Amazon.com Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

Teaching youth to perceive the narrative environment
     correcting the cave

The mind is like a bat. Precisely. Save
That in the very happiest intellection
A graceful error may correct the cave.
Richard Wilbur

Consider the narrative environment of youth:

1. What do they hear from their family or those they live with
2. what do they hear from their neighborhood or community, incluidng peers and peer-directed groups, adults including voluntary associations such as churchs and adult directed clubs
3. what do they hear from media
4. what do they hear from school

Principles

1. Adults will not be able to control the narrative environment--the focus needs to be on educating youth to make choices
2. We are influenced in more ways than by persuasion--we can, for example, develop a taste for things that we intelletually reject
3. The narrative environment has real (and observable and somewhat predictable) consequences for the sort of community that forms.
4. We contribute to the narrative environment of any group we are part of

Strategy

1. Be sure that good narratives are available
2. Teach that some stories are better than others
3. Teach the criteria for chosing
4. Be explicit in describing the ways our narrative choices matter to us as individuals and to the communities of which we are part

Questions to address

1. How are we shaped by story
2. What criteria might help discern between better and worse stories
3. What are our responsibilities to the narrative environment of 1. our homes 2. our social groups 3. our neighborhoods 4. our society

Tactics

1. Use Montana literature for “case studies” to discuss narrative environments
2. Focus on tracing linkages between the stories people act out and the consequences that follow
3. Practice characterizing various communities in terms of their narrative environments (ie, the society created by fur traders at their Rendezvous in the Big Sky, the small town created by the homesteaders in Homesteading, the community Fools Crow is inhabiting at the end of his story)
4. Use the dimensions of reality described by Nozick to construct close reading questions for the literary “case studies”

Objectives

A student will be able to:

1. Explain was MacIntyre meant by “virtue” (After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre, University of Notre Dame, 1984)
2. Give examples of different communities and the virtues they sought to inculcate
3. Demonstrate ability to identify virtues that are implicit in a narrative. Cite specific passages that illustrate each virtue and provide reasons why this passage is indicative of the virtue specified.
4. Understand what a complex hierarchy is
5. Understand the difference between a contradiction and paradox
6. Be able to discuss an example of principles in conflict, using the concepts of complex hierarchy and paradox


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
(0) CommentsPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyE-mail this page
2007 Michael L. Umphrey

Education and folkways
     Reform requires learning beyond the classroom

“A powerful superstition of modern life is that people are improved inevitably by education.”
Wendell Berry

A Forbes article provides evidence of how poorly educated many young people are after two or four years of college. According to a study by the American Research Institutes and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, most college students near to getting their diplomas lack the skills to perform complex literary tasts.

A person could reasonably conclude from the study that most college graduates in America are not particularly literate. This isn’t hard to believe, since it explains so many contemporary phenomena--from the magazines that sell at supermarkets to the success of Hannity and Colmes--that it’s unlikely any serious person is going to challenge the findings. I doubt I’m alone in suspecting lots of students are not learning what schools claim they are teaching.

“A powerful superstition of modern life is that people are improved inevitably by education.”
Wendell Berry

Maybe the power of the superstition’s hold on the mind is inversely related to the time one has spent trying, through classroom teaching, to move young people to a view of education different than the one held by the community of their origin. So a teacher teaching students from a professional community to get ready for college might belief might believe in schooling more readily than an equally talented teacher trying to get kids whose parents lacked high school diplomas to the same point. And those who discourse professionally on teaching but don’t practice it--union leaders and other politicians--might seem as credulous as astrologers.

A Forbes article provides evidence of how poorly educated many young people are after two or four years of college. According to a study by the American Research Institutes and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, most college students near to getting their diplomas lack the skills to perform complex literary tasts.

A person could reasonably conclude from the study that most college graduates in America are not particularly literate. This isn’t hard to believe, since it explains so many contemporary phenomena--from the magazines that sell at supermarkets to the success of Hannity and Colmes--that it’s unlikely any serious person is going to challenge the findings. I doubt I’m alone in suspecting lots of students are not learning what schools claim they are teaching. 

MORE...


