September 17, 2010

Two different but related things

Posted in Schooling and unschooling, Uncategorized tagged , at 8:38 pm by chavisory

1.  My friend Brandy recently revamped her own blog and I think it’s great!  It’s called Cognitive Informalist, and concerns how we learn in informal or unplanned settings, especially through games and interactional media.

2.  In the debate in the comments section of my last post, I’m being told by an old friend that I’m wrong about what’s going on in schools these days.  And it’s just possible; I might be.  So if you are a teacher, or a parent with kids in school, or have some other sort of inside view of what’s actually going down in classrooms lately, and your school is trying something radical or exciting to foster independence, critical thinking, creativity, and respect for individual learning desires, I would love to hear about it!  The comments section, as always, is open.


  1. Allison M. said,

    I read the previous entry on my phone, so I didn’t really have a chance to respond (okay, that’s just an excuse for me being lazy).
    I went to school for secondary education with an emphasis in English and I was amazed how different school was throughout my years of student teaching. Quite a bit of independent thinking was encouraged (through individualized projects, gathering information to share, general inquiry, etc.). . .but now that I’m sitting here thinking about it that was in an honors dual-enrollment history/English class.
    Another class I was in was a remedial English class for sophomores. It was a drag getting through 45 minutes in there. The main teacher (it was also a class-within-a-class period) was also the head football coach which was another level of ridiculousness. I have my own beefs with coaching in high school, so I’m going to try to let this slide here. I can’t think of anything positive that happened in that class. Some of the kids really wanted to learn and I wondered why they were in what was the equivalent of the “academic” language arts at Park Hill (which, funny enough, I was placed in thanks to a poor middle school performance). Those kids were dragged down by the kids that clearly didn’t want to be there. Sigh. There’s no easy solution, you can’t leave kids behind, but others shouldn’t be punished because they have different capabilities. I digress. I was in the Columbia Public School system for all of my student teaching and what I noticed the most was how the school system in Columbia seemed to have it more ‘together’ than PH. We didn’t have many options for classes and we didn’t even have driver’s ed! That’s a requirement here in IL! I’ve been down on PH for years because I feel that I got a substandard deal in the education department. A chemistry teacher berated me, the school failed to back the newspaper in any way which probably accounts for a lot of my resentment, you weren’t allowed in band/orchestra unless you could afford private lessons. . .I could go on. I think what got me the most was that PH was (possibly still? I don’t know anymore) considered to be a great school system (my mother always touted it to be of higher quality than NKC schools). Once I met people in college that grew up mainly in the Chicago-area, it made me realize how much I’d been missing. Weird.

    Anyway, since Burke (my son) has been in school, I’ve noticed quite a bit of difference. He’s in fourth grade this year and he has never had grades. He has goals to work towards and we’re notified if he ‘needs improvement’, ‘meets’ or ‘exceeds’ goals. Teachers are very open to communicating with parents–offering up e-mail addresses, phone numbers, time to stop by. I volunteered in the classroom last year and it was refreshing to see so many parents participating in these kids’ education.
    This is actually my son’s third school (something I’m not proud of and it will be coming to an end since we bought our house). He’s actually a year ahead of his age group (his b-day is Sept. 2) because we enrolled him in a private school in kindergarten. It was actually a great school and I wish I could find something comparable, but I never have. The kids would help each other learn (it was K-5 but no one was really in a grade, kids were divided up by their skill levels, older kids would help the younger ones, etc.) and the school would bring in real life examples of topics (they brought in an electrician to talk about electricity and give a demonstration once). They learned Spanish there, something that was continued when we lived in Oak Park, IL, but since we’ve moved to a different town it isn’t offered anymore. He’s in his first year of band and for the most part, I’m pretty happy with the way things are going. There are things I wish would be different (I can’t help but pine for foreign language still and for there to be more one-on-one interaction, even though class sizes are much smaller than when we were in school).

    I feel like I rambled quite a bit in this and if you have any questions about anything I said, feel free to ask!

    • chavisory said,

      I think that’s amazing that Burke’s school doesn’t do grades–that to me is one of the most absurd and arbitrary things about standard public schools–that a group of kids with nothing in common except being all the same age are given an arbitrary set of curriculum that may or may not have anything to do with their own personal strengths and ambitions, and graded on their ability to learn it all at the same rate…whereas in the real world, there are no grades; there’s only whether you do your job well or not. Or continue to make productive progress on goals, or not. There’s no such thing as a 90% being good enough but an 89% not.

      The way foreign language was handled at PH was another one of my big beefs–that there was none available until middle school, and then you weren’t even allowed to take the same language 2 semesters in a row! It was the exact *opposite* of how you’d set things up if the goal was for kids to actually learn a language! My stepsister, on the other hand, spent her first 8 years in Prairie Village schools, and had French throughout grade school. When I was 17 and she was 6, our French was on about the same level.

  2. sari said,

    hey emily, i just want to tell you i love reading your blog posts about education, and the comments from our former classmates are interesting too!

    my husband is a teacher, as i’ve mentioned, and i think he’d say there are problems with every district. especially now with all the budget cuts!!

    he’s starting a new job with PH on monday, actually. i’m sure i will continue to have insights from him about challenges and also about what’s good or what’s improving in the school system. his opinion, having worked in several area districts, is that PH is definitely one of the best…but of course there are good and bad teachers at any school you go to.

    • chavisory said,

      Cool–what’s he doing at PH?

      It’s been interesting writing this blog, since so many of our old classmates have gone into education in some way.

      I’m sure all districts have their own particular problems–I was just always frustrated at PH being touted as one of the best school districts available, when we had some of the most atrociously bad teachers and the administration just cared nothing for the situation when they were really being a drag on the time of the ambitious students. I mean, we had our Challenge language arts teacher in 11th grade giving us spelling tests on a 4th-6th grade level, and no one would’ve seen the problem except that Chris and Jess and I went bitching to Kincheloe. The spelling tests stopped, but the general quality of the class did not improve. (So Allison, you may not have been missing all that much by being in Academic instead of Challenge L.A.) Of course we also had some of the best teachers–people like Mr. Howe and Mr. Hipp who kept me sane. But I feel like PH’s good grades, good test scores, good AP stats and college acceptance rates allowed a lot of parents to not acknowledge problem teachers or how our time was being wasted in a lot of ways. I couldn’t stand the hypocrisy; I felt like there was an attitude among parents that “things look okay so they are okay, stop complaining.”

      I watch developments at PH with interest, but mostly rolling my eyes, especially at things like the 6th Grade Center, where 6th-graders are now separated out completely from both elementary and middle school.

  3. brandy said,

    Thanks for the plug! 🙂

    This is sort of a continuation of my reply to you there, based on your reply to me on your other post here… Uh, blog-convo back and forth… But you mentioned how the KCMO district is doing away with age-based grades, which I think is SUCH a fabulous thing. I really, really hope they do it well and that it catches on. Because as I was saying about moving the work in school closer to the work of the real world, I also think that the culture of the school also has to be closer to the culture of the real world in order to break down those “School is a Special Place” boundaries that keep knowledge from flowing back and forth.

    And of course, in the real world, you work with and learn from people of all ages. Grades and classrooms based on chronological age and nothing else are so artificial and have nothing to do with any theory about how learning best happens – it’s just convenience. That’s the kind of innovation that I think will help us move modern schooling in the right direction – and to think, Maria Montessori figured it out in the 1920s.

  4. MrsTuition said,

    Your post raised a couple of interesting questions that I should spend some time thinking about. Very informative, thank you.

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