Teacher Agrees with Annie Murphy Paul’s “In Praise of Tinkering”: The Affect of the Decline in Real World Experiences on Student Achievement

shortlink: http://shawnbeightol.com/blog/?p=221

re: In Praise of Tinkering by Annie Murphy Paul

I wrote this letter January 19th, 2011 to Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Carvalho (my boss) in response to MDCPS’ joining the national “What’s wrong with kids these days is they need more tests” movement:

So much research has gone into educational reform – I would hazard to say the bases have been covered.

Yet decline persists.

So much research has gone into societal factors that are equally as important as what goes on in the classroom – family values, media, digital/traditional recreation.

Many recent studies are being published now that echo what good teachers have intuitively sensed – children don’t study.  Perhaps they never did (to the extent that teachers wanted).  But the activities that displace studying now are VIRTUAL, digital, software.

These are 2 dimensional at best.  Human authors will never duplicate the complexities of real life.  A digital golf game will never teach a child the same concepts such as wind vectors, slope, frictional factors (roughness of green, “slippery-ness”) that a real golf game teaches subconsciously.

We teachers use these subconscious facts and knowledge as hooks upon which we build the framework of new knowledge.  It has become increasingly difficult to do so.

The other day I mesmerized a class full of high school students with 2 magnets repelling each other to demonstrate proton-proton interactions.  I almost cried at the realization that children don’t play with toys anymore.

Imagination and subconscious learning experiences have been replaced by software and video activities.

To the point that the American Psychology Association is considering adding video (gaming) to its list of addictions.

Solid evidence points to decreased time in virtual pursuits leading to learning games and stronger family relationships.

A friend of mine is a college professor who travels the world training other countries in American educational practices.  Our theory and delivery are great.

Our failure (as an institution, as a nation) is to see education in a broad enough context to realize that a broader societal fix is needed than merely writing objectives on blackboards or sitting kids in front of a computer to monitor their pupil motion.

The institution or individual who prescribes a fix for this will be worthy of the MacArthur Fellowship.


Shawn Beightol

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