Last week, I ran a piece sent to me by a Clayton State education professor describing schools as pressure cookers. Professor Mari Ann Roberts questioned the value of standardized tests and cited the growing demands on teachers. Now, another academic responds, with strong criticism.
English professor Mary Grabar, who has taught at Clayton State, Georgia Perimeter and Emory, offers a much different take.
By Mary Grabar
In the wake of revelations of testing fraud in Georgia, professors of education blame the tests. Both Shannon Howrey of North Georgia College and Mari Ann Roberts, at Clayton State University, opined in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that less testing is needed. They echoed the dominant view of education schools, where mastery of the subject is relegated to the position of an onerous task to be circumvented.
While they train in new techniques of emotionally coercing students to adopt their own ideological views, teachers share strategies for keeping within mandates—officially. I learned this by attending the National Council for the Social Studies conference, where workshop leaders openly admitted to teaching for “social justice.” Knowledge of the subject matter and academic skills were never mentioned in workshops that teachers attended to earn continuing education or graduate credit.
Professor Roberts, in fact, questions the value of knowing the material on tests and asks, “Does spitting out the date of the Civil War on cue help a child negotiate a contract, hold a conversation, keep a job or determine right from wrong?” She continues, “Do we want our children to be critical, conscious thinkers or rote memorization machines? Do we want them to recognize the value of knowledge or, instead, to believe that the purpose of learning is to regurgitate what’s been crammed in their heads for the CRCT or the Georgia High School Graduation Test?”
“Critical thinking” is critical only toward the United States and Western values, and is usually conducted under the cover of exploring feelings in groups. It is “facilitated” by teachers who themselves don’t know the material, but have an ideological agenda.
If cramming is necessary it’s because teachers spend so much time on such rap sessions. At Roberts’ school, Clayton State University, future middle school teachers spend only 24 credit hours out of a total of 122 in their subject areas. The field requirements for the five social studies classes do not even include one in U.S. history; in fact, only three are from the history department, with two of dubious value (Georgia History and Government, Selected Topics in World History, and History of World Religions). The other two are in social science: Themes in World Geography and Research Methods in the Social Sciences.
But in required education classes, like Roberts’ EDUC 2130 class, future teachers learn about “linguistic diversity,” eliminating “gender bias in the classroom,” and running “performance-focused” rather than “mastery-focused” classrooms. Her own students, following the future assignments they are expected to give their students, “co-construct” their own exam questions and make “culture quilts.”
It is a sad commentary on the degeneration of education schools that so much time is wasted on counterproductive activities and that an education professor even thinks to question the need to know the dates of the Civil War.
But it is time that we remind teachers of their job descriptions. After all, two-thirds of my DeKalb county property taxes go to supporting schools that educate 89 percent of our citizens.
As Roberts disparages the “regurgitation” of dates, we should ask her whether she feels it important that her students know the dates of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the year Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
If she does, would she not want students to know about those who came before King, like Frederick Douglass? Would the dates of the Civil War not be relevant to an understanding of his experiences as a slave?
Contrary to Roberts’ claims, learning the dates of the Civil War in a classroom that focuses on subject mastery, maintains boundaries between students and teachers, and students and students, and honors the privacy of students’ “feelings,” would help in all the goals she lists.
Were students expected to read well-written books about the Civil War and asked to memorize facts, they would have developed their powers of concentration. Reading skills are abysmal in large part due to the fact that classrooms increasingly rely on computer games, audio-visual aids and projects, and peer discussions. Even textbooks are laden with illustrations interspersed amid snippets of politically correct and deathly boring prose.
Such focused concentration and discipline would prepare the student for the grind of analyzing data, memorizing sales pitches, writing reports, and reading those contracts Roberts mentions. A common complaint by employers about Generation Y is that their undisciplined habits and solipsism carry over into the workplace.
Professor Roberts expects schools to prepare students to hold a conversation. I would assume that she means intelligent conversation, for teenagers are seldom at a loss for words among peers. But what happens when one of her students, whose natural curiosity does not lead her to “explore” the Korean War, places it in the 19th century during a conversation at a workplace party? I’ve had students in my college classrooms who could not place Columbus in his century and who had never heard of communism.
Professor Roberts also expresses doubt that knowing historical dates can help the student distinguish between right and wrong. Surely one must understand that a war that produced the greatest casualties in American history, where brother fought brother, largely over the enslavement of a people who are the ancestors of many of the students, is important enough to know its dates. An understanding of what came before 1861— of the division over slavery at the time of our country’s founding in the previous century, of the awakening of consciences through Christian spiritual revivals, of various Supreme Court decisions, of its institutional history, would help a student place this profound moral question.
Roberts’ pedagogical methods ill prepare students to be the well-spoken, independent, moral citizens she envisions. Instead, her and her colleagues’ teaching methods waste classroom time, taxpayers’ money, and violate student boundaries to the point of emotional harm. That her services are not needed is illustrated by the superior achievement of homeschooled children, usually taught by parents without education degrees.
One way to raise test scores is to fire those like Professor Roberts.
To read more about this issue, see Grabar’s report on indoctrination versus education.
In the meantime, there is a lot to talk about in her piece here.