"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, January 11, 2016

A "No Nonsense Classroom" Is Nonsense

"One should not bother saying please. Just tell your students to do it for there are really no options." Imagine a teacher hearing this through a walkie-talkie from a coach standing behind the class. This happens while a teacher is being trained on a "no-nonsense nurturing" from the Center for Transformative Teacher Training. The center takes special note on their website that "Research studies indicate that our unique training methodology enables teachers to increase on task behavior by at least 55%". It is true that one must pay attention to outcomes. However, reaching a goal is not the only thing. In education, how one reaches that goal also matters. With a myriad of factors that can influence learning outcomes, it is possible that children could still learn not because of what we do, but in spite of what we have done.

NPR recently had a piece on "non-nonsense nurturing". It came with a cartoon shown below. While the article talked about some positive points regarding this approach, it was clear from the picture that this method needed a closer look.

Above copied from NPR
The above program stands in great contrast to the following requirement imposed by a karate instructor, Michael K. Dietrich, on his students:

It is in fact ironic to see that a martial arts class does not subscribe to a "no-nonsense nurturing" method. Dietrich does provide structure and discipline in his classes but not in the same way that compliance is emphasized to make up for engagement.

There have been several comments posted on the NPR article. I find one worth sharing here. This is from Tom Birkenstock:
...It's sad to see people cheer on oppressive, conformist teaching methods for "those" children. I also wonder what you are unintentionally teaching all the students, both the well behaved and the difficult. If a teacher is strident and does not say "please" or "thank you," is he or she showing the children that they do not need to empathize or care about others? What sort of interpersonal interactions are being modeled here?
Obviously, structure is important in the classroom so that you may maintain control and to create an environment that children perceive as safe. At the same time, this method appears to suck out all of the exploration and creativity from the classroom.
Another point that karate instructor Dietrich always reminds students is that empowerment is key. In the "non-nonsense nurturing", teachers are actually turned into robots. In fact, everyone seems to be treated as one.

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