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
(0) CommentsPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyE-mail this page
2007 Michael L. Umphrey

Forgotten Heroes of American Education
     Putting teacher education first

Teaching teachers is a crucial part of the educational ladder that stretches from the gutter to the university. This ladder has been broken in half. It has been broken economically, culturally, and politically. Only 50 years ago in this nation we had entire institutions dedicated to teaching teachers. They are now gone. These were the teachers colleges. Well, they abandoned (or at least radically marginalized) the profession of teaching when, like everyone else, they began to hanker after money, purely intellectual prestige (instead of moral prestige), and power. Teaching teachers is the most important task that any institution of higher education does.—Michael F. Shaughnessyd

George Will’s recent call for the abolition of teacher education programs stirred up all the old debates.

Who will teach, and how will they be prepared? This really is one of a handful of fundamental questions America should seriously wrestle with. It’s important enough that we should be drawing on the riches of our cultural heritage, reading thoughtful books from the past. What we lack is not new ideas so much as wisdom. 

You’ve probably noticed that relatively little that is said today about “teaching” has much to do with teaching. Much of it has to do with how we might re-shape or interact with the bureaucracies we’ve built. It’s easy to be completely absorbed in the present, trying to untangle knots we ourselves have made.

We see flyers for workshops that will show us how to comply with Special Education law or No Child Left Behind requirements. We read about legal strategies to force legislatures to dance to tunes ordered by courts. Articles about new schedules or new team organizations land on our desks. Noisy debates about charter school effects on this or that population jostle for attention. We get caught in arguments about merit pay or vouchers.

Much of it is necessary, but little of it is essential.

What is essential? The best way to get a sense of that is to leave the clamoring present and spend time considering the arguments of the past. The more one does that, the better sense one gets of issues that--in various forms--are always present. Those are the enduring concerns--the essentials.

An up-to-the-minute place to start might be with a new book by Diane Ravitch and Wesley Null: Forgotten Heroes of American Education.

In an interview at EducationNews.org, Wesley Null introduces the argument of the book: theories of progressivism have led Americans to place diminished value on teachers, curriculum, and standards. This has weakened teacher education programs, which need to have a “coherent, morally defensible, and intellectually substantive vision” for their curriculum restored:

Teaching teachers is a crucial part of the educational ladder that stretches from the gutter to the university? that Aldous Huxley talked about. This ladder has been broken in half. It has been broken economically, culturally, and politically. Only 50 years ago in this nation we had entire institutions dedicated to teaching teachers. They are now gone. These were the teachers colleges. Well, they abandoned (or at least radically marginalized) the profession of teaching when, like everyone else, they began to hanker after money, purely intellectual prestige (instead of moral prestige), and power. Teaching teachers is the most important task that any institution of higher education does.

Of particular interest to Montana teachers, one of the “forgotten heroes” they call attention to is William C. Bagley, who began his career in teacher education by taking a job in “frontier” Montana--he taught for four years at the Normal School in Dillon, just before 1910.

Throughout a fifty year career, Bagley tried to integrate the subject-matter disciplines, the techniques of teaching, and the moral purpose of education. He called his approach essentialism. He believed students should wrestle with the essential insights and methods of the established academic disciplines. “Gripping and enduring interests frequently grow out of initial learning efforts that are not appealing or attractive,” he said.

According to Diane Ravitch, the essentialists believed that common schools should not decide whom to educate, and they sought federal aid for education to promote equality of educational opportunity long before doing so was popular. The essentialists criticized Progressivism for being anti-intellectual and utilitarian. They championed the liberal arts tradition.

The main ideas of essentialism include:

  1. Learning involves hard work and often unwilling application.
  2. The initiative should lie with the teacher rather than with the pupil.
  3. The heart of the educational process is the assimilation of prescribed subject matter.
  4. The school should retain traditional methods of mental discipline.

Here’s an article about Bagley (which includes a sketch of his Montana years):

J. Wesley Null, William C. Bagley: Scholar, Gentleman, and Committed Educator of Teachers,? In They Led By Teaching, ed. Sherry L. Field and Michael J. Berson (Indianapolis, IN: Kappa Delta Pi, 2003), pp. 6-17. (PDF)


Posted by Michael L Umphrey
(0) CommentsPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyE-mail this page
2007 Michael L. Umphrey

Page 1 of 1 pages