Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Alfie Kohn interview

Here are but a few of the points Kohn makes during this interview:

  • Kids learn better when they happy.
  • In school, too many children alternate between anxiety and boredom.
  • Too often the questions students have about their own world are deemed irrelevant by distant authorities.
  • Schools are becoming test-prep centers where students are treated as objects rather than subjects.
  • Too many children are being left out of their own learning - and now teachers are being left out of this entire process of deciding how and what children will learn. Now distant authorities come up with lists of skills and facts enforced by fill-in-the-bubble tests - turning schools into places that are largely joyless and ineffective at helping kids become deep thinkers who love learning.
  • Future historians will look back on this period as the darkest and profoundly undemocratic times in American educational history.
  • We need some way to assess the quality of schools and teaching - that's not necessarily same as measuring which implies reducing the process of making sense of ideas to numbers. Even if we need to measure, we don't need to do it the way it is being done now. 
  • Standardized tests tend to favor a shallower level of learning and teaching.
  • Affluence is mostly what standardized tests measure.
  • I do think we need information as tax payers, parents and citizens that our schools are doing a good job, but I know enough about standardized tests to realize that no information would be better than the profoundly misleading numbers we are getting from the current testing situation.


  1. Yes, richer kids do better on standardized tests. Why do you think that is?

    What you don't say is that kids that score better on standardized tests also do better on a whole host of life outcomes, even if you compare them only to their siblings... why do you think that is?

  2. Self-control is a better predictor of many positive outcomes when compared to standardized test scores. Still, perhaps the whole host of outcomes mentioned is a result of scoring well in a world that revolves around such measures....this is what we like, high scores, so naturally we help promote and support and invest in people, activities and things that support our belief system. It's classic Skinner....reinforcements everywhere.

  3. There is a whole skill set dedicated to how to do well on tests. Kids, teens, college students, and professionals who learn these skills perform better on tests. Educated and affluent families are probably more able to access material and tips on how to acquire this skill set. If you don't perform well in a test setting, it doesn't matter what you know.

  4. Self control and self discipline according to Ak are names for ' being compliant and following directions.

    I recently had a discussion about the importance of self discipline with a teacher

    teacher " sometimes it becomes necessary for educators to provide challenging/rigorous curriculum matched with the ability of our students that requires work which they immediately perceive as "strenuous , hard work, called "effortful"

    Those students who have not acquired or experienced a disciplined work ethic will not work towards mastery. Those who experience the pay-off of hard work and see the beauty of progress will make this realization in the future. Many schools do not allow students to experience a rigorous curriculum, viewing it as "too strenuous."

    Those students who have not acquired or experienced a disciplined work ethic will not work towards mastery.

    This is how I see things. Kids should never see learning as hard work, strenuous. For this reason progressive schools give little homework and only where it is the natural thing to do after a certain lesson.

    me -Providing a curriculum should be less defined , more about defining an area of interest after a teacher introduced an issue or a subject in an interesting way and has elicited questions from the kids about the issue or subject. These questions need to be answered and they provide the structure for further research and study.

    The attitude to curriculum amongst progressive educators is ' less is more' or as Howard Gardner invites teachers to pretend that they have been given only one hour with students to do something on the subject of an entire course they teach . Figure out what you would do in a single hour , he says and do it the whole year round. When curriculum is presented this way , when the focus is on depth and not rushing the learning I don't think kids will perceive learning as hard work.

    A disciplined work ethic and hard work are important when there is no or very little intrinsic motivation in the learning. The way this work ethic is promoted in the traditional classroom is to talk about the value of self -discipline ( compliance ) and achievement rather than the value of the learning itself .

    Rigorous and challenging curriculum may not produce better and deeper learning if the students hearts are not in it .


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