Saturday, June 3, 2017

Are We Really Teaching Anything?

A few questions as the school year closes, and both teachers and students casually retreat from the ideas of content and curriculum:  Do we really know what indespensible, or at least highly relevant, information and skills we should be teaching and students should be learning? Do we know what we really need to know? And, perhaps most importantly, what is being "taught" in our classrooms that any student couldn't learn or figure out by just reading the book or watching a video? I'm reflecting on the concepts of teaching and learning after a couple days conferencing on professional development and the establishment of PLC's, or professional learning communities. That experience has dovetailed with my delving into a wonderfully thoughtful book of cultural criticism from a true Gen X voice, Chuck Klosterman.

Klosterman is a pop culture writer and critic who has been researching and publishing for years now in a voice guided by Generation X's inherent distrust of institutions and an instinctive quest for authenticity. One of his latest works poses a simple but valuable question related to my pondering above: But What If We're Wrong. It is absolutely not, in his words, "a book of essays," even though it reads like one. Instead it is the penned ponderings of an honest thinker who sought out expert answers to questions about gravity and the literary canon. And that's just in the first 40 pages. The issue of the canon resonated with me, as I continue to ponder why we do what we do in schools, and how do we address the seemingly arbitrary nature of content and curriculum. As our English department has long acknowledged, there is no sacred book. There is nothing going on in our classes that students can't either do without, or look up on their own.

Yet we continue to do what we do because it produces results - in areas like ACT scores and college admissions and students' future career success - that we can hang our hat on and convince ourselves and our community that we really taught these kids something .... and they learned.

But what if we're wrong?

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