Violence in the Home

Two recent cases that have come to light in the American media shed a fascinating light on something about the society as a whole. One is a case of a sportsman assaulting his wife. Here, there’s little sympathy for the man and condemnation of those who may have attempted to brush his wrongdoing under the carpet.

The other also concerns a sportsman, but he’s been charged with causing injury to his son when assaulting him with a switch. Here, the condemnation is far more muted with media articles pointing out that corporal punishment for one’s own child is legal in almost every American state.

Is the underlying message that physical force is still acceptable in society where there is a relationship that is unequal – for the powerful to use force over the weak? Therefore, the only reason for stopping domestic violence against women is that they are no longer to be treated as weak, but equal.

Isn’t there now enormous evidence that children brought up to believe that physical force is used in the home to exert power equations and to get things done “your way” have a greater likelihood of growing up to people who use violent force on other family members as adults?

People campaign hard enough to prevent abuse and violence towards animals and pets in the home. Do they care more about protecting defenseless animals than defenseless children because somehow there’s a historical hangover that a parent has propietory rights over their child?

Domestic violence of any description is not a person’s private business. We must be ready to condemn it in all its forms.

Teacher Professional Development

Again, grabbing a brief chance to share some interesting self development material for teachers. In this case, some material put together specifically as advice for new teachers. However, I believe there are valuable insights here for all experience levels.

There are links here to 8 videos covering a variety of important topics for a fresh new teacher.

New teacher Guides

After you’ve watched these 8 videos I recommend clicking on the link in the top right of the page to go to TeachingChannel.com’s homepage. There you’ll find listings to many more videos covering all sorts of topics. It reminds me of the old ‘Teachers TV’ in the UK that made superb short films for teacher professional development until it was shut down due to withdrawal of government funding.

Marshmallows & Delayed Gratification

I felt very fortunate a few years ago when I first came across the writings of Alfie Kohn. The first pieces i read were ones in which he tore apart the weak ‘science’ behind purported studies that alleged academic and learning benefits from homework.

His book ‘Punished by Rewards’ has had a profound effect on many educators. Kohn gives us no choice but to question many of the simplistic beliefs that exist in society about how children are brought up and how schools should run. Over time, it might be concluded that on some things, Kohn himself is wrong, but nevertheless I believe he’s vitally important because far more people ought to be questioning and challenging in the ways that he does. He makes us think hard about what’s right for the child, what’s right for the learner – and that can only be a good thing.

The compassion of the man is unquestionable. It’s pretty clear, he wants us to think very very hard about what we do in our profession and to base practices on reality and more hard-edged research. That’s a very good thing.

In this recent article Alfie Kohn takes on the flurry of recent writing and thought in education circles, especially in the US that has sought to go back to the work of Walter Mischel at Stanford University and to apply it to how we educate children today (the well known marshmallow experiments).

Dispelling the Myth of Deferred Gratification – Alfie Kohn

The first point on which i would take issue with Kohn is on the motivation of those who have been interested in the issues of deferred gratification (and flowing from this self management and discipline). I am one of those who has been interested in the potential of this research and what it might suggest to us that we need to change. However, I would firmly refute the allegation he makes that this is because we are more interested in changing children than we are in changing the education system. In my view, for way too long, educators have behaved as though their only task and responsibility was to ‘deliver the syllabus or curriculum in chunks/ chapters/ portions etc. To acknowledge that any teacher has to take full account of aspects such as learner motivation, concentration span, self management abilities etc. is to acknowledge the broader responsibility of the educator to meet the learner where they are, as an individual – not to treat them as a homogenous group at whom the learning content is delivered.

As for whether people have tried to draw too many conclusions from Mischel’s research – here Kohn might have a valid point. However, i think this is already acknowledged by many and explains why more research and work is ongoing involving people like Carol Dweck, also at Stanford.

So, I don’t, by any means, agree with all of Alfie Kohn’s arguments. However, I appreciate enormously that he makes me think (and think hard) about our profession and the practices within it that are taken for granted or passed down as unquestionable through generations of educators.

In another blog post recently I drew parallels between teaching and medicine as professions. I believe, historically, medicine has been far better at facing up to realities where practices of the past come under challenge. As a result, as a profession it’s changed enormously over the last 50 or 100 years. Teaching hasn’t changed enough,. suggesting to me that educators haven’t been willing enough to challenge and question old orthodoxies. People like Alfie Kohn help to change that.

