American education in Iraq

Reform K12 worries about bringing “progressive” American-style education to Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor reports on teacher training:

At Saturday’s training session, teachers heard about concepts such as the “open classroom,” a 1970s idea in which students direct themselves in activities, are rarely punished, and are expected to be self-motivated. Iraqi teachers said these gave students too much freedom. By now, most Western educators have also dismissed this concept.

More fiercely debated were concepts such as “group learning” and “peer tutoring.” These are used by many US teachers. However, their effectiveness over “lecture-listen” is still debated by scholars. Some Iraqi teachers said they would try it.

Iraqi teachers are the ultimate authority in their classrooms. In “child-centered” U.S. classrooms, students feel they’re equal to the teacher, writes Reform K12, which quotes an urban math teacher.

Just this week I had a number of 12th grade students (who had all attended the same elementary school) insist that a 40×30 rectangle was, in fact, a square. In fact, the only thing they wanted to call a rectangle was a right-angled quadrilateral with dramatically different heights and widths, like a door or a chalkboard. If the height was close to the width (like a 4:3 TV screen ratio, or even an 8.5×11 sheet of paper) they insisted it was a square.

But here’s the kicker: when I tried to actually teach the correct definition of a square, students refused to listen, because they acted like it was just my opinion.

I’ve encountered quite a few people who can’t distinguish between fact and opinion or between assertion and argument.

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  1. Wacky Hermit says:

    I think some of my college students could use some Iraqi-old-style classroom discipline. I can’t believe how arrogant some of them are! When I give them a bad score on a quiz because they don’t understand how to use the chain rule, they come up all angry with the attitude that they know just as much math as I do, so they should be given full credit. My paraphrase of an actual dialogue this semester:

    Student: I did use the chain rule, see?
    Me: Yeah, but you didn’t use it properly. You didn’t multiply by the derivative of the inside function.
    Student: Sure I did, right here.
    Me: That’s not the correct derivative of the inside function, and you added, not multiplied.
    Student: Well *I* thought it was the derivative, so I should get credit. And I multiplied here in this step.
    Me: Yes, but you didn’t multiply where it counted, and the thing you multiplied is the derivative of the “derivative” up here.
    Student: (rolls eyes) So I don’t get full credit?
    Me: No, you obviously don’t understand how to use the chain rule properly.
    Student: But I used the chain rule! And I did all the steps you told me to do! I took the derivative and I multiplied!
    Me: It’s not enough to just “do the steps,” you have to do them correctly and to the right expressions and in the right order, and you have to stop doing them when they’re done…

    It doesn’t bother me that it takes a while to learn to use the chain rule properly, but I can’t imagine having this dialogue with my own professors when I was that age. It takes a certain arrogance to suppose that when the vastly more experienced teacher tells you you’re wrong and explains where and how you went wrong, you must really be right because *you* *thought* you were right.

  2. Steve LaBonne says:

    Been there, Wacky. This attitude among students, ingrained into them in the K-12 system, and which, ever since the lunatics took over the asylum in the 60s, they are encouraged to maintain during college, has done massive damage to higher education. Back when I was an assistant professor I sometimes asked my senior colleagues (not a smart career move, obviously!) why, if the students knew better than we did what they needed (as assumed by the way teaching evaluations were used) they were paying us instead of vice versa!

  3. I read a few posts down, and now I wonder if my height has something to do with it… I’m awfully short… 😉

  4. I would NEVER take that tone of voice with any professor, right or wrong, but what should I do when a teacher is genuinely wrong? For example, my French teacher regularly confuses the perfect past (“had finished”) with the passive past (“was finished”). I try to be polite and respectful about correcting her but it always irritates her that a student is talking back.

  5. Steve LaBonne says:

    Ah now, if the professor is incompetent, that’s an entirely different matter. (Incompetence on such basic matters is bad enough, and gracelessness when offered a polite correction compounds the felony. In that situation, as a student, I would probably go have a polite and discreet chat with the department chair. S/he needs to know that there is a supposed French teacher who doesn’t know French grammar. If the department chair doesn’t care about that information I’d be looking to transfer to another college. 😉

  6. It will be interesting to see what happens when these students get out into the ‘real world’ and try similar tactics with their bosses.

    Too bad more of them can’t have the experience of working for Donald Trump.

  7. Steve LaBonne says:

    David, I really used to wonder what would happen to some of my college students the first time they gave their boss a dog-ate-my-homework excuse for not completing a project. I suspect there were a few who probably neeeded to be fired a couple of times before they would “get it”. (A prime candidate for this would have to have been the _senior_ who brought a dean _a note from his mother(!)_ in an attempt to get himself excused from some graduation requirement.)

  8. I work with the newly-arrived in the work force. They have a hard time figuring out that when I want something done by a certain time in a certain way–I’m serious! Some of these “kids” are nearly $40,000 in debt to get an MFA in film and they can’t seem to figure out that yes, I do expect them to order crew lunch, pick it up and account for the money spent–all by themselves.

  9. Ah, the newly arrived work force. What a joy.

    To address David’s question: Many of the newly arrived work force have a finely tuned sense of who can be put off with cheap excuses and who must be wooed with ass-kissing. I guess folks like Kate and me who are immune to both BS tactics are rare. Certainly, I’m not as powerful as some of the old guard I see falling for cheap excuses and brown-nosing.

  10. It seems to me that university student arrogance has noticeably increased in the lower division courses in the past 10-12 years. Anyone else with observation?

  11. Let’s talk about the real world. If the k-12 way of doing things, or “system” worked well or had anything to do with the ‘real world” about 80% of the so caled universities woudn’t even exist.Then about 80% of the professors et al that
    make a living from these students would have to also go out into the real world.

