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  • Writer's pictureTroy Kinney

The Science of Teaching? Part 2: Quantifying

The funny thing about art is that it is called art for a reason. Things that are not art will never be art, like reprints (of art), paint-by-numbers, or anything found on the wall of a motel room. Those things do perform a function of making a plain wall less boring, but we all understand they are not art; they simply take the place of art.

Could we study Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, etc. scientifically? Just figure out colors, techniques, space, light, and medium in order to come up with a list which would make us an exceptional painter, sculptor, or photographer? This is an obvious no.

So, why did the "experts" do this to teachers? Answer: In order to quantify it. Quantifying it gives it mass.

Oh the alchemic idea of decanting the complexities of teaching and to distil it into easily managed units in order to dispense faultless instructions on instructing. Book publishers will even print textbooks with the right kinds of learning targets, standards, and objectives. They will put in the right types of “expert” questions for teachers to ask their students and cross-curricular connections will be included as well. It will be teacher-proof (i.e. the teacher couldn’t mess it up if he tried).

So, what if someone wanted to give teaching a try? Who wouldn’t want to be an effective one? Especially if they have all the “best practices” already written down? If one just follows those steps, then the kids in the classroom will be achieving such high scores. This idea that anyone could teach. As if spending tons of time in an art museum, considering the artists, style, methods, techniques one could just become an effective artist. It is ridiculous.

Something even more evil has happened in all of this. What if there is a real teacher? A creative soul with passion and a rich understanding of their subject matter and how it fits in the scope of humanity? And what if this particular teacher does not use what the experts call best practices? That teacher then becomes a bad teacher. But the newly certified fairly inexperienced teacher gets high marks for utilizing all the new-fangled expertly devised, best practices.

It is as if everything has switched. Instead of a veteran teacher using her own wisdom, and ideas that have always worked in her classes, and then incorporating some new cool and useful methods as she grows in her teaching style, a seasoned teacher eventually becomes compelled (bullied) to conform to the new “best practices” exclusively.

The idea that if student scores are not high, then the teacher must not be using best practices and causing these young ones to not succeed is disheartening. Especially since, there is very little if any responsibility (or understanding) on the student’s part to do well and zero consideration of each individual child’s life experiences, good or bad, outside the classroom.

I feel like it is telling Picasso he must paint like Norman Rockwell to be an effective painter. Or, even worse, telling both of these artists they must paint by the numbers. Again, ludicrous.

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