Making Science Accessible

Here’s a quick post that i hope contains some interest and inspiration, particularly for all science teachers. It’s a set of seven lectures given by the renowned physicist, Richard Feynman.

Seven lectures by Richard Feynman
(Click on the link above to see all seven lectures on a single page)

Screen Time

Here’s a very interesting article that shares details of a recent piece of research related to screen time/ face to face interaction time impacts for children, as well as bringing together a pretty good summary of some of the other relevant research conclusions.

NPR Ed – Kids and Screen Time: What Does the Research Say?

Whilst it’s too early to draw hard and fast conclusions on the matter, common sense and most of the research appears to be pointing in the direction of suggesting that a lot of what’s happening today with rampant unchecked and unmoderated control of ‘screen time’ is to the detriment of children and the development of healthy, positive interpersonal relationships. Within schools and other learning spaces, we need to acknowledge that children will not always be the best at making choices about what’s appropriate or right. We also need to understand that the technology cannot be treated simply as a teacher substitute or an easy way to keep children occupied and distracted.

Each time a teacher uses any kind of media, it needs to have clearly thought out justification and there needs to be a continual weighing and balancing against alternatives. I also believe that teachers need to be ready to integrate meaningful and purposeful group, pair and team based activities that have learning goals both related to the learning content and the process by which the collaborative learning takes place. I also believe we should see teachers making more use of rubrics for group work that highlight and explore children’s perspectives and understanding (and reflection) on how best they work together for maximum effect.

This is an area where i look forward to seeing more research and engaging with fellow educators as we explore the ways to effectively harness the undoubted powers and benefits of ICT in education whilst reducing the costs in interpersonal skills development.

In the meantime, families need to be continually thinking about how ‘screen time’ plays a part in their home life and all its implications.

Justification for Teaching ‘Thinking Skills’

The linked article here from Seth Godin is principally about placebos, particularly from the point of view of marketing, product/ service development and improving performance.

Seth Godin – The Placebo Effect

Along the way, he skewers the lack of credible, logical sense in beliefs in homeopathy or astrology. This got me remembering how staggered I’ve been at the frequency of conversations with seemingly educated and intelligent people, not just on these two topics, but others as well.

One typical example went as follows:

Person X: Oh, you don’t seem well today.
Me: Yes, I’m having a bit of respiratory trouble. My doctor’s put me on antibiotics, so i expect to be fine in a few days.
Person X: You shouldn’t be taking those. You should go for homeopathy. I can give you the name of an excellent guy.
Me: (with full politeness) I don’t really believe in homeopathy.
Person X: Why ever not?
Me: (still polite :-) ) Well, I can’t really see any scientific basis for believing in it.
Person X: No, you should. My cousin was suffering with his chest and he went on homeopathic medicines and he’s been in perfect health ever since.
Me: (walking away as quickly as possible whilst biting my tongue) Hmmmmmm.

What all this reinforces in my mind is that the education system needs to be far less interested in what facts must be put in to learners’ heads (and regurgitated from memory as a filtering, testing mechanism), but rather should be intent on helping learners to develop their ‘thinking muscles’. This should include logic and scientific mental disciplines as well as skills which can be developed and practiced for developing creative ideas; brainstorming, Do Bono techniques etc.

Enhanced thinking skills throughout the population carries enormous potential for progress in society.

First, Do No Harm !

These are the opening words of the Hippocratic Oath, sworn solemnly by every new entrant to the medical profession and taken very seriously as a cornerstone of their profession.

Teachers’ Day in India should be a time for us to evaluate our profession, what it does and (most importantly) how it could do it better.

As an offering to that introspection process, here are a few things to read;

a) This is an article from an Assistant Professor from Utah State University. It sets out the case for a Hippocratic Oath in the education profession – a focus on each individual student, instead of how we process them as batches and cohorts:
Education Week Article: Do No Harm

b) A Hippocratic Oath for educators is something I’ve been advocating for a long time. The earliest reference I could locate here on the blog was from an article I wrote about teacher standards in 2010:
Blog – That Teacher Performance Issue

c) I set out my thoughts on the need for such an Oath in more detail this time last year:
Blog – Teachers’ Day 2013 Article

So, whilst there’s nothing wrong with raising a toast to our profession and celebrating on this day, let’s also ensure that we use the occasion for a little introspection about where we want it to go in the future.

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