Thursday, August 14, 2003

Scientifically Proven Educational Methods

Why Do We Read? by Peter Temes in Education Week
I've never thought much about reading education, but some wonderful internet seredipity led me to the writing of Peter Temes. One of his parenting articles had been reprinted in Utne, and it made enough of an impact on me that I blogged it. Somehow he discovered my posting and e-mailed me, which started an excellent exchange.

This article about why we read caught my attention, partly because looking through his Great Books Foundation site made me wish I had more time to read literature, but also because it talks about the current political focus on "scientifically proven" methods of instruction. In the U.S., several federal education funding initiatives are tied to that dubious concept, and Peter pokes some big holes in the philosophy:
"So what do we teach our children and our teachers about the nature of science by funding only "scientifically proven" reading methods? First, we teach them a wrongheaded view of science as an engine of static truth and proof. Second, we teach them that science is about authority: Someone (in this case, someone in Washington) will tell you what is proven and true. Your job is not to reason why, but to execute."
At Bridges, when we first started looking into No Child Left Behind legislation, there was much hand-wringing over how we were going to prove scientifically that our software and instructional materials met specific learning outcomes and curriculum standards. But it seemed a bit like an exercise in futility to me. How can learning about career paths and planning post-secondary education options be proven to improve test scores? There was this vague sense that it had something to do with motivation, which Peter also covers in reference to reading:
"First and foremost, we must remind teachers that they are not only teaching how to read, but why to read. They must find ways to share wonder along with linguistic correctness, or else we will raise a generation of students who can read, but will too often choose not to.

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