Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
The Theraphist and The Technician
In the education world, many buzzwords and phrases come up to signify efforts to improve classroom education. These words will season every lengthy educational psychology study or new proposal for failing school districts to help focus teachers on helping their students on their way up the winding road of knowledge and achievement. Even those without a teaching certificate might be able to recognize these words that often fill the empty insights of newspaper and magazine articles concerning education. Here are a few: academic rigor, learning through effort, higher level thinking, engaging students, cooperative learning, connecting with technology, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, the one word people don't use is discipline, not even for behavior (this would expect too much for some students). Discipline entails three qualities: self-control, a respect for rules and guidelines, and a training in either moral or academic development, often both. Instead of the empty phrases previously listed, all padded with endless packets that contain absolutely nothing, many schools and districts could save a forest of trees by outlining their strategies to improve education with this simple but powerful idea which founded the idea of formal education to being with.
The consequences of doing otherwise leads to a pedagogical ambiguity that jeopardizes core curriculum. Many teachers end up having disturbingly different ideas of what they teach, especially English. Commanding language through reading and writing, the most vital discipline in a student's education, has formally ceased to exist for most students. English has now become the fun class that many of the students aptly identify as the art of excreting bull excrement. This phenomenon has arisen from a large amount of English teachers shamelessly deciding to teach whatever they feel like, usually opting for something easy and fun while leaving a precious few English teachers to bear the cross of teaching the arduous discipline of language mastery. The former shall be known as the therapists, and the latter shall be known the technicians.
Currently, the therapists predominate in schools. As their title suggests, they have made their classroom a platform for individual expression, preaching tolerance, raising self-esteem, and discussing life lessons. They pat themselves on the back for teaching their kids how to "think" and "make the right choices" when in fact they do neither. They promote immaturity by empathizing with it. They ease their students into a lifelong illiteracy and mental laziness by treating the activity of reading as an innate ability rather than a series of complex mental skills. Most of them will feel completely comfortable reading to the kids like a mother to her little toddlers. They jettison formal rules of composition and essay writing and instead teach the kids to make personal diaries and various pieces of doggerel in its place. Without question, the grammar books will be shelved far away in a dark closet before seeing any use, thus condemning the students to single clauses and a whole world of vocabulary they will never know how to use. In a bitter display of irony, these therapists have created the very problems in students they sought to extinguish. The students cannot express themselves since they lack basic linguistic skills. Their understanding of tolerance evaporates as they lose the capacity to reason and distinguish particular sides of an argument outside their own. They lose self-esteem when their abundant intellectual inadequacies inevitably show themselves. In the end, they do not learn any true life lessons since they have been coddled and passed on into a world with quixotic notions of their worth. Only after a few years out of school (if not earlier), they will feel reality's crippling blow leave them crumpled in mediocrity.
Fortunately, before a few of those students graduate, they might encounter a real English teacher known as the technician. Students often hate the technician because this teacher will force them to work and use their brains. Little do they know that these teachers work even harder than they do. They will grade and correct every pitiful paper they write. They will take the time to teach the abstract and complex world of grammar and ram the stolid boundaries of the students' prepubescent sentence structures. They will create and teach the complex blueprints involved in building an argument and adorning it with polished language.They will burn off the abundant flab slowing a student's brain with unceasing dissections, deep readings, and critiques on difficult but doable texts. Students under the technician will finally learn the meaning of the word discipline: self control, correct training, and an obedience to essential academic and moral rules. They will be armed to pass any examination or complex task or concept forever afterwards. Sadly, they will often resent this devoted teacher that endowed them with these life long skills and remember fondly the teacher that gave them parties and field trips.
Too many people have entered the teaching profession hoping to affect young people's hearts instead of their minds. They come inspired with their favorite poetry (sometimes their own), implausible movies showing teachers exhorting their unnaturally compliant students to "seize the day," or naive notions of simply motivating kids out of their kids out of apathy with hard-hitting discussions and therapy sessions. If they don't quit within their first few years, these teachers will take their place below a smiling indifferent principal in pushing the illiterate young American on his way. They will loudly cry foul at standardized tests until the standards sink low enough to accommodate their lackadaisical teaching methods.
Teachers need to concern themselves with the process rather than the result. It's arduous, slow, intimidating in its complexity, but unavoidably necessary. The proper word for this learning process that has gradually faded away from modern education is discipline. Until educators stop needlessly inventing those empty different definitions and buzzwords, that desirable result of discipline will be gone as soon as the bell for class rings.