By Alta M. Cook
Unfortunately in the 1960s and ’70s, liberal theories expounded from several directions and permeated educational circles.
Neil Postman, in “Teaching as a Subversive Activity,” concluded that “Schools were based on fear and alienation. Testing was dehumanizing students. Homework was considered unnecessary.” Other “thinkers” agreed that schools had become repressive and negative.
Some colleagues of education felt students in high school should determine for themselves what is relevant and if it were not, then it might be inconsequential.
Such a theory belittles the importance of our history. According to Mark Bauerlein, English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, “Without the anchor of wise and talented men and women long gone, of thoughts and works that have stood the test of time, adolescents fall back upon the meager anarchic resources of their sole selves.”
Brookings Institution, in a 2006 report, “How Well Are Students Learning?” concluded that students whose U.S. teachers strive to make mathematics relevant and fun to students’ lives did not do as well as countries that rank lower on indexes of enjoyment and relevancy. Learning is hard work. Students should not expect entertainment.
Beginning in the ’60s (and continuing in a 40-plus year slide), the acquisition of subject matter in colleges of education meant that future teachers received a potpourri of courses labeled “audiovisual integration materials,” “humanistic approaches” and major “social issues.” William Bennett, a former U.S. education secretary, felt strongly that “students should finish high school knowing not just the method or process of science or history. They should actually know some science or history.”
Recently Soifer and Holland at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., noted a “de-emphasizing of U.S. history in public schools due to colleges of education who desire to promote social justice multiculturalism agendas instead of the basics in Constitution and civic laws” (only 13 percent of high school seniors on a recent Nation’s Report Card showed a firm grasp of American history).
Norman Lockman, a Pulitzer Prize winner, contends that “the real problem in education is that basic teacher training is not up to snuff …” Many Iowa educators would probably agree as The Common Core State Standards adopted in 2010 will make learning more rigorous across the state, more in-depth goals with high expectations.
The explosion of technology is obviously exciting, but is it alone the magic bullet that solves our educational woes? According to Bauerlein, “If digital technology exercises the young’s intellectual faculties so well, why haven’t knowledge and skill levels increased accordingly? They have been at abysmal levels.”
According to a Heritage Foundation study, “Some students with at least weekly computer instruction do not perform any better on reading than do students who have no computer instruction.”
When I taught Title I to help students lacking in reading skills, it was interesting to note despite all the millions spent nationwide by the government on equipment such as accelerators and controlled readers, students valued more teacher input. In this digital age, the role of the teacher cannot be just that of a techno-facilitator. No, the teacher has to emphasize content, knowledge and subject matter as well as process. Hopefully, K-12 teachers will coordinate and connect their needs with the colleges of education.
I agree with Timothy Magner, executive director for Partnership for 21st Century Skills, who stated: “Too often educators want to harness the technology. But I think that’s a little backward. The conversation should be what do we want students to learn? When we have that, then we talk about what technology is best to help us meet those goals.”
Alta M. Cook is a retired language arts instructor in the Iowa City schools and an inductee into City High School’s hall of fame. Comments: (319) 338-7384.