Re: The school game

Charlie Hill (hill@VAXA.CIS.UWOSH.EDU)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 12:27:24 -0500

I finally realized why I've been feeling so frustrated with this whole
discussion. Everybody's been talking about
what school is, what teaching should look like, how students learn,
whether or not students *want* to learn, etc. The fact is that the
answer to all of these questions is, "it depends." I've had students who
learned best if I just got out of their way--and other students who would
be perfectly willing to go into a coma for three hours a week if they
thought it would get them a decent grade. And I'm not even making
generalizations about any individual student--the ones who slept through
my class were probably exciting students for other kinds of teachers in
other subjects. (Well, maybe some of them.)

I once watched a science teacher spend three class periods trying to get
the students to "discover" the following concept on their own: Velocity
is a state, not a force. If the students needed to know that (and that's
a big if), then the teacher should have just told them. *Sometimes* sitting
down and shutting up and listening to someone else is the best way to
learn. And sometimes, it's the worst. It depends--on lots of things.

The trouble with the factory model is that it only really allows for one
type of learning, one type of learner, one type of instructional
situation. I'd certainly vote to replace it, but I'm not sure what I'd
replace it with. Something that allows more flexibility, more options
for the teacher, and a variety of learning situations--and that
encourages students to take more control over their learning--but within
some boundaries.

The issue of control is also more complicated, I think, than some people
admit. If we keep making all the decisions for students, we
end up with what we have now--students who are often apathetic about their
schooling and uncomfortable with thinking critically. On the other hand,
as Steve points out, students often need some basic information about a
subject before they can decide where their interests lie--and someone
needs to decide what constitutes "basic information."

Both students and teachers need to be comfortable with sometimes assuming
control, sometimes giving it up. However, someone needs to coordinate
all this and someone needs to deal with students who decide (sometimes
for very complicated reasons) that they don't care to learn *anything*.
So I think the teacher has to have some ultimate authority.

Well, this is too long, and it's rambling, and I could spend an hour
trying to make it more coherent. But I'll just stop here and send it and
hope it makes some sense.


Charles Hill Bitnet - hill@oshkoshw
Dept. of English Internet -
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Oshkosh, WI 54901