Wednesday, November 08, 2006

good chinuch does not treat kids like pavlov's dogs

“Skillful teaching involves facilitating the process by which kids come to grapple with complex ideas—and those ideas, as John Dewey has told us, have to emerge organically from the real-life interests and concerns of the kids. "Which is bigger, 5/7 or 9/11?" The correct answer is, "Who cares?" But kids care very much about how fast they are growing. Within that context, the skills necessary to figure it out become interesting to most kids. "What's the difference between a simile and a metaphor?" Same answer; few members of our species would find that distinction intrinsically motivating—but kids are highly interested in writing a story about dinosaurs or how a spaceship carries them away. In the context of a task that matters to students, the specific skills we care about can be taught naturally without sugarcoating, without games, and above all without offering kids little doggie biscuits for doing what we tell them.” (Alfie Kohn)
So how should gemara or chumash be taught? Is it about memorizing a list of unknown words or terms, spitting back concepts on a test, all in the hopes of a pizza party, raffle ticket, or good grade? Or should students be engaged by challenging to think about issues and ideas because they are inherently valuable, interesting, and worth discussing? And how do you create a lesson that does that? More importantly, are the schools that are charging an arm and a leg for tuition striving for the excellent teaching that draws students to think and learn through discovery and curiosity, or do schools settle for enforcing compliance to a rigid curriculum and behavior code that reinforces rote learning of fact with external reward systems like pizza parties and raffles?
Warning: thinking about these questions may cause the desire to rip your hair out of your head when your older kids tell you about their school day.

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