Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We're lost, but we're making good time

My sister sent me The Eight Irresistable Principles of Fun, and I was immediately taken by its message. I especially found rule #7 to be appealing for me.

When it comes to the professional development of teachers, we tend too often to add more and more stuff that we have to do, but rarely do we ever consider the things we need to stop doing. Too often we see the Teacher's Toolbox as one that should have more and more tools. After all, having more tools is better than have less tools? Right?

Well, maybe not.

Metaphors can be fun. And they can be accurate, but sometimes metaphors get us in trouble. There are tools in the Teacher's Toolbox that are broken. Duct tape has no place in a plumber's toolbox because quite frankly, if it's there, he might use it. Good plumbers don't plumb with duct tape.

Alfie Kohn uses apples metaphorically in his article Education's Rotton Apples:

One recalls the bit of folk wisdom—confirmed by generations of farmers and grocers—warning that a rotten apple can spoil a barrel full of good apples. It would be pushing things to postulate a kind of educational ethylene released by traditional classroom practices, analogous to the gas given off by bad fruit. But it does seem that the quest for optimal results may sometimes require us to abandon certain practices rather than simply piling other, better practices on top of them.
I think his point is well taken. Teachers are mistaken when they take on a 'more the merrier' kind of approach. Here are but a few things that teachers and parents need to stop doing.

Yogi Berra who once said, "we're lost, but we're making good time." Too often we are a little careless, a little mindless about our practices. That's not to say that we have bad intentions. In fact, I am prepared to say that most teachers and most parents are good people with the best of intentions who just need to rethink the pedagogy behind what they are doing.

So when step #7 from
The Eight Irresistable Principles of Fun says "If it's the wrong hole, you need to stop digging," the problem is most people don't know they are digging the wrong hole. If they did, they would have stopped long ago. But when we are challenged by others to rethink the hole we are digging, we sometimes meet them with defensiveness or even disdain.

Nassim Taleb put it this way:

People reserve standard compliments to those who do not threaten to their pride; the others they praise by calling "arrogant".
Am I threatening your pride right now? I might be, especially if I am challenging the way you teach or parent. There's no doubt this could all be a little threatening, but it's what you do with this challenge that really matters. In the end, I'm not here to change your mind. I'm just here to influence you. To get you to think and rethink.

What hole are you still digging that need not be dug?


  1. Well done! Liked your last tweet, followed you here. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, by Sir Winston Churchill: "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." I think that connects to a lot of what you ate saying. In soanyncases we are blind to change because we a caught in the manner in which we employ instruction and we refuse to see the writing on the wall that we just aren't getting anywhere. We are making no progress. Thanks for being a beacon of free thinking. I enjoy your posts.

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    2. ... to say: the righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we get.

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