Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Faulty, Fadish, Feel-good Philosophies and How to Avoid Their Propagation

Over their careers, teachers, and by extension their students, are subjected to a tremendous amount of Faulty, Faddish, Feel-good Methods that don't work but are pushed very vigorously for a while and then discarded.  They take a lot of time to learn and implement.  They also take a toll of emotional energy from teachers to change what they are doing, with a resultant loss of trust or faith in actually finding the truth about anything, despite the fact that there are better ways and worse ways of teaching that can be proven.

Students are harmed in two ways by these fffphies, as I call them.  They are obviously harmed when they are taught by ineffective methods, with incorrect ideas, or by lost time.  They are also hurt as teachers' emotional energy is dissipated through a constant imposition of these fffphies.

So do we just have to put up with these losses?  I believe that much of this problem is caused because teachers and especially their trainers/professors don't know or study the history of these philosophies in education or their origins, many of which have their base in the constructivist philosophy and have been resurrected/modified in one form or another.  Let me give a few examples from the past century.

The earliest example I am aware of is from the movie The Music Man.  The Music Man is a flimflammer that knows nothing about teaching people to play the instruments he is selling.  He uses "the think program" idea to avoid teaching.  The students are supposed to "think" about how to play rather than being bored by practicing.

The next example is from the book To Kill a Mockingbird in chapters 2 and 4.  In chapter 2 Scout gets a new teacher, Miss Caroline, in 1st grade and is told by Jem, an older student, "Our teacher says Miss Caroline’s introducing a new way of teaching. She learned about it in college. It’ll be in all the grades soon. You don’t have to learn much out of books that way...."  Scout explains, "The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed 'the,' 'cat,' 'rat,' 'man,' and 'you.'"  The "new" way to teach reading was with sight words and not phonics, and parents were NOT to teach their children how to read.

In chapter 4 Scout further describes the "new" ways of teaching. "The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics."  Constructivism has always been about projects, with all their busy-work, and about group work.

The third example comes from my parents.  My father was 5 years older than my mother and was taught reading by phonics - the "old" way.  This made him a good speller as well as a good reader.  My mother came along later and went to one of the newer city schools, which had adopted the "new" ways of teaching, which meant sight words and no phonics.  Though she became an excellent writer on her own later, wrote several books, and even published one, she could never spell correctly.

Those that were educated by the "new" methods from John Dewey (constructivism) during the Depression era were the ones who ended up of age to be the new recruits when World War II began.  Because of these methods of teaching math, the new recruits could not do the math needed in the army and had to be reeducated before they could use artillery or many other army jobs.  There is a little movie clip by Abbott and Costello that is quite humorous showing the "creative" ways of doing math that the constructivists are always pushing at

As a result of the poor performance of the "new" constructivist way of teaching during the 30's and early 40's, constructivism was dropped and tried-and-true methods were used during the 50's.  However most university professors still believed in constructivism despite the evidence.  When Sputnik circled the earth, these proponents of constructivism saw that as a reason to reintroduce this teaching philosophy back into the schools, indeed it went rampant on the university campuses with extreme variations that gave us the "new morality" (the same old immorality), and "Values Clarification" (which made values "old-fashioned"), because "truth is merely what you perceive it to be."

In the K-12 schools sight word reading was reintroduced, and phonics, grammar, and spelling rules were ridiculed as "old-fashioned" and of no value.  "Be creative!" they said.  The 60's were also when the term "New Math" was coined and promoted by the proponents of constructivism.  In the 70's many began to oppose these faulty methods and began the Back-to-Basics movement to return schools to using phonics, grammar, spelling, times tables, and facts in history and science instead of the "creative," subjective ways constructivists were pushing.

In the 80's and 90's constructivists changed the terminology to "Whole Language" and were going to use the term "Whole Math" instead of "New Math" until Whole Language was discredited as a terrible way to teach Language Arts.  Project Follow Through, the biggest ever study done on teaching methods proved conclusively that constructivist programs by whatever name were ineffective and that direct instruction was better.  The study fell on deaf ears in the colleges of education and was swept under the rug.

As the Back to Basics movement changed into the Standards movement, the proponents again changed the names for the same methodologies using terms such as "Balanced Literacy" for Whole Language and "Standards-Based Math" for New or Whole Math.  To fight the ever changing target of new names that confused the public, allowing these ideas to be reintroduced over and over, the opponents came up with the No Child Left Behind legislation that was supposed to show with testing what really worked and what didn't and use government to push out these faulty philosophies.

Unfortunately it backfired.  By giving government the power to enforce "standards" it allowed the "experts" from the colleges, who by this time were completely constructivists (because you couldn't get hired as a professor unless you were a constructivist) to use that power with Common Core to force every teacher to use constructivist methods.  These "experts" designed the tests more to prove whether a teacher was using their methods rather than to show what or whether students had learned.

This short history, of the attempts by constructivists to control our schools, I hope, will help teachers and parents to hopefully not be fooled by fffphies, but to see programs for what they really are.  The "Apollo Project" in a local district appears to be the same thing disguised as something new.

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