Sunday, August 09, 2009

Cemetery seating.

When I write about the current model for public school education, I have referred to five rows of six students.
A reader tells me that is called cemetery seating.

S/he is right; on at least two levels.

The belief that cemetery seating is the way to go,
is based on the acceptance of two faulty premises.

The first, that thirty individual human beings can be moved in exactly the same direction, at exactly the same speed, effectively and efficiently, for twelve years.

The second, that any individual student is equally capable in
every aspect of their lives, academic or developmental.
When in truth, the interest level, and therefore the level of
engagement, and therefore the level of learning, varies
even within the same student over the course of the day.

The fastest students are held back, out of necessity. Educational leaders justify that situation, by explaining that slow students will be motivated to keep up. The quick learners are often used as teaching assistants, helping slower students catch on.

I have always argued that faster learners should not be held
back, even for the benefit of slower learners.

I am fairly certain that I remember being scolded as a student, for reading ahead.

The slowest students are moving too slowly to keep up.
They find themselves further behind every day.
In so far as much learning is dependent on prior learning,
the achievement gap widens on every day that they given
no choice but to perform the impossible.

I have always argued that students can only do their best.
And if their best isn't good enough to keep up, then things must
be slowed down down.

If the standard becomes nearly mastery level learning,
then we know that the student is as ready as they will ever be,
before they take another step.

A third grader entering the fourth grade with 70% of the skills they need to flourish, will leave the fourth grade with less than 70% of the skills they will need in fifth grade. And the achievement gap will widen.

Why not end the madness?

We cannot because, students lack the self discipline and learning skills that they need to be independent learners; which is the whole idea, is it not?

They can become individual learners. It's simple.
You teach them how to learn, and you teach them to behave.

An argument that I hear often, when I advocate for ethical standards of conduct and competence, is that you can't make people be ethical. Although correct, the argument is specious. The object of enforcing ethical standards is to make people behave ethically, not to make them become ethical.

The object of enforcing laws is not be make people law abiding. It is to hold them accountable when they are not.

Accountability to the law, or a higher standard of conduct than the law, does not have to come from within the individual, in order for the community to see the difference. A child who does not bully other children because he is not allowed to, is otherwise indistinguishable from a child who is not a bully because he has chosen not to be. Either way, the community "sees" a child who does not bully other children, or disrupt class, or what ever.

Imagine with students in them because they want to be there,
because they want to learn about whatever it is that is being offered in that room.
Some classrooms, where students know how to learn and have
the self discipline to do so, will have a lot of students working at a lot of workstations.

Some classrooms, out of necessity, may have 1 student and one adult.

Students are learning from the internet, because there simply is no better resource, and there likely will never be a better resource.

When they experience some difficultly, they will summon the attention of an adult who will come give them individual attention until their boggle is resolved. That adult doesn't necessarily have to be a "teacher" it needs only to be a person with authority over all of the students, knowledge of the material, and a personality that is not off putting for students.

Teachers with advanced skill sets, might be held in reserve to help children with genuine learning disabilities.

The classroom will be in a school where every child has an adult paying close attention to them. If a child needs someone to talk to, there will be someone there to talk to, about anything.

The school will be an educationally efficient environment for all stakeholders.

Learning will not be disrupted by students who deliberately misbehave. Those students will have the individual attention of an adult with authority over students, the skill set necessary to deal with children who are behaviorally disordered, and the courage to do the job.

There will be tests. One of the functions served by schools is to identify for employers, those students who have a skill set necessary for employment. Students will take tests that they are prepared for. Some will take many tests in many subjects and leave school with an impressive portfolio. Some will complete fewer and less challenging tests.

Upon leaving school, there will be students who can show that they have passed tests on the college level in some subjects. There will be students whose testing shows that they could not, or would not, move past the eighth grade in some subjects.

There likely will not be students leaving school with 23 credits in underwater basket weaving and 1 credit in math.

That student will have had to ignore the individual attention of an adult who was paying attention to their class choices. Ideally that will be an engaged parent. If there is no engaged family or community member, the school will provide one.

If there are parents who want to be engaged but lack the skill set or resources, their needs will be met (limited by available resources and common sense).

Students will bear the consequences of their investment in their own education. Any student who is old enough to join the army and kill other human beings, is old enough to choose their own classes and then accept the consequences of stupid choices.

If any one has any better idea, now would be the time to step up.

Because cemetery seating is not working. More than 50 of every 100 students that enter high school drop out entirely.

Finally, which student is a worse position;

  • a student who was driven out of school without learning much of anything in the traditional curriculum, and without learning how to learn even if they change their minds later on, or
  • a student who knows how to learn, who knows how to behave like a decent human being, is well adjusted and healthy, but chose to specialize in "un-worthwhile" subjects in high school?


Anonymous said...

You are so right.
Even in college, I had professor who believed only the things coming out of their mouth had truth and/or value.
Many teachers do not want to be challenged on their knowledge of a subject. Often in APS, I have seen situations where the student was right, and the teacher was wrong, but the student suffered for his/her "arrogant attitude".
I know administrators that punished students severely, then realized their mistake, but didn't apologize, and didn't stop the punishment for fear they would "look bad".
In a true and positive ;earning environment, students could politely challenge teachers and adults in authority could would at least be a good start of an "Educational Renaissance".

Anonymous said...

I was talking with another teacher over lunch today about the "Cemetery seating" idea.
It is a very worthwhile and interesting concept for teachers to discuss and modify or abolish.
Thanks... that was a great blog!