John Holt

How much people can learn at any moment depends on how they feel at that moment about the task and their ability to do the task. When we feel powerful and competent, we leap at difficult tasks. The difficulty does not discourage us; we think:Sooner or later, I’m going to get this. At other times we can only think: I’ll never get this, it’s too hard for me, I never was any good at this kind of thing, why do I have to do it, etc. Part of the art of teaching is being able to sense which of these moods learners are in. People can go from one mood to the other very quickly. – Holt

School Reform Predictions: Easier Said Then Done

David W. Kirkpatrick Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation

School Reform Predictions: Easier Said Then Done

It’s been said the only two constants are death and taxes. Not true. There are at least two more: change and the need for change.

The need for change is particularly true of public schools in the United States, and has been since the emergence of the system with the passage of Pennsylvania’s Common School Act in 1834. Yet perhaps no other institution has been so successful in resisting change and outwitting all predictions of improvement.

Even so innovative an individual as Thomas Edison, who reportedly was awarded more patents than anyone else in history was hopelessly optimistic when he predicted that the motion picture, which he invented and subsequently improved so that pictures and sound were synchronized, would so revolutionize the schools system that within “a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks.”

Not quite. And similar predictions on the potential for technology has proved to be similarly erroneous.

In 1945 it was William Levenson, director of the Cleveland, Ohio public schools who proclaimed that “the time may come when a portable radio receiver will be as common in the classroom as is the blackboard.” It never happened.

Not many years later, in the 1950s and 1960s, psychologist B.F. Skinner was promoting the use of “teaching machines and programmed instruction” which, he thought, would make it possible for students to “learn twice as much in the same time and with the same effort as in a standard classroom.”

As a teacher in the 1960s I recall an instance where considerable effort and planning went into creating “language laboratories,” where a foreign language classroom was subdivided into individual cubicles whereby students could simultaneously proceed with relatively individual instruction using technology. I also recall visiting one such classroom only to find that the teacher had turned off the technology and was attempting to teach the class as a unit in the usual fashion, which meant trying to do it over the walls which were on three sides of each student’s unit.

A bit closer to the mark was then-president Bill Clinton’s still-quoted remark about building “a bridge to the twenty-first century” whereby, among other things, computers would be as much a part of classrooms as blackboards.

Well, here we are in the twenty-first century and computers are certainly more common in the schools than there were during the Clinton administration but blackboards are also still with us and student achievement, drop out rates, and other indications of educational achievement are not appreciably higher than 15-20 years ago.

Other predictions along the way included one by John W. Gardner, a brilliant education leader. In his 1969 book, No Easy Victories, he wrote: “I am entirely certain that twenty years from now, we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive. ‘The pieces of the educational revolution are lying around unassembled.”

Nearly 40 years later, not a mere 20, the “pieces of the educational revolution,” if they exist, are still lying around unassembled, often not even recognized, and the “primitive” education in the schools is still tolerated.

Nor was Gardner alone. When his book was published, a well funded National Educational Finance Project involving a number of leading scholars was coming to a conclusion. When their work was published in 1970 their conclusion was virtually synonymous with Gardner’s as they wrote, “One thing that is certain is that the pressure on the American educational system, which has been intense in the last ten years, will continue to diminish as we move into the future.” It has not diminished. It has also continued the long history of such pressure being largely ineffective.

In 1991 President George H. W. Bush convened an education gathering of governors who devised Goals 2000, “the most far-reaching education plan of any President since Lyndon B. Johnson.” Not one of the Goals for 2000 was achieved by 2000. In 2001, they were repealed.

In brief, anyone looking for a career in education should become a school reformer. Not because they will succeed. But they will be assured of a lifetime career where the need never ends.
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“The President has just signed a school aid bill worth 5.5 billion dollars…large portions of that sorely needed money;..will be poured down the same narrow funnels which have proved so unhelpful to so many students in the past…And we’ll come back in one year or two years asking for more money because many of the schools are still a disaster area…” Harvey B. Scribner, Chancellor, New York City schools. Vital Speeches of the Day, August 15, 1971.
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KEYSTONE Vol.I No.III July/August 1995

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Teaching Other Peoples’ Children

Teaching Other Peoples’ Children: Part 1

Posted in Over a Cuppa

Ian & Wendy Wilson and their only son Samuel, 9, (Names have been changed to protect privacy) home school in the Auckland area. Ian is a tradesman and Wendy is a trained teacher. She saw what could be done with children when you had time for individual attention in a country school where she had only 12 children and taught those same 12 for four years. Then she taught in a city school class room with 35 children. She saw the bright children stunted in their potential. She saw the average and slower children wilt for lack of individual attention because you can only do so much and sometimes even less when there is a disruptive child or two in the class. It was at this point that Wendy decided she would never want to put her own child into such a system.

So when she began home schooling Samuel, they were the only ones doing so in their part of town. Then Freddie, two years younger than Samuel, was brought around. Could Wendy help him out? He had been at school a whole year and he still could not even form the letters of the alphabet, and now his behaviour was deteriorating. OK, she agreed, but for only four mornings a week.

