“My students don’t know how to learn. They don’t know how to succeed. And, it doesn’t seem like they care to change any of that. And, (which is the hardest part), they do not seem to be trying any of the learning strategies, success strategies, and tips that I teach and model for them. I have spent SO MUCH time this year talking about how to be successful, how to learn, etc… and it seems like it is all a waste. ” -Crystal Kirch from her blog ‘Flipping with Kirch: My biggest struggle this year…’
“Students are awful in regards to using my teacher site, my videos, pdf’s, etc. But, they are all over the apps & games!! The students do not know how to learn . . . true!! How do we get them to start taking more ownership of their learning?” –Kieran Boyle in response to Crystal Kirch’s ‘Biggest Struggle’ post
“I also have a couple of smaller classes than yours of freshmen in IPC that I stay awake at night thinking about. Like you said they are great kids; if we were at the lake roasting marshmallows they would be awesome. It’s their academics that baffle me. They are very intelligent; the problem is they are not interested in school.” –Stricklandg – ditto
“I put the most fascinating subject in the world out there for them every day and some of them soak it up like sponges, and some of them are like the ones you describe: perfectly fine with not learning anything except what their particular interest is. They have such a narrow view of what is going to be a useful skill or information. I teach them explicitly how to learn, how to study, what to expect in the future, how little they know about what the payoff of today’s learning will be, etc. Part of their self-centered world view gives them the idea that they can judge what is important. At their age, mind you! They’re so smart, but some of them have very little imagination. So much of what I teach is not my subject, but how to get the most out of the attention you give to the problems at hand. Schools of education have no clue how very directly you must demonstrate the usefulness and importance of learning. Students do not automatically buy in. It’s a consumer culture.” –Stephanie Molchan – ditto
“What do you think has made our students these days feel that anything that requires effort is not worth doing? Where did they learn that from? That is something that just puzzles me. I always remember the quote “anything worth doing is worth doing well”, and that just seems to be as far from reality in my CP classes as possible.” Crystal Kirch in response to a comment on her blog
The above quotes are all from teachers, and appear on Crystal Kirch’s blog “Flipping With Kirch.” (By the way, in case you don’t know what a flipped classroom is – as I didn’t – it is when the kids watch a pre-recorded lecture at home in the evening and then do their ‘homework’ at school.) After I read the post and all the comments, I wrote a comment myself, in which I stated that saying some kids “don’t know how to learn” is false, and I gave reasons why. All comments to the blog must be approved by the moderator – in this case the author. My comment, and one or two others that I know of, were never approved. Ostensibly because we were not 100% supportive of what Kirch had written, and voiced our criticism. Which is the blog author’s prerogative, but gives the impression that everyone agrees with her. (One might also call it censorship, if one was so inclined.)
My subsequent blog post of a few days ago, “The smoke and mirrors of Oz” got some pretty interesting comments itself. All of which you can read – even those that are critical of what I wrote. The teachers who commented took large exception to my criticism of other teachers (particularly criticism of Crystal Kirch who seems to be something of a flipped classroom guru) and the idea that they might actually use a worksheet in class. Crystal Kirch and her colleagues are caring, innovative and wonderful people who take failing students and help them succeed or at least do better in school. They do it WITHOUT worksheets.
And I’m sure all of that is true. But that’s not the point.
In the comments that I’ve quoted above, you see glimmers of revelation, but they are inadvertent and go unnoticed. One teacher writes that the kids are intelligent and fun, but just not interested in school. Another writes that her kids are only invested in learning those things in which they have an interest.
See, my problem with these teachers and their comments is not that I question their good intentions. My problem is that they all believe that the only type of learning that is valuable is THEIR type of learning. That only they can teach kids to learn in a way that will be valuable in the future.
In disagreeing with them, I am immediately the bad guy. Apparently teachers who are using such “innovative” methods in the classroom are above criticism. We unschoolers are all elitist, arrogant members of a privileged club and we hand down such verdicts from our pedestal on high.
Or so the critics would have you believe.
Well, here’s my elitist background. I grew up in rural Indiana on a small family farm. Which meant that, starting in about 1980, we were always on the verge of financial catastrophe. As a good friend of mine recently said, “Yeah, we all know you’re rockin’ that Indiana Farm trust fund!” I attended public schools and went to college on a (small) scholarship and Pell Grants. My husband dropped out of high school at the age of about 14 in Israel. After the army, he came to the U.S. with $200 in his pocket. He lived in the basement of a moving company where a friend of his worked because he had nowhere to stay. And then he worked. And worked. As a mover, then a supervisor, then a locksmith. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until he’d saved enough to buy his own store.
I’m telling you this to illustrate that I know first hand; what leads to success in life is not what is learned in school. I take offense at people who say that some kids “don’t know how to learn” because that was my husband. He was one of those kids. It doesn’t matter what “amazing, caring, innovative” method is being used in a classroom if the teacher believes that some kids don’t know and don’t care about learning. I wonder if any of Crystal Kirch’s students read her blog. How would it make YOU feel to be one of her Algebra I kids and read that all they do is tell lies about their understanding of the subject matter? How would you feel to read that your wonderful, caring, innovative teacher believes you don’t know how to learn?
I find it wrong of adults to assume kids don’t know what type of learning is valuable to them and their future. Teachers I quoted above admit that the kids are smart and just aren’t interested in school. But they never seem to ask themselves why. Instead they say that’s because the kids feel entitled. That somehow only wanting to learn about things that interest you is bad. Kirch wonders why “students these days feel that anything that requires effort is not worth doing.” Which to me is an arrogant statement. Watch any kid working on a project of their own choosing and design and they will work harder than you can believe to get the desired results. She then goes on to say she remembers the quote “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and I want to jump up and shout “Bingo!” Maybe the kids don’t think the work they are being given is WORTH DOING. So why bother to do it well?
Yes, I get passionate about this subject. Some might say that I am alienating the very people – these innovative teachers – with whom I should be working to change the system. But here’s the thing: when I have tried to reach out I am often dismissed as someone who is “not formally trained to educate children” so my opinion, in their eyes, doesn’t count. Respect is a two way street. It’s funny that people think it’s fine to censor unschoolers, to call us names and tell us we’re dooming our children to a life of misery. But if we point out to a group of teachers that their way of thinking might be flawed and might even contribute to the difficulties they are having, we are being overly critical and accusatory.
I’m happy to sit down and share ideas with any teacher who expresses an interest. Such a coalition on a broad scale would be a good thing. Would Crystal Kirch feel the same?
You’ll have to ask her.