Substitute “education” for “economics”

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“The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really
know about what they imagine they can design.”

~ Friedrich A. Hayek (via Bob at bob@lakesideadvisors.com)

I just lived through a year of theory, much of which did not work and some of which was patently absurd. When told “we do not do whole group education,” I sat in the meeting with the other sheep, nodding. Maybe some of the new teachers actually thought abandoning whole-group education was a good idea. When you’ve heard the theory but never tried alternatives, how do you know what works and what does not work? In my district last year, experiments were not encouraged. We were all supposed to be doing the same lesson plan at the same time, regardless of class composition or background knowledge.

I guarantee readers that Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Finland have not abandoned whole-group education. I sat in a South Korean classroom for a morning once. Not only were they doing whole group instruction, students were taking down copious notes from that single lecturer who never once tried to make his material “fun.” They filled pages as I watched a rather soothing scene of fixed concentration and nonstop work. They also took a long recess to play ball.

Eduhonesty: Some of our recent educational struggles are of our own making. Kids can listen to lectures, take notes and then study those notes before taking tests. They do this all over the world. I am not saying that group work may not also have a place in any week’s lesson plan, but prescribing how lessons must be taught has perils. Some populations do much better at group work than others. The more background knowledge students bring to their groups, the more likely that groups will be successful. In the absence of background knowledge, the groups out of earshot may (probably mostly do) end up discussing whether Diego is going out with Marisol, or the Chicago Bulls roster needs new talent.

Obviously, someone has to be imagining and designing lessons for the classroom, but theory that does not appear to be producing results should not be forced upon teachers. I have a radical idea. Perhaps we could let teachers imagine and design their own lessons?

Administrators ought to determine curricula, align those curricula to standards and ensure that their districts are delivering the material associated with the curricula. They should not, however, tell teachers how to teach.