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A blog that takes a look at West Chester area government, politics, and community events.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"I disagree with everything you said"

My blog needs a gimmick.

How about this?

The Bold Statement of the Week Award.

This week, it goes to Jim Smith, the president of the West Chester Area School Board.

At Monday night's meeting of the school board's property and finance committee, the following transpired:

School Board Member Rogers Vaughn said that distance learning could be a solution to the school district's budgetary woes. His argument: teachers who deliver instructive and insightful lectures are rare. Why not set those teachers in front of a camera and beam their lectures into all classrooms? Facilitators (who would presumably be paid less than traditional teachers) would be in the classrooms to oversee the process of lecture absorption.

Smith, after hearing this, responded, in raised voice, "Rod, I disagree with everything you said."

Smith said that West Chester East was designed so that teachers could preside over large lectures. This, Smith said, was supposed to have been a new, innovative way to educate high schoolers. However, he said, the program was scrapped after five years.

"The kids did not like it and did not accept it," Smith said.

Smith, a former History and Social Studies teacher, said that the lecture model (especially the remote lecture model) is inappropriate for high school students - it does not give them enough access to teachers. Teachers need to be there to answer students' questions, to wake students when they are sleepy, to inspire students when they have lost the will to keep studying.

Assuming an oratorical tone, Smith concluded, "We have tried the lecture model. Did we try it long enough? Maybe not. Was it successful? No. ... I understand the way colleges go. Will it work in a High School? No."

To that, I say, "Huzzah."

Allow me, for just a moment, to be unobjective.

I distrust remote learning. My instinct tells me that face-to-face instruction conveys knowledge in a way that remote learning cannot fully replicate. Being in school with other people - learning to interact with other people - is just as important - if not more important - than academic learning.

That's not to say that Vaughn is full of nonsense. He is right about many things. Here are two:

1) Teachers who deliver inspired, engaging lectures are rare. Students would benefit from more access to them.

2) The cost of salaries and benefits is rising quickly. The current system may be unsustainable. Bold action is needed.

Vaughn's argument contains a third, perhaps unintended implication:

Many students would rather watch TV than listen to their teachers. Could students be tricked into watching teachers on TV? Would they pay more attention to TV teachers than to in-person teachers?

I'm serious.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan- my son was in a "distance learning" class. The district didn't have enough qualified computer teachers to cover all the classes, and set up the classes for East and Henderson to taught by one teacher at the same time, with one class participating via camera link. It was a disaster. If you could talk to those kids directly, I think they would comfirm that the class was largely a wast of their time. Mr. Smith is right, but some input from the kids who had to suffer through the experience might enlighten those trying to impose their theories on the reality of the classroom.
Thanks for your observations.

September 25, 2009 7:52 AM 
Anonymous Chet said...

I agree with Jim Smith and Anonymous. To me, the personal contact between a high school student and a mentor is the most important single element in education. Mentors can include teachers, coaches, advisers, and others. Students are starved for that relation; they certainly can't find it with a screen, and they see more than enough screens in their lives.

Those few students who may do better in a non-group setting are the small exception. Also, I believe students can profit from occasionally viewing and discussing a video in their usual class setting, with appropriate preparation and follow-up, led by their usual mentor: their teacher (not a "facilitator").

That should not be a regular instruction model but can be an exercise in critical thinking and discussion of ideas. Everyone in our society needs practice decoding and critiquing the media... and doing the same for pre-election statements of candidates for office, including school boards.

Beware of those who promise to cut budgets without cutting education: if they get their way, it's the mentor model and the classroom dynamics that will suffer.

October 3, 2009 6:48 PM 

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