Friday, June 28, 2013

Innovative to the Point of Stupid.

Not completely obvious, though.
Innovation is a good thing. It is a constant desire for improvement and change, but it must be tempered with reality. You cannot change for change's sake and you absolutely cannot change if the end result is worse than the current practice.

This would seem obvious.

The problem is that too many people who should know better but are pressured by time and publishing deadlines, fall into the trap and wind up looking stupid. Case in point is this bit (via Red Lines and Highlights) from Lisa Nielson, who calls herself the Innovative Educator, about Teaching Writing:

The unspoken truth about teaching writing in schools is that few people doing so are published writers themselves.
And, we just jumped the shark.

I have said many times that I feel teachers should know what they are teaching, should major in their subject and should be years ahead of their students. I have not said, however, that being a practicing mathematician is essential to being a math teacher, or that only research physicists should be teaching physics.

You need to know your craft, but the craft in question is Teaching.

In fact, most professionals are the last people you want teaching in high school. Sure, Kurt Vonnegut and others have made great college professors, and there are a few who can publish and teach at the same time, but insisting that ALL high school English teachers be published writers is "Perfect getting in the way of Good Enough."

What we need are teachers. Good ones.

What's worse, the message that students get is that in school they don't focus on writing for real. Let's be honest, how often do you read a book in the real world and think, "Oh! I want to write a book report!" How often do we take two texts to analyze and write a paper that we hand into someone. How often do we research something, then write up a research paper for no one?

How often indeed? Well, in order to write that blog post, the innovative educator researched several texts (i.e., read a couple articles), incorporated some other knowledge and put together a short essay. In order to write this, I did as well. I handed it in ... or rather "published it."

It's not a book report - that would be a critical review, and if I look at, I can see thousands of them. Sure, the ones you do in fifth grade are horrible, but that's not the fault of the format. It's because you're dealing with fifth graders and a book they hated.

Professionals in other fields are not professionals in this one; it takes a lot more than skill in a related field to be a teacher.
Why aren't schools helping students write for real? Why aren't those who teach writing, publishing their work and helping their students to write for real audiences?
They are, but The Innovative Educator can't see beyond her smartphone.

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Education moves pretty fast, too, Ferris. It would be good if everyone paid attention to it.


  1. If you dig a little deeper on her blog, she's pandering to her audience by flogging a very old talking point (one commenter on my post said that it's basically a complex version of the old "Those who can't ..." adage).

    I really appreciate your point and definitely agree with it. And thank you for the shout out.

  2. She is just awful, she isn't a classroom teacher and doesn't deal with students on a daily basis in the same way that the teacher's she derides do. I've never seen so much self promotion in one place in my life.

    1. No, she's some sort of higher-up in NYC public schools and her position involves educational technology or something. Oh, and she makes $170K a year.


  3. ^Sounds like a nice job, if you can get it. IMHO, teaching is about communication, and a person can be very adept at a skill, but also lacking in the ability to communicate. If being a "practicing" mathematician were essential to teaching, there would be very few math teachers. As you put it, good enough should be good enough!

    We accept that approach in other areas of our lives. For example, for most doctor visits, we don't require specialists. I don't need an electrical engineer to install a light fixture. My mother - who is not a professional chef - taught me to cook. It may not be haute cuisine, but I know the basics and if I want to learn more I can pursue it to the knowledge level I desire.