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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Without a Clue

What is it about people that forces them to give every indication through verbal and body language that they understand what is going on, when in reality they have no clue. I notice this mostly in class.

Early in my teaching career I would ask if everyone understood. There would then be a general consensus of nods and grumbles. I quickly realized that no one wanted to look stupid in front of the class so I was not getting an honest assessment of what was happening. So I started to ask, "What do you understand?" And then point to random students most of whom would anwer, "Everything."

This is like asking my six year old son what was his favorite part of a story and he relplies, "All of it." A wholly uninformative and most likely incorrect answer.

I am reminded of a project I did in high school which I inadvertanly produced a work of insight. We were asked to make a coat of arms and to have a motto attached to it. I thought it would be funny to quote Weird Al Yankovic (When has this ever failed?) and proclaim my motto: "Dare to be Stupid." I thought it was ironic. My teacher, Mrs. Dunnington, however thought I was the 432nd coming of the Dalai Lama.

From her perspective, as a teacher of honor students, it would take a great feat of courage to risk failure and ridicule. It is through failure (and success) that we learn, but often grade grubbing sycophants care only for the success.

Even today it takes willful determination for me to admit in front of others that I do not know something. On occassion I have let my internal debates as to whether I should ask a question go on for days so that the opportunity to learn has long since passed.

The internet makes it easier for us to hide our ignorance. Now if we don't know something we can just google it (bing it?) and not run the risk of looking stupid.

I guess the problem is that many of my students are unaware of the fact that they don't know. My job is to illuminate the boundaries of their knowledge and give them the kick in the ass to push those boundaries farther.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


So how do I define success. My students at alternative school, summer school, and night school invariably fail. Well that is not entirely true. They aim for Ds and occassionally make it. The attainment of a D is cause for great celebration including, but not limited too dance, song, and high-pitched squeals.

I find myself often accepting the bar that they have set. A bar so low that it would be more impressive if they managed to limbo under it rather than hop over. I begin to wonder if there are people out there that are interested in bettering themselves.

Yesterday, in a journal I asked the students to pick their favorite fairy tale and tell why they like it so much. Most of them could not name a fairy tale and started mentioning movies such as Hoodwinked. I had to explain to one student that Pocahontas was a real person, and while doing so some other students asked me how I knew for sure.

I have never had a student say to me, "Is it okay if I right six paragraphs instead of five." It is always, "What if I only do two paragraphs."

Is it my fault that they are not motivated? Probably.