A funny thing happened at our in-service meeting last Friday. The former ass principle where I teach who is now the district curriculum coordinator was trying to explain the new program where every teacher in the district will now have to post their lesson plans on-line. The she gave the name of the program then explained that last year it was called something else and the year before it was called something else and so on and so forth. There was a collective groan from all the social studies teachers present. This lady then stops what she's saying and asks what the problem is. She got an ear full. Good God how many times do we spin our wheels shoveling the same old bullshit under a new name!
Naturally this got me to thinking. What's the best example of teaching I've ever come across?
Hands down Sun Tzu's in his book The Art Of War.
The King of Wu asked Sun Tzu if he could train women to be soldiers. As a test he had a hundred of his concubines taken into the courtyard. Sun Tzu set them up in groups of 25 with one of the concubines as leader of each group. He then explained the commands of right face and left face. When he ordered them to perform this simple command they broke out into laughter. Sun Tzu then explained that if the troops do not understand the orders it's the commander's fault for not being clear enough. He explained the drill again and gave the command. Again they broke out into laughter. This time he explained that if the commands were clear and understood, but the troops did not obey it was the fault of their leaders. He ordered the four concubines in charge of each group to be beheaded. The King of Wu then send down word for Sun Tzu not to harm his concubines. Sun Tzu then replied that once he'd been given a job to accomplish there were certain orders he could not follow and be successful. The concubines were beheaded and from that point on when he gave orders to the four groups they performed them flawlessly. The King of Wu then sent the concubines back to the women's quarters upon which Sun Tzu said the King wasn't really serious about his troops.
This was about 500BC and I'm not, let me repeat NOT speaking up in favor of beheading students, but the same logic of instruction applies.
1. Discipline requires consequences. The drill was just a game to the concubines until they saw what would happen if they didn't take it seriously. Major problem in education: there are no consequences for the students. Instead they are trying to make test scores reflect on the teachers. This is just plain stupid. Stop social promotion in the lower grades. Make employers hire only students with a 2.0 or higher gpa or graduates, do away with the GED as a short cut for a diploma. Make the diploma mean something and let there be consequences for dropping out or skating by with straight D's. If a student doesn't want to come to class, is constantly late,obey the teacher, do any work, is more interested in listening to music or talking or texting on the cell phone, start fights, call other students names... They should be removed from class for the rest of the semester or year and if that holds up their graduation one or two years so be it. It's a consequence for actions they could have chosen not to do. Once students start seeing the consequences in action the majority of them will straighten up and take their education seriously. Instead of making teachers "teach to the test" if students knew that they would not go on to the next level of instruction in math, science, history, English, etc unless they showed competency on the standardized test guess what their scores would improve dramatically, because it would mean something to them. Right now everyone is held accountable for test scores except the students. And they wonder why the scores keep getting lower and lower.
2. In order for there to be consequences the instructor needs to be supported. If Sun Tzu had obeyed the King's command nothing would have been accomplished. The concubines would have known that the threat of execution was just intended to scare them, but wouldn't be followed through. From that point on they would have ignored him knowing that he didn't have the full backing of the King. There's not much Ellen Bernstein the union president here says that I agree with, but a couple of days ago a study came out that showed 30% of new teachers leave the profession in the first two years and 50% leave by the fifth year. Ellen told the news reporters it wasn't lack of pay, but lack of support that drives teachers out. I said upon hearing her words: "Right On!"
The students know that if their parents complain about what the teacher assigned, grades assessed or that we talked to them the wrong way in class the school's administration sides with them over the teacher most of the time. If the administration does side with the teacher then the courts cut us off at the knees. John Rosemond writes a column about child rearing which is carried by the local newspaper. He wrote an article about public schools a few years ago that was spot on. He said that when it comes to public schools and the courts they can't win. If they try to enforce their discipline the courts rule in favor of the parents. If a child is harmed by other students because there's no discipline the school loses on that suit too. They've put all public schools into a no-win situation.
What Sun Tzu explained to the King of Wu is that there can be no responsibility without authority.