Sunday, March 23, 2008

the yin and yang of dichotomies

There are many useful dichotomies available to describe culture (ying - yang), organisation (hierarchy - heterarchy or ad-hocracy), cognition (abstract - concrete), emotion (impersonal - personal), ethics (judgement - narrative), anthropology (universals - non universals), futurology (cyborgs - human) and vocations (scientist - artist)

These dichotomies are even more useful if we look at ways to bridge them, examine their connection and interrelation and understand that in some circumstances one transforms into the other

In the education debate / culture wars some argue for "back to basics" or some sort of traditional curriculum knowledge and others argue for social constructivism, process skills and discovery learning. People create web sites that are against things and wage wars on government. PLATO = people lobbying against teaching outcomes.

My feeling is that we are stuck because we don't listen to the other side and don't take the best from both worlds and integrate them.


Anonymous said...

I had the opportunity as a child to be taught by some creative teachers. I find the purist discovery learning approaches lacking, mainly because they're so dogmatic. Be wary of dogma/ideological approaches. A good teacher is one who can "read" the student, see how they learn, and impart information in a way the student can understand. I think different children have different learning styles. So an approach that might work with most students won't work for all. There are, for example, students with learning disabilities. They can learn, but their brains process information differently. A teacher that understands this can be a great asset.

The problem I see with the discovery camp is their dogma against anything that resembles rote learning. They even avoid the idea of repeating exercises because of this. There's also a whole political aspect to it. I've read second-hand accounts of education professors who believe that rote learning is "patriarchical", and "oppressive", which to me is idiotic thinking. It's grown-ups projecting their own angst onto a teaching methodology they don't like, perhaps because they found it boring or empty when they were exposed to it as students.

I see problems with the "back to basics"/core knowledge camp as well, but I think it's a lesser of two evils. "Back to basics" finds comfort in rote learning and memorization. There's a feeling of certainty about it, which I think is misplaced. They seem to have this notion that the student is a "blank slate" and the teacher writes on it, and upon doing so the student will have learned what the teacher knows. What they miss is the deeper knowledge which has real value. What I've seen though is their hearts are in the right place. My sense is their only interest is in making sure students learn what they need to know. I just think their approach to teaching is shallow and materialistic. There's no sense of getting in touch with the "inner learner" who is curious, inquisitive, and creative.

The teachers I liked most I think used a combination of strategies: part rote, and part discovery. The rote parts came at the beginning of the course, providing a "bedrock" upon which discovery could take place later.

Bill Kerr said...

hi mark,

I agree with much of what you say here.

This raises the question of -> Is there any value at all in learning theories, as distinct from just knowing your students?

I think there is ->> I discuss this on the home page of the learning evolves wiki , starting with the heading, it isn't immediately obvious