”My mouth waters over the ways the money spent could be put to better use,” the Dean says. He considers it ironic that while every statement of goals for schooling, whether it comes from the state, from legislative committees, or from groups of educators or parents, tends to be broad and far-ranging, all the practice in school and classroom is geared to keeping things as they are. Teachers often ”run a serious risk of censure” if they try to break out of the mold.
”The policy makers are attuned to statistics, the business community, the state of higher education – to the larger political scene.”
Since teachers are sensitive to pressures imposed by state and district testing programs, ”they get the message. The other messages – that there are goals beyond those that the tests measure … and that education means the deliberate, long-term cultivation of knowing, traits of character, and human sensibilities – are faint to begin with, and they are drowned out by the more immediate and stronger message,” which is not to rock the boat.
Yet while the researchers found that changes mandated from the top down are generally ineffective, school management is rigged in a way that practically insures that changes always are imposed on teachers by higher outside authority. ”Presumably persons in Federal, state and local education offices are there to do something. Not having schools to run, their attention tends to turn to giving direction to those who do.”
Fortunately, he adds, Americans are slowly coming to realize that much that has guided their economic development, land use and management is anachronistic – and so is the management of the schools. ”Bits and pieces” of the kinds of theories and practices that might bring about the necessary changes to renew the public schools are ”knocking about” in the literature and in many educators’ minds, the Dean says.
from a New York Times article.
The Dean was John Goodlad. His obituary can be found here.
Plus ça change.
Oh: happy new year.