1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Higher Standards or Appropriate Methods?

Recently Overheard:
History is Boring

Image result for high school history boring

Regardless of what one thinks of the Common Core standards and their implementation, the truth of the matter is that standards tend to measure (if/when they boiled down to a standardized test) the end, not the means of education.

It's the Methodology, Silly 

This semester of substitute teaching has given me the opportunity to informally poll and interview students about their experience of school: the books they read, the way teachers teach, the interaction with their peers, and a host of other topics that are of interest to me professionally (both for a better theoretical understanding of education, but more concretely, of "sizing-up" schools to understand their strengths and weaknesses). 

Recently I asked an obviously bright student about history: 
Me: What do you think of history?
Her: It's boring.  Me: How so?  Her: [Shrug] Just a lot of random facts.  Me: Really? I find history totally interesting. Do you discuss things?  Her: Well, the teacher lectures and we take notes from the book. We do "DBQs" (document-based questions that bring primary documents into focus in order to highlight some part of the historical era under investigation). Sometimes we have a debate, but that's usually 5 students against the rest of the class.  Me: Conversations about history or historical questions?  Her: No.
I didn't say so, but I thought: If I were in her shoes, I too would be bored out of my skull. Not every class takes a laundry list approach to history, but Common Core or the next placebo that rolls off the assembly line is not going to do much of anything by itself. What is needed is a spirit of Wonder, which is simply a Socratic way of saying "inquiry."

When/if I get the chance to teach history again, Socratic seminars will have pride of place. History is a conversation about reality and what is worth living and dying and fighting for. It's not boring. Only adults who have forgotten their love for reality can make it so.

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