Saturday, January 28, 2006

Teach ALL kids

Rabbi Lazer Brody shlit"a has a right on target post ( regarding the overuse of prescription drugs to solve education problems. I would just add that R' Brody is describing just half the problem. Let me preface these next comments with the statement that none of my children have been diagnosed B"H with any learning disorder, so this is not a sour grapes post. As a parent of 4 kids, each of which is wonderful, I know each has his/her own ways of doing things - including learning. The work of people like Howard Gardner, the originator behind the idea of "multiple intelligences" (which I am not going to discuss in this posting - get his book!), is already mainstream in the world of secular education, but most mechanchim have no idea what it means much less how to apply it. (As an aside, for those who think these ideas only work in secular US school environments, H. Gardner has a fascinating book about work he did in China, which has a completely different system of education than US schools.) Any deviation from the rigid "norm" (which is a very narrow ban of middle of the road learners who are visual learners with average attention spans) will get you a recommendation from your school to go for "testing". Testing means subjecting your child to hours to psychological, neurological, and other tests designed to find some diagnosis to label your child. I hate to throw cold water on those who think education is an exact science, but the reality is that the social sciences in general are far from rigorous, and every test has subjective elements that can be fudged depending on the attitude of the tester (get a sample parent questionaire used to screen ADD and you will see immediately what I mean). If you question the motive behind this testing process, many schools take the attitude that it can't hurt, so why the complaint, which ignores the obvious stigma placed on the child pulled out of class for batteries of tests. Many schools also adopt the attitude of why not take free services paid for by the state here in the US (so much for abusing tax money). The end result is the inevitable pulling the child out of class for "remediation", which leads to loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, often the remediation is done by teachers with no special training, the child is labelled for ever after by teachers who assume there is always going to be a "problem". The teacher who suggests testing often has no idea what tests are offered, what they diagnose, or how to interpret the results - the goal is not to help a child learn better, but to label the child as unteachable so the teacher is excused from further efforts, and in many cases the child is taken out for all or part of the day for "extra help". Before "testing" a child, I would recommend every parent speak to his/her teacher and ask: what have you done in the classroom to try to accomodate my child? What do you do to assure students with varied learning styles absord the lesson? Before testing, teachers should try teaching in the full sense of that word.
Let me close my saying there are wonderfully talented people who are qualified to give tests, who do know how to interpret the results, and most imporantly WHO CAN GUIDE TEACHERS ON HOW TO TAILOR CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION TO ACCOMMODATE ALL LEARNERS without labels or pulling kids from class. These people are just rare - if your kid has a problem, I hope you can find one. I have gone through this more than once with my kid's teachers. My daughter's school fought with me over testing for a full year and now she is considered one of the brightest in her class - the only changed variable is the one in front of the classroom. Finally, for those who care about these things, I have taught for 2 years, I have a Masters in Ed, and no, I would not want to step back into the classroom in any of my kid's schools because I could not deal with the system the way it is run.


  1. Anonymous3:22 PM

    You are right on. This subject has been on my mind for many years, since I went thru this with one son. The school decided he was "xxx" and needed medication. Luckily I decided to submit him for testing to a highly recommeded psychologist who found no problem that needed medication. Unfortunately, the school, a hebrew day school, refused to re-admit him for the following year without the drugs. He entered the public school system and has done very well, with no complaints or diagnoses ever put being put forward.

    The other main reason for these diagnoses are to drug kids into a stupor so they will sit quietly in the back and make no demands on anyone, teacher or administator.

    So much for my rant. The ideas you broach about learning styles are not new. See the Gr"a and Malbim on the pasuk in Mishlei Chanoch hana'ar ...

  2. I am sorry to hear yet another story of chinuch horror. With one of my kid's schools they tried to pull the trick of only accepting an evauation from their own in-house testing "expert" who of course had a biased interest in towing the party line to keep the referral feed running.

    Yes, you find in the GR"A the idea of teaching according to the child's "mazal", which I guess can refer to learning style. My impression is that the way that is usually understood in yeshivos is that the goal is still to measure success based on purely textual skills (e.g. learning a pasuk inside, reading and explaining a pasuk & rashi, etc.) and for those who cannot learn using the standard visual and auditory skills there will be at best some accomodation to get the information across in some other way. You can tell what the bottom line is around test time, which is always without fail written question/answer format.
    The "chiddush" of Gardner is that a child can be intelligent in many ways - musical ability, kinetic ability, etc. (he has 6 or 7 intelligences, depending on which book of his book you read). These are not just means to the end of reading/responding to written visual learning, but independent abilities that can be developed and nutured in their own right. I am not involved enough in ed. to figure out how to apply his system to yeshiva chinuch, but it is time that his and other theories of education that have been proven effective through research and study into practice.

  3. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Do you have any advice for a child who we are beginning to look into testing and looking for alternative schools situations?

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