Kenyon Wallace presents an interview in the National Post with teacher and now author, Michael Zwaagstra of Manitoba. Michael has just published a new book co-authored with two of his former professors at the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Education, Rod Clifton and John Long. The book is entitled, What's Wrong with our Schools and How to Fix Them.
Michael had a feeling that the "progressive education" he was taught in the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba may be more "edu-babble" than reality when he stepped in front of a class of uninterested teenagers.
The article points out that the "progressive" idea of simply being a "guide on the side" just did not fit with what he thought made sense.
When he took courses outside of the faculty of education, he felt empowered because he was actually learning about the subjects in question whereas the de-emphasis on conveying knowledge did not seem to accomplish anything tangible.
[Editor: As a former teacher, I agree wholeheartedly with the author as reported by Mr. Wallace. The idea of child-centred learning sounds WONDERFUL but when it means that the child should decide exactly what he wants to learn, it rings hollow.
I had the daughter of a "consultant" for our board of education who did not receive a good mark because she did not finish her project. This consultant stated to me that as long as she knows how, is it really important to finish the project? I was shocked that someone was appointed to her position and did not realize that people need to know stuff and finish things.
Do we not want doctors who know where the body parts are and how to safely extract or fix injured parts?
|Hmm! Where is that heart anyway?|
Do we want lawyers who know HOW to find out information but know nothing about how the law works? Do we want drivers who know WHAT those highway signs mean or just "how to find out" what they mean?
Do we want engineers who actually have KNOWLEDGE of stresses and how to build bridges that don't fall down or do we want them only to know HOW to find out?
Do we want cashiers who can actually give the right change or just find out from someone else what the amount should be?
In the real world, do you want a road-builder who knows how but never finishes a highway, a doctor who orders several tests in order to diagnose your medical problem, and then never fixes it? Surely this is ludicrous. But it was the state of the profession in Niagara during the 80's and 90's.
I did see some hope for change when tests were introduced at Grade 3 and 6 to test WHAT the students knew about math. Even tho they needed a lot of revisions to be more accurate, it was a start. I profess ignorance of what the current philosophy of learning is in Ontario.]
The article points out that after ten years as a teacher, the ideas he was force-fed do not work. He concludes that "we will continue to fail our kids if we do not change the way we teach and the way public education systems are administered."
The book mentions a number of controversial practices such as "no-fail" and "no-test" philosophies, the "spread of edu-babble in curricula" and the reduction of the teacher's authority in the classroom.
He points out that there is something fundamentally wrong with teachers having to make students experiences "fun" instead of teaching facts which are the building blocks of knowledge. [Imagine a student not having to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide but just "how to use a calculator". Nothing wrong with learning their use but will a person always have a calculator with them when they need to do math? Will someone KNOW if an answer is wrong even if calculator-generated if they don't know HOW to check it with pencil and paper?]
When students' education is tailored to them, how can the student be evaluated on what he has learned? The quality of textbooks, he points out, has been "dumbed down" recently in order to follow the curricula handed down from on high.
The article also points out that the consolidation of power at the administrative level in school boards has accentuated the problem because the teacher is micro-managed from the top and evaluated on what they have been told to do. But where is the measurement of the final product, student learning?
In his own classroom he tries to balance the good parts of the "progressive" philosophies with direct instruction.
It is also mentioned that in Edmonton, schools are allowed to specialize in music, sports or drama with principals given considerable control over budgets. "Alberta's standardized testing system ensures that students are learning common material."
Mr. Zwaagstra is a research associate at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and a city councillor in Steinbach, where he lives with his wife and four young sons.
Editor: If this philosophy is continuing in 2010, 2011 and beyond, will we be graduating students into our labour force who know HOW TO but never TO FINISH, a job?