Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When THINK Is a Four-Letter Word

Don't teenagers have opinions anymore? About anything? I know--I'm the high school teacher; I should know the answer to that one.

Based upon my observation in the classroom lately, I'd have to say no. They don't. They don't have any opinions about anything, and they don't think much about anything, either. (Besides themselves, which is to be expected at that age. Don't take it personally.)

No, I didn't have a bad day at school today. I had a good day, albeit a quiet one. That's what got me to thinking about this. Has standardized testing and garbage like No Child Left Behind turned our kids into automatons who just wait for the right answer to be given to them so that they can burp it back out to us on The Test? Consider: Students ask a question. I try to guide them into thinking toward possible answers. Know what they do? They sit there, waiting patiently and staring blankly until I just give up and give them the answer. Or tell them exactly where to find it in text. And I teach honors.

One hallmark of an honors English student is that they internalize literature: they find a commonality in the work and their own experience. That aspect can be a thematic one, a character trait, whatever. Now, they just read the story and pronounce it either "boring" or "gay" or "okay" and then submit to its being picked apart for theme, mood, tone, etc. When I attempt to draw them into discussion by being deliberately provocative or downright misleading, they silently ignore the bait. And when I finally pin them down to give an answer, they are afraid to be wrong. Can you imagine? Who cares if you're wrong? What could possibly happen? I ask them. In my class, I reward risk and thought, so if you are wrong, be gloriously wrong! Go down in a blaze of flaming wrongness! I will applaud you! Yet, it's like mental dentistry in there.

And it's not just with literature. It's everything. They just want to cut to the chase, get what's going to be on the test, and then with whatever time is left over, talk to their friends. Period. The Microwave Education for the Broadband Generation. I have no idea what they think about anything, and I wonder if they do, either. I wonder (A) if they know what they think , and (B) if they think about anything.

It's getting really difficult, and often painful, to get them to discover either one.


  1. Anonymous8:45 PM

    It is a pure joy to know that you are being that denitst in this day and age. What the public at large doesn't seem to get yet, is that if we put so much weight on these tests, the kids will understand that, and will learn only what they know is being "counted."

    And it doesn't help much that teachers are often forced to teach only what is being tested. It just makes it more difficult in later years for children to mentally catch-up. We are experiencing the loss of critical thought and no one in power seems to care much.

    Well you do! It is a relief to know that people exist who aren't cowed into the systematic dumbing down.

    And though it is clear that you are dedicated to pulling kids out of the easy pablum thinking and don't need lauding, I still believe there should be some sort of reward for your efforts.

    I hope that they start to open themselves up. And I hope that they don't wait until after March testing to begin.

    Some of them might even wait until April or May since they have extended time and all. ;-)

  2. Hey, Neil--

    First of all, thanks for stopping by. I love your blog (Citizen of the Month) and read it regularly. I'm flattered by your visit.

    Anyway, back to your question.

    Yes, I do think it has gotten worse, a lot worse. Ask any career teacher, and they'll say the same. I can look back not only to my own days as an honors English student but to my earlier years as a teacher as well. There was so much more discussion and exchange of opinion! We had so much to say...on everything! We loved having an adult as a captive audience, and we would chat up a storm if for no other reason than to get the teacher off track to avoid the lesson. These days you can't even get kids to talk about the looming spectre of a draft. Now THAT'S something, isn't it?

    Stop by anytime.


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