[Its.an.education.project] Constructionism (was Re: XP on OLPC - a contrarian view)

Eben Eliason eben.eliason at gmail.com
Fri May 23 16:44:49 EDT 2008

On Tue, May 20, 2008 at 9:36 AM, Antoine van Gelder <antoine at g7.org.za> wrote:
> On 19 May 2008, at 19:21, Albert Cahalan wrote:
>>> Are you serious? Are you really a Republican? No Child's Behind Left
>>> is the worst disaster in education in decades, as John Holt would have
>>> been the first to point out if he had lived long enough. Who claims
>>> that NCLB is raising skills, as opposed to test scores? With what
>>> evidence? The real skills aren't on the standardized tests.
>> Accountability and measurement is critical. Without that, you have
>> an unreliable system that produces a few winners and many losers.
>> While I regret that NCLB doesn't do much for the brightest, it is
>> extremely important for society that we raise the educational level
>> of the low acheivers.

For what it's worth, I would be careful to portray "the low-achievers"
and "the brightest" as opposites.  As I note below, I frequently find
that some of the brightest are also some of the low-achievers, due to
certain aspects of the educational system.  This doesn't change your
point, of course, which is noted.  It simply means that the way we go
about raising the overall educational level might not be as
straightforward as many think.

> * What has gone wrong that teaching to the test so often ends up being seen
> as being in conflict with teaching to the skills ? To the extent that often
> teaching to the skills is neglected ?

I don't think this is the fundamental problem; teaching to the test
can happily coexist with teaching to the skills, in theory.  In
practice, I feel that this is seldom the case, because the "teaching"
doesn't happen in a manner which actually imparts true understanding
of the concepts.  That is, teaching to the skills frequently manifests
itself as memorizing to the skills, which might provide short term
results (in the form of good test scores and further funding), without
providing any long term educational benefits.  The means are put
towards the wrong ends (the test scores, not the learning).

> * What has gone wrong that the claim "it is extremely important for society
> that we raise the educational level of the low achievers" is so often used
> as the justification for "a system which does not do much for the brightest"
> as if this the only way things can possibly be ?

This is another big problem.  Clearly in the top-down
teach-as-the-source-of-knowledge model, more attention is often given
to those who need help.  Understandably so.  One might even argue that
this is expected, since the bright kids are not only capable of doing
the required work, but are often self-empowered learners capable of
going beyond that which is required.  In practice (at least in my
experience), two things get in the way.  First, I have seen the bright
ones who "get it" actively discouraged from going above and beyond by
teachers, who desire to keep everyone at the same level.  Second, some
of the bright ones who lack a real challenge often lack (or lose) the
desire to put in any further effort at all; it's boring.

It seems like a relatively hard problem to address with the strict
teacher/student model, but seems it could naturally be resolved in an
environment which encourages peer collaboration, since a) the teacher
can depend on the bright students to assist in helping those who
require a little more time to grasp the concepts (and let's face it,
you can learn just as much by teaching) and b) because the bright
students can work together to challenge each other as well.

- Eben

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