    So, please don’t be so condesending. Most professors and most universities aren’t interested in improving the k-12 system, never have been and never will be.

    If the students are a little off or seem to be somewhat pathological, surprise, surprise, they have to live through a patholigical system of “education”.

  12. I know it’s fashionable here to bash today’s young whipper-snappers, but I really don’t think there’s any basis for it.

    Yes, there are many problems with America’s schools. I’m upset that we can’t do better. But the teenaged kids I meet seem every bit as educated as teenagers were 20 years ago, and in many ways, much more eloquent and sophisticated and knowledgable about the world. Even the ones who wear sideways hats.

    For generations, the consensus among middle-aged and older folks is that “kids today don’t show any respect.” My parents said it about kids my age, and their parents said it about them. I was a bit of a wise-ass and a screw-off in school, but when I hear about the stunts my dad pulled in school, in the 50s and 60s, I can’t believe it. And he wasn’t an unusually bad or disrespectful kid. Just average.

    And the music he listened to was much, much more radical to his parents than hip-hop or rock is to today’s adults. The difference between Elvis and the 40s pop singers is almost unfathomable. Compared to that, Eminen is only a tiny step more subservise than Elvis was.

    To someone who’s been a teacher for 30 years, the kids today will seem worse. But I think that’s just because they’re further removed from their own childhoods. So lay off the kids, and let’s all get back to blaming the teachers and parents.

  13. I don’t know that the arrogance of students has *increased* — I was a graduate teaching assistant in calculus classes 20 years ago and all of this sounds very familiar to me.

  14. I think a lot of it is just the typical arrogance of the young-and-stupid, and they either grow up and grow out of it, or they take themselves out of the gene pool in one fashion or another.

    But a significant difference that today’s ‘newly-arrived workforce’ exhibits is a totally misplaced sense of their own importance in the scheme of things. Add to that a severely short attention span and an assumption that they have a ‘right’ to be happy, entertained, and amused or they take their toys and leave, well, you can see why there is a growing trend to hire older, mature workers instead of young graduates.

    In many I have interviewed and many more than I have seen hired, I see the total lack of any serious work ethic and the inability to stick with something for any length of time.

    Yes, much of it is perennial immaturity of the young, as all generations have observed. But this widespread problem of shallowness of both intellect and emotion can’t help but put me in mind of the same kinds of behaviors leading up to the fall of the Roman Empire….

  15. Steve–you’re paid to hang around with youth. I’m not. I feel like my own granny, but young people today have simply no clue about hard work, diligence, and respect. I work in a “glamor” profession and the competition for these jobs is fierce. Yet, when 20somethings actually get hired, they don’t connect “hard work” with “keeping the job”. And then they cry when fired. I had one young woman pleading with me–how could she tell her parents she’d been axed? I reminded her that if she’s bothered to show up on time and actually do the job, she’s still be employed.

  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    Well I _used_ to be paid for hanging around with them, but nowadays I have a real job. 😉 (To be fair, 90% of the kids I taught were great. The problem was not even the other 10% per se- after all it takes all kinds, among students as with any other class of people- so much as the insistence of the tenured faculty and adminstrators that “good teaching” meant coddling that 10%. Not in my dictionary, it doesn’t.)

  17. You’re right, Wacky — handsome fellas like me can persuade students to believe anything at all 😉

  18. Steve–

    One of my colleagues told me recently about a recent alumna who was infamous for last minute excuses. The colleague helped get her a job at an art gallery in NYC after graduation because she thought the girl smart and likeable, just irresponsible. Well, she got fired — everytime a deadline came up for an opening (or catalog copy due to printer) her boyfriend was sick or she had to be a bridesmaid out of town or something. The excuses didn’t work in the real world. Nice to know.

  19. Mad Scientist says:

    Seems like some people like the idea of a regular paycheck but really don’t care for the idea of work.

  20. Mad Scientist says:

    I remember on of my first interviews back in 1986. Well, actually the second round with this company.

    I was meeting with the President of the R&D Division. I was in the huge office, there must have been 10 foot high ceilings, mahogany paneled walls, large conference table.

    The President looks me in the eye and says: “You know that if we hire you, you will be expected to perform. If you don’t perform, we’ll simply let you go. What do you think about that?”

    My reply: “Isn’t that the way it’s SUPPOSED to work?”

  21. Bruce Lagasse says:

    Reminds me of an old Dilbert cartoon: Dogbert the consultant is telling the pointy-haired boss that he would like a job where he worked from home, had no deadlines, and was his own judge of results. The boss said, “So you’d just stay home and we’d mail you a check?” Dogbert replied, “Actually, I was hoping for direct deposit.”

  22. ***Julie*** says:

    As someone who gets paid to work with todays youth in the K-12 system (high school) I think that society is to blame for how students treat faculty. The fact is, I see the kids at school behaving, well, like kids — and they are sometimes rude, and sometimes arrogant! Then I see them out in the “real-world” where they are paid to do a job, and these kids — the same ones — are so polite, professional, and proper. They know how to do it, they just choose not to. Their perception of educators has changed over the years, and that puts the blame on society — not just parents and teachers! Look at the role educators play on television now as compared to in the past, you can see a huge difference!

  23. Why are we so intent on passing all of our bad habits on to the Iraqis? First we write national health care and social security into their frigging Constitution, now we’re trying to model their education system after our own most harebrained theories?

    Are we trying to hold them back? What’s going on here?



    Chett over at ReformK12 has a good post on testing. He is spot on when he describes how testing plays out. I am not much a testing fanatic in either direction, but for the moment, until schools are working better,