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Alfie Kohn on Feel-Bad Education

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Feel-Bad Education - And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling There is a terror that kids will feel good about things. That they will simply be pleased with themselves and therefore not work hard. That comes from that putative ethic that represents itself still and the social conservatism that dominates our thinking about education and parenting. But in fact, most schools are not at all prepared to help kids feel good. Quite the contrary; there's such an emphasis on rigor and rising the bar and higher standars, that we end up with a lot of kids who are alternately bored and anxious becase the education really isn't about helping them to feel like proficient thinkers who love learning. Instead, they have to memorize facts and practice skills in order to do well on tests. And that ends up being quite unengaging and it has a number of destructive consequences. The more traditional and back to basics and test-oriented schooling is, the more kids lose interest in learning and in the particular topics they're learning, the more superficial their thinking, and the more the gap grows between the haves and have-nots. What is "Progressive Education"? A progressive education is often caricatured as it is just "do whatever makes you happy, and, maybe you'll learn, maybe you won't, that's ok". But, in fact, progressive education is far more challenging and more engaging than traditional education because it envolves bringing kids in on the process of making sense of the questions they have about themselves and the world. In a progressive school the kids are typically restling with real ideas, understanding ideas from the inside out, learning to think like scientists, or like historians, as oposed to merely memorizing facts. And the kids are also engaged in thinking about how to think. So they end up making a lot of decisions about what they'll learn and how. And they do that not only individually but as a community. They're rarely, in a progressive school, set against each other in that kind of context. In the book I try to explain why given that research as well as anecdotal experience to support the value of progressive education, it's so damn rare in our culture. And the worst kind of education is the most popular. And that's often true in private as well as public schools. And now, the worst is becoming even worst in the name of rising standars and school reform, which is one of those sad ironies I try to explore in the book. B.G.U.T.I. One of my more playful coinages in the book is B.G.U.T.I. which stands for Better Get Used To It. And, even though it sounds ridiculous when you talk about it explicitly, this is exactly the rational that is provided for making little children do home work. Even though there's no research at all to support giving little kids, that is, in fact, kids under high-school age, any home-work ever. No data has ever supported the practice. And making young children take standarized tests and giving them grades and so on, are all justified based on the theory that says, "people are going to do unpleseant things to you later, so we better make you suffer now to prepare you". And of course, it's ludacris, it's almost laughable, except that is so sad. And that's exactly what's going on in much of the country. In fact, there are even some parents who use that philosophy, even if they haven't been explicit about it to themselves, in denying kids things that make them happy. What the book has to say to parents. The essays in the book deal with various topics in education that I think would be of use to parents as well as to educators. But I also have included a couple of articles specifically about parenting including one that drawls on research showing that when we raise our children in such a way that they feel only conditionally accepted, as if "I have to earn my mom's or dad's approval", that turns out to be very destructive. If kids feel like they're going to be punished through time out, which is conditional parenting to the maximum that says, "you literally have to go away until I approve of what you're doing again". Or the flipside which is positive reinforcement, the constant "good job!'s" that we dish out to make kids do what we want them to do. The kids end up feeling as if I'm only a good person when I'm impressive or well behave. And some group of researchers replicated an earlier experiment they had done a few years ago that confirmed that this ends up leading kids to feel, not only a resentful of their parents, but also less likely to feel a sense of ownership and pride in their own accomplishments. They end up feeling a sense of being controlled from the inside. They are, perhaps, self-disciplined, as I discuss in another one of the essays in the book, but, being self-discplined is not the same thing as having a sense of autonomy or a sense of personal integrity where I can make decisions about who I am and what I want to do. Kids vs. Economics These days, you know, when the politicans or corporate executives or journalists talk about school reform and the need to improve education, they tipically cast it in terms of the United States beating its enemies, although they don't always use the word enemies. They do tipically use words like "competiteveness in the global economy". It doesn't matter weather is George W. Bush or Barack Obama, they're interchangeable in reducing the education of our children to what would bring in the most profits to american corporations as compared to their counterparts in other countries. So, I kind of take this apart in the book and look at just how destructive and how narrow and rancid this model of education is, what it does, what is saying about our children and other people's children. If we care so much about how american kids are doing compared to their counterparts in India or China, on standarized tests, put aside the fact that standarized tests are lousy measures of anything that matters intelectually, what we are saying is that we want children who live in other countries to do badly, not to learn well. And I think that is intellectually and morally bankrupt position. So, if we're going to find reasons to educate our children well, it shouldn't just be about economics, and as sure as hell it shouldn't be about having them triumph over other children.

Video Details

Duration: 7 minutes and 18 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 16,001
Posted by: cdf83 on Jun 8, 2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aviOJ9DVcyo

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