Thursday, December 2, 2010

12/2 - Concerning Those Things That Can Be Called Into Doubt

I have mixed feelings about Descartes.  One on hand, the Cartesian coordinate system is wonderful; on the other, his existentialist "proofs" are flawed (but he tried really hard! — "cogito, ergo sum" is pretty great, but he messes up after that).  I find myself often thinking of him, however, when I realize how much of my settled thoughts on a subject I try to strip away before being convinced that I can approach a question in an adequately philosophical way.  Convincing oneself that "there is nothing in the world — no sky, no earth, no minds, no bodies," is (I'm convinced) the best way to begin philosophizing about existence: one must reach a mental "rock bottom" in order to build appropriately.

(Get to the point, Luc!)

Well, parts of my educational philosophy are approaching rock bottom, which sounds like a bad thing, but is in a strong way also good; it should enable me to build as pure and logical of a philosophy as possible.  I feel like my teaching is going well, but I find myself unable to, for example, firmly prioritize what should be taught (and what should be evaluated (and what should be rewarded (and what should be punished))).  Consider these educational goals, and list in order which is most important:

Learning Subject Matter
Being a Good Person
Learning How to Learn

Was that easy?  Well, it isn't for me.  I'll argue vehemently that they all must be balanced (among other goals as well), but when situations arise that pit one against the other, which is most justifiably chosen over the other?  It gets worse — how should students be evaluated/graded?  Consider this finding:
"About 10 percent of the students who earned A’s and B’s in school stumbled during end-of-the-year exams. By contrast, about 10 percent of students who scraped along with C’s, D’s and even F’s — students who turned in homework late, never raised their hands and generally seemed turned off by school — did better than their eager-to-please B+ classmates." (From a rather good NY Times article.)
To muddy the waters more, I once read a very strong argument (from a neurologist, I think, but I can't find the article) for focusing learning on cramming facts and memorization (and giving up on the idea that 7th grade students will remember how to play a D7 chord in 10 years), thus emphasizing learning how to learn so that in later years, when our studies are focused in a desired area of expertise, we can benefit enormously from the ability to memorize what we need to know.  That reminds me! — should we be guiding younger students (I'm thinking middle school) toward focused study in a field/skill at which they excel instead of trying (desperately (hopelessly?)) to bring everybody to the same level in the same subjects (read between the lines there to sense my frustration with NCLB)?

Tomorrow I'm going to give a playing quiz on guitar.  Today I had to baby them into playing things that they have no trouble doing.  Should the better grades go to the students who tried the hardest, improved the most, acted most appropriately, or performed the best?  Or should they all get good grades as long as they go through the motions so that their overall grades can be boosted up from some not-so-good quizzes so that everybody can pass the class (and so that I don't have to find the time to have IEP students retake a guitar quiz)?

I have short-term answers to those questions that will get me through the day...I'm just not sure if I agree with myself.

Bend and Break - Keane

No comments:

Post a Comment