Provocation of the Day

There are sort of two different kinds of issues in K-12 education in America. One set of questions is about the structure of the system and what kinds of structural changes might drive better outcomes. Another set of questions is specifically about pedagogy and what kinds of classroom content would be valuable and effective. The former gets discussed a lot in the policy community and the latter much less so. This is, I think, mostly for good reason since someone like me would just be guessing randomly about pedagogical issues.

So I think each and every one of Michael O’Hare’s ideas on this subject should be taken with some grains of salt, but I found the whole post though-provoking and especially this: “let’s look hard at the differences between what we do to students in school and the environment they go into in a workplace, like the contrast between treating collaboration as cheating and as an essential for success.”

I will, however, stand up for a certain amount of instructional practices that O’Hare regards as obsolete. I think the evidence suggests that one of the most important skills people learn (or don’t) in school is self-discipline rather than specific knowledge. I don’t think learning the chronology of ancient near eastern empires (Sumeria then Assyria then Babylonia then Persia then Greece then Rome) in elementary school has ever been useful to me, or even that the chronology I learned is especially accurate, but a lot of life involves semi-arbitrary tasks and it’s worth one’s while to get used to performing them.