[Its.an.education.project] Questions for education projects. The life cycle of a great education.
echerlin at gmail.com
Tue May 6 23:04:43 CEST 2008
On Tue, May 6, 2008 at 7:49 AM, Samuel Klein <meta.sj at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Fri, May 2, 2008 at 11:41 PM, Bill Kerr <billkerr at gmail.com> wrote:
> > I think there also needs to be something in there about different learners
> being different or that learning styles that work for one learner may not
> work for another. Perhaps those who learn readily without formal instruction
> are just one subset of all learners. For those people school may well feel
> like a prison or a sophisticated form of child abuse. Other learners may
> need far more structure than is fashionable to admit in constructionist
> study groups. There actually appears to be evidence for this.
To me individual differences in learning style are obvious both from
principles such as genetics and from observation. The Buddhist priest
training I went through strongly emphasized the need for both group
practice and individualized teaching.
> Interesting point. I do worry about mindful observation being biased by the
> unconscious need to be fashionable -- something that affects all sorts of
> experiments, scientific or not.
Or the need to be unfashionable, as the case may be.
> > However, Wheldall is concerned that low-progress readers do not learn to
> read naturally. "They will only learn to read with careful, systematic
> instruction to which phonics instruction is central," he says.
The history of science is littered with overambitious claims for
research results. He has evidence that some low-progress readers
(undefined term--how do we construct a meaning for it?) learn better
with this approach than with the others he tried. It is plausible that
phonics is important, as against the "whole-word" school, as long as
we recognize the numerous exceptions in English that make phonics-only
impossible. See the PBS series Children of the Code for examples of
many kinds. (Shameless plug: I contributed some of them.)
one, once, two,
though rough cough plough through
He wound the bandage around the wound.
There is evidence from other language groups that reading languages
with much simpler spelling is a quite natural development in a
suitable environment. See Maria Montessori, among others who document
a sudden explosion into reading, where children go from knowing the
alphabet to reading anything within their comprehension all at once,
with no detectable progression.
> > If I am casting the net too wide with these questions then they still
> might serve a useful purpose of how the net should be cast, what should be
> in and out and why.
The hard part about advancing human knowledge is not figuring out
answers, but knowing to ask questions.
> Agreed -- "How wide should the net be cast in this discussion?" is another
> good one.
We are talking about the construction of entire human beings here.
What could we leave out?
> > Much of this is a war zone but OLPC was prepared to fight some sort of war
> from the start. Which war(s) are we prepared to fight and which ones not?
We are already engaged in several, and the larger society has more
waiting for us. It is not our choice.
* Software freedom
* Child-centered education
* Freedom of thought and of speech
* Fundamental human rights of all kinds
These ideas are all "out of the mainstream" in our current education
systems and the US political climate and in many developing nations.
Our most serious opponents are well-organized on a narrow range of
issues, extremely well funded, and implacable. To many of them, we are
the greatest threat to humanity ever. If you think I am exaggerating,
go listen to Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter talk about The Culture Wars,
or any current or would-be dictator on criticism of the government.
Education is the front line on the battleground. Hence religious
home-schooling in the US.
I was in O'Hare airport in Chicago, waiting for a shuttle to the
PyCon2008 conference, and offered my XO for a little boy to look at.
His mother wouldn't let him touch it, on the grounds that God provides
everything they need. The boy turned on his mother and said, "I hate
you." She replied, "No, you don't," which is no doubt true, but
> Another good one. A related question : when is it acceptable to dismiss
> commonly-held beliefs as obviously wrong (is it ever acceptable?) and when
> should they be addressed in detail?
Wrong question. When do you need to explain why something is wrong,
and when can you just say so and move on? Depends completely on the
audience, and the purpose of the occasion. In some cases a third
strategy is indicated: Silence until you get to a safe distance.
> And you and Javier both note:
> Is Education different in under developed (and conflicted) countries?
Is human nature different? I don't think so. Are the conditions
different? You better believe it. Does this affect how children learn?
Yes, strongly. Does this affect the value of Constructionism under
these different conditions? Not really. If Constructionist psychology
is correct about child development, it necessarily remains relevant
under any circumstances. But Constructionism points out that education
is an art, not a science and certainly not a factory automation
system. We are trying to help children with quite different resources
and experience construct their new selves to be competent in the
varied environments in which they live.
Recovering child soldiers obviously need a different program from
anybody else. It has to include getting them off drugs, treating
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, helping them to re-integrate into
society even if all of their families, friends, and neighbors are dead
or dispersed, and a few other major things. The poor, despised, and
oppressed need a different selection, and the children of the
despisers and oppressors yet another.
This is a problem of conflicting goals and values, which has no neat
resolution. We will find that some in any community, and many in some
communities, will have nothing to do with us and our ideas, and will
work to undermine any good that we think we are doing, because to them
it is ultimate evil.
> Highlighting some major differences -- as perceived internally, and as
> perceived by visiting educators from elsewhere -- will be useful.
Differences between what and which?
> Negative results are also very interesting : what are major educational
> initiatives (in a given region/country) that have been tried without
> success? What are narrow areas in which they dramatically succeeded or
Interpreting negative results is a dicy business. There are too many
reasons why an experiment can fail besides the failure of the
experimental hypothesis. The most common are human, not technical:
asking the wrong questions, or trying to "improve" the experiment
before replicating it.
James Lind invented the clinical trial, and published his results in A
Treatise of the Scurvy in 1753. He recommended fresh citrus fruits and
juices as a treatment. Some British Navy captains tried the experiment
of boiling orange juice to concentrate the anti-scorbutic principle
and preserve it for long-term storage at sea. Unbeknownst to them,
boiling destroys ascorbic acid, so their results were entirely
negative, and they claimed that this was a complete refutation of
In the same spirit, we see in the New York Times that a few school
districts that have given laptops to students have abandoned the
Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops
"So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has
decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of
other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing
programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and
This editorializing in what purports to be a news story seems to be
typical of the increasingly shoddy reporting at the NYT in recent
years. No numbers, no analysis, no comparison with districts that did
get good results. Argument by anecdote.
Further down, we get a bit more explanation.
"...school officials here and in several other places said laptops had
been abused by students [porn, hacking], did not fit into lesson
plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test
scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards.
Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers,
logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs."
Well, duh, if you don't teach teachers how to work laptops into their
lesson plans, and don't in fact use them to teach, why would you be
surprised that students don't learn what you want them to, and do
learn things you don't want them to?
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