Thursday, August 21, 2008

Post-PD Decompression

Jennifer came home Tuesday ranting from the day's professional development for regional history teachers, not surprisingly hitting some themes I also feature here periodically.

First, high school history teachers are still overwhelmingly and resolutely content driven. The way history is actually taught to the vast majority of students has little to do with conversations between academics and outsiders about how it ought to be taught, and pd, standards, etc. have almost no practical impact. If you're dissatisfied with aggregate history outcomes in the US, don't blame inquiry or progressive education. If you think focusing on content "first" works, you should have plenty of successful examples to point to.

This is part of why having people outside the profession like education reporters as part of an ongoing debate is so exasperating. If you're just looking at the public discourse, you'd probably imagine that the current state of play could be represented by a needle floating between "content" and "process" (or "critical thinking" or "inquiry" or whatever). First off, it can't be reduced to an either/or or zero-sum game, but even setting that concern aside, today in actual schools, that needle is pinned to the content side, even more than it has been historically. Advocates for "inquiry" (or whatever) aren't pushing a balanced needle to the extreme, and (with I'm sure a few exceptions) have no ambition and precious little capacity move the system from one extreme to the other. The game is to try to achieve some measure of a balance.

If you don't believe me, get in front of 50 randomly selected Rhode Island history teachers and talk to them about how they teach. Or visit their classrooms.

After talking about that for a while, Jennifer said, "And they showed us this fascist slide show. It had this crazy symphonic Riverdance music and all this stuff about China and India taking over the world." "Um... was it like, yellow lettering on a dark blue background?" Yes, Jennifer got to see Did You Know? She was happy I have a ready back catalog on the subject (Jennifer resolutely refuses to regularly read my blog, fearing, with some justification, I'd stop speaking entirely if she did). But seriously, I don't think Jennifer is the only teacher for whom Did You Know? derails conversation about school reform more than facilitates it.