Monday, April 25, 2011

In Defense of a Middle Ground

I've been spending more time on Twitter, and a bit more time reading blogs lately.  I've noticed something about everyone crying out for change - it appears that in their minds that it's all or nothing.  There is no partial solution - either completely remove (or implement) something, or bust.

Some of what I've seen lately...

Homework is evil!
Tests destroy learning!
Competition is bad!
It all has to be relevant!
The internet should be unfiltered completely!
Math has to be real!

The thing is?  I agree with all of that - but all to varying degrees.

Why can't people (and I'm guilty of this as well, although trying to change) accept a middle ground.  Are there really that many issues in education that have total rights or total wrongs?  I can't name too many, and certainly, in my opinion, none of the ones I've listed above are black and white.

Where do I stand?

I think some homework is important.  It allows teachers to provide some practice for students that they didn't have time for in class, and it provides students with an opportunity to learn a valuable skill of completing work for a deadline.  Not 50 questions, not 2 hours, but a few questions to reinforce a lesson.

I think tests are necessary, as I said in a previous post, to prepare students for the next stage of their education.  I also think that it allows for some learning to be displayed in an efficient manner.  I don't use them often, and I don't place a huge weight on them, but I certainly don't think they should be removed completely.

Competition is bad?  Really?  Competition where someone feels bad, I suppose.  Competition that's unfair, yes.  Competition with kids who can't understand winning and losing - sure.  Competition to teach a concept with a bit of fun?  Not a chance.  My kids LOVE playing math Tic-Tac-Toe, and I've used a dozen other "competition" games before as well.  What game do students play on the playground?  Competition tag games, football or basketball, etc.  Winners and losers aren't bad, it's how we react to them.

As I spoke about previously, relevance is important, but not always vital.  Learning for the sake of learning is valuable, and learning to learn is important.

I'm a huge fan of unblocking most websites, even some of the questionable ones, because students have to know what to do when they encounter something inappropriate.  Sometimes, however, age plays a factor - we rate movies not necessarily because we don't think children should understand the topics being covered, but because we believe them not to be ready to deal with it yet.  Therefore, most of the internet should be unblocked most of the time...but there are cases when some filtering is necessary.

As a math teacher, I get the question all the time about "What's the point".  Usually I have an answer, because most of our math really does have a point.  Sometimes, it's simply for the love of learning, or for the act of solving a challenging problem.  Sometimes, math doesn't have to be completely relevant.

I would simply ask everyone screaming for education reform to think about perhaps considering the other side of the coin...consider that perhaps there is a middle ground.

It's rare that there are decisions that have absolute rights and absolute wrongs, there are too many factors and too many situations that we have to consider when we scream for change.

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