March 10, 2006

Traditionalist or progressive? Facts or feelings? Wrong question!

Cleve of English360 has a bold stab at tackling this highly complex and emotionally charged yet fascinating issue. One of the fascinating aspects to me is the way so many people on both sides of the argument see it in black and white terms: are we for a traditionalist approach, or a progressive one? The two, it is assumed naively and often unthinkingly, being mutually exclusive, like oil and water. A colleague recently raised this issue with me recently, and spoke of preferring a conservative approach and of not being enamored of flakiness. So non-traditional = flaky??!!? It seems my colleague, and he is not alone of course, equates traditional (or conservative) with academic rigour and high standards, and "progressive" or non-traditional with slackness and low standards. Really, it's such a ridiculously prejudiced view it would be hilarious, if it weren't the fact that so many people believe it so sincerely.

I absolutely agree with Cleve that "Clare's points need to be addressed" and can be addressed, and of course that was what was disappointing about Downe's initial response. Cleve continues,
I don't feel the frustration the edutech community feels, because I don't have ridiculous tests rammed down my students' throats by a clueless admin weenie.
I think this is one issue, certainly: the administration pressures that may mean well initially, but result in people mindlessly teaching to the test and throwing such valuable affective factors out as curiosity and imagination (and the engineer needs these as much as the artist).
I don’t see any way that anyone learns without good feedback and good assessment.
Absolutely. No argument there (at least not from me!)
James Nelson is right on emphasizing that we have to truly engage in the learners work, not just write “comma-splice” in red pen
Agree, but I think it is why James Nelson is right that is important to be aware of: it is because the affective factor is so powerful and vital in learning. Not supremely important, as many critics try to make out; it doesn't mean, as some suggest, that this means that everyone must be made to feel good all the time and no-one should be corrected because it might upset them! How ridiculous! I really don't know anyone who believes that nonsense, yet this criticism is levelled time and time again at those who refuse to accept that "traditional" necessarily equals "rigour". But the fact of the matter is, whether people like it or not, we human beings are emotional creatures, and learning has a deep, emotional basis, and the affective factor plays a huge role in any human relationship, and the teacher-student relationship is no exception.
Kids suffer because of the lack of connection, not because of the red pens and grades
Absolutely.
They need and deserve honest feedback. They must know that the comma-splice is wrong.
Yes, but they don't need to be made to feel that getting the comma-splice is more important than anything else. It's when people think something else is more important than the human being that problems start popping up.
if the engineering student who takes that math test then goes on to build the bridge that my family drives over, then whether or not that student can express their feelings is not all that important to me.
Maybe not, but it's not "either/or". A bridge builder is also a human being who needs to express, appropriately. And because expression and language are important parts of learning, if you accept that Socrates had hit on something true about human beings, or if you accept that Vygotsky, Bruner, and the constructivists and interactionists have hit on a human truth. It's not that "feelings are more important than facts" or vice versa. That's the mistake so many make. We need emotionally stable bridge builders just as badly as we need musicians who can count! Real learning evolves out of curiosity and play, not because someone says you have to because there's a test on it. And by ignoring this fact it is quite possible to crush curiosity and play, and thereby stifle learning and lower standards. In fact, it happens every day. Is all I'm saying. And of course that doesn't mean we don't need tests, for crying out loud, as if that needed saying!

I don't think Cleve wrote too much; on the contrary, I feel there are still many unaddressed issues in this controversy, and it will come up again, I'm sure.

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