I’m off to Japan to look at cherry blossoms.
Philosophy can engage, inspire and deepen the thinking of high school students, writes Diana Senechal in American Educator. She teaches Philosophy for Thinking at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering, a selective New York City public middle/high school that draws an ethnically diverse group of students. (Two-thirds are Latino or African-American; 56 percent qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.)
Students write about Epictetus, the Book of Job, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Pascal, Gogol, virtue, kindness, humor, utopia, dystopia, the DMV — and more.
Peerayos Pongsachai uses math and philosophy to analyze the question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
The journal includes national and international contest winners. Emma Eder (Georgetown Visitation Prep, Washington, D.C.) won first place for The Very Real Problem of Irrationality in the math/philosophy category. Her classmate Julia Sloniewsky took on the challenge of writing as a knight or samurai during the all of feudalism. She won for Letter in the Desk of Hiraku Kikkawa.
The international contest asked students to imagine their favorite dish is “its own nation.”
Who/what is its leader? Its citizens? What does each ingredient do for a living? . . . Write about a philosophical problem this nation experiences — anything from existential angst due to being eaten, to “okra should never have been chosen as secreatry of state.”
Plate’s Republic by Grace Eder, also a Georgetown student, won first place. Second and third place winners came from Italy, China, Turkey, Britain and the U.S.
I’m going to Andalucia for two weeks — and I just used two-thirds of my Spanish for the headline.
Darren Miller, who blogs at Right on the Left Coast, and Diana Senechal, who blogs here, will be guest-blogging. Darren is a high school math teacher in Sacramento. Diana teaches philosophy at a New York City high school.
I’m back from my travels in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. I’ve hiked through the cloud forest and soared over it on a “sky bike” at Mashpi Lodge.
In the Galapagos Islands, I saw giant tortoises, sea lions, iguanas, blue- and red-footed boobies, frigate birds, short-eared owls and finches, hiked over lava fields, snorkeled and kayaked.
To those familiar with the history of New York City schools, this should come as no surprise: NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña is pushing for a return to Balanced Literacy, which she has long supported and which she sees as compatible with the Common Core.
Some dispute her claim; a New York Times article by Javier Hernández quotes Common Core architect Susan Pimentel, who says that part of the Balanced Literacy philosophy is “worrisome and runs counter to the letter and spirit of Common Core.” Later, it states that she sees the two as potentially compatible. Compatibility aside, is this return to Balanced Literacy a good idea? I say emphatically no–and will give two reasons that weren’t mentioned in the article. It was in large part my objection to Balanced Literacy (as dogma) that spurred me to write Republic of Noise.
Balanced Literacy, which traces back to initiatives of the 1970s and 1980s, rests on the premise that children learn best when allowed to teach each other and themselves. The teacher is a “guide on the side,” not a “sage on the stage”; students have frequent opportunities to choose their own books; and most lessons involve small group work (or sometimes independent work). The program was extensively developed in NYC schools in the 1990s. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein mandated it throughout NYC schools in 2003. It is the foundation of the Reading and Writing Project, founded by Lucy Calkins.
While certain elements of Balanced Literacy, applied prudently, could be part of good teaching anywhere, the program as a whole has dangerous weaknesses. Many critics have pointed to the lack of curricular focus and the implied disparagement of direct instruction. The NYT article quotes Robert Pondiscio, who became an eloquent and passionate critic of Balanced Literacy as a result of teaching it in the South Bronx:
“One of the best things you can do to build reading proficiency is to build a strong base of background knowledge,” said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow and vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research organization. “When you have 24 kids reading 24 books, you’re not accounting for that.”
Indeed. Moreover, when there’s no specific content that the students are learning together, what do they get instead? Strategies, strategies, and more strategies. Reading strategies, writing strategies, strategies for remembering your strategies. In the absence of content, such strategies become vapid. Forget about holding a candle; they can’t even hold hot air to subject matter. Also, some of these “strategies” involve sidestepping the text–for instance, a teacher might encourage students to figure out unfamiliar words (that is, to figure out what they actually are) by looking at the pictures.
Here’s my contribution to the discussion: Balanced Literacy is to be distrusted because it is an all-encompassing pedagogical package that comes with both a worldview and a fever. Moreover, its emphasis on group work discourages high-level, sustained, and original work and thought. [Read more…]
I’m off to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. (Blue-footed boobies!) Michael E. Lopez, Diana Senechal and Rachel Levy will be blogging in this space.
Michael is a California litigation and appellate attorney, and also a newly-minted Ph.D. in Philosophy, specializing in Philosophy of Education (among other things). He blogs — sporadically — at Highered Intelligence and regularly fills when I go on vacation.
Also a regular vacation blogger, Diana teaches high school philosophy and writes nonfiction, satire, and poetry. Her students write a philosophy journal, CONTRARIWISE. She is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in School and Culture and a blogger.
Rachel is a parent, teacher, writer, and soon-to-be doctoral student. A D.C. native, she lives in Ashland, Virginia, with her husband and three children. She has taught high school and middle school English for Speakers of Other Languages and Social Studies, as well as preschool. She normally blogs at All Things Education.
I want to thank Michael E. Lopez and Diana Senechal for their wonderful contributions to the blog while I was off cruising the Norwegian fjords and celebrating a family wedding — the first of six weddings we have in the next five months.
Let me remind you that Michael blogs at Highered Intelligence and Diana is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.
Our culture is designed for gregarious team players, says Susan Cain, author of Quiet, in this TED talk on The Power of Introverts. Schools require children to work in groups, “even in the most solitary of assignments, such as creative writing,” she complains. Students need the chance to think and learn on their own too. “Solitude is the school of the soul.”
Diana Senechal’s Republic of Noise also criticizes the mania for group work, collaboration and “groupthink,” rather than solitary contemplation.
Everybody’s connected all the time, “sharing” every 140-character observation, updating each other on their latest cup of coffee, tweeting and texting. But there’s less time to think, writes Diana Senechal in her new book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture.
An English teacher quotes Senechal’s critique of the stress on group work and collaboration.
“Our public schools, which should encourage students to see beyond the claims of the movement, have instead caved in to the immediate demands of the larger culture and economy. Convinced that the outside world calls for collaboration, school leaders and policymakers expect teachers to incorporate group work in their lessons, the more of it the better. They do not pay enough attention to the ingredients of good collaboration: independent thought, careful pondering of a topic, knowledge of the subject, and attentive listening.
“One oft-touted practice in elementary school is the ‘turn and talk’ activity, where a teacher pauses in a story she is reading aloud, asks a question, and has the students talk to their partners about it. When they are done, they join hands and raise them in the air. Instead of losing themselves in the story, they must immediately contend with the reactions of their peers. Many districts require small-group activities, throughout the grades, because such activities presumably allow all student to talk in a given lesson. Those who set and enforce such policies do not consider the drawbacks of so much talk. Talk needs a counterbalance of thought; without thought, it turns into chatter.”
I memorized a sonnet by Wordsworth in the 10th grade. Forty-odd years later, it stills comes to mind: “The world is too much with us; late and soon. Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers . . . “
Compulsive tweeting and checking of e-mail is harder to resist than alcohol or cigarettes, according to a new study.