Later on another parent came along, whose marriage had broken up. She brought Conner who was exceptionally bright, and the same age as Freddie. During his second year at school Conner seemed only to be going backwards, and his behaviour was getting really bad. Wendy directed them elsewhere. But they came back, with tears in their eyes, please teach my son! Righty-o, we’ll give it a try.

It was on a Sunday night, three weeks before the Christmas holidays when their guard was down, when another set of parents, the husband being a workmate of Ian’s, rang up about their 13-year-old daughter! She was becoming unruly and rebellious. And she wasn’t learning anything. Both parents worked full time. Surely a girl of this age would not want to be in the same class as three tearaway boys half her age? Nevertheless, Kathy joined the Wilson home school for the three weeks to the end of the year.

Fortunately Samuel was able to work fairly independently. Freddie required independent attention. Conner went from being incompetent in most subjects to being a full year ahead in maths after only 6 months. The challenge was to keep enough work in front of him, he chewed through it at such a pace. Kathy had developed the habit of just stumbling along when she didn’t understand anything and would never ask for help. It turned out that she was well behind Samuel. Conner soon passed her. She was probably only behind Freddie in reading except that he was more aware of when he needed help. After eight years in school, she was six years behind! She had epilepsy which meant she wasn’t with it some times, but would tune in later on. Even so, after two weeks in the Wilson’s home school she herself declared she had learned more in those eight days than during a whole year at school. Her parents couldn’t believe the 180 degree turn-around in her attitude since she was now even cooking meals at home for when her parents returned from work. And she liked the home school situation, even though she was being taught, for the most part, the same things as the boys. At this stage the parents asked if Kathy could join the Wilson home school again next year. “OK, we’ll see what we can do.”

It was only meant to be four mornings a week. Wendy made it clear that the children’s education was ultimately the parents’ responsibility, not hers. She also explained her philosophy that education is life and that she was only helping out in the formal academic area. However, Wendy was taking Samuel to Music sessions and to the library on Mondays, Art on Tuesdays and Gymnastics on Thursdays, so the others came along as well. Wendy and Samuel really tried to keep Wednesday afternoons and Fridays just for themselves.

The competition, especially from Conner, was pushing the others along. They would all sit for the same reading/ discussion sessions in Bible, history, science or whatever and then turn around to their desks for individual work. But Conner turned out to be a hyperactive smart alec. He would taunt and tease the others because they weren’t as smart as he. Now if  Samuel cut up, Wendy could deal with him fairly smartly and effectively, being her own son. However, with other peoples’ children you have to take a different tack, especially when these other people do not share the same faith or value system as was the case here. Wendy finally mentioned it to Conner’s mum. . .in fact, she put the ball into her court . It appeared that Samuel had been complaining that if he behaved like Conner did, he’d get the strap. Conner’s mum subsequently announced, without explanation, that she had come for Conner’s books. She thanked Wendy for all she had done and then left. They haven’t been back.

Wendy does charge a daily rate, but it is less than the rate she has to pay the housekeeper to come in to do the chores she cannot get around to herself. Being a trained teacher has not been an advantage as far as she can tell. She does not want to change her home into a school, although they did have to build the desks, get a white board and make sure they started at the same time each morning. She of course doesn’t have the same amount of time to give exclusively to Samuel. He liked it when she did, especially because he could get his Mum to read to him, rather than him reading. He could get her to help him compose sentences rather than him working them out on his own. He has been forced to become more independent in his studies, which up to a point has been good for him.

Discipline is a bit of a problem, since all the children come from such different backgrounds, none of which match the Wilson’s. But they reckon they are sowing the seeds of faith in their visitors since their attitude toward “religion” is not the negative one it used to be.

All in all Wendy says there are definite positives and definite negatives to home schooling other peoples’ children. The issue which looms largest in her mind is to do the best she can for all the children. Anyone else thinking about teaching other peoples’ children at home should weigh up the pros and cons as they see them for their own situation.

Says Wendy, “Believing that discretion is the better part of valour, I don’t say ‘Yes’ initially, but, ‘We’ll give it a try for a few weeks.’ The fact that Samuel is an only child made us more open to the idea, and there have been definite advantages for him. However, the more children I take on needing a great deal of individual attention, the less effectively I do what I originally set out to do–educate my own child. At what stage does he become disadvantaged? It would be very comfortable to be brought well adjusted, capable children from good Christian homes, but that’s not how it is. So it becomes a question of how much service we can be of to others while still fulfilling our primary aim and responsibility.

“If we feel there is room for one or two more, should we only consider taking children from families who share our world view, or do we give others the opportunity to hear the gospel and fit in? We ourselves feel there is a place for the latter provided that such children are prepared to conform. Who can tell what God may do for our visitors? Our prayer as we begin our studies each day is that God would bless each of us in our learning so that we would live lives that honour and glorify Him. “

From Keystone Magazine
May 1995 , Vol. 1 No. 2
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