Thursday, 31 March 2011

Papert is Wrong

I usually find Papert right on top of things...and mostly agree with his views...but today at "The Daily Pappert" the quote was:

“The institution of School, with its daily lesson plans, fixed curriculum, standardized tests, and other such paraphernalia, tends constantly to reduce learning to a series of technical acts and the teacher to the role of a technician.”

I know that is not true.  I deal with wonderful kids every day who have not let their education be reduced "to a series of technical acts".  I work with teachers every day who refuse to be reduced to "the role of a technician."

Yesterday a student who might have been focused on the AP Calculus test just one month away had asked me about Euler's proof that the solution of the sums of the reciprocals of the squares, the famous Basel Problem, was pi^2 / 6.   I had to admit I didn't know off the top of my head how to do that..So this morning I brought him one of my Julian Havel books that discussed the proof, and he walked out with it this afternoon.  I don't know, but I bet he will be reading it this weekend rather than studying for my test...which I can live with. That may not constitute master teaching, but just seizing the moment when I could feed a student's hunger with more math.  But not being a "technician" either, Joe wasn't that hungry to learn when I met him a few years ago.  I am proud to believe that being in my classes has been one of the factors that fanned the flames of curiosity. 

Yes, I teach the curriculum, but every kid who ever walked through my class knows that there are those precious moments when we walk away from the syllabus to talk about the things that get Mr. Ballew excited.... anything about Euler....about Geometry ("darn it kids, you gotta' learn geometry to know math")  ... about vectors.. and the history of math.  OK, we go off on a lot of tangents, but come the standardized tests and the AP tests and all those things that they use to measure kids and schools and teachers, my kids make me proud.  Proud of them, proud of the teachers I work with, and proud of the little contributions I have made to enrich their learning.

Maybe what Papert says is too often true in education, but it doesn't have to be that way.  If you are a  student,take charge of your own education.  Let it be driven by YOUR curiosity. And if you are a teacher, find moments to teach your passion.  Kids WANT to know that learning is satisfying. Talk to them about what YOU are learning, about what you are struggling to learn.
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