The Thrill Remains

Our experiences create our beliefs, from which spring our values, upon which we hang our decisions and actions and words.  

I wasn’t going to read it but I did.  I wasn’t going to write a response, but I am.  I wasn’t going to make it another opinion piece, but it is, with additional resources below.  

My life experiences as student of both music and math and as an educator have shaped my opinions about learning and inform my pedagogical philosophies.  I know first hand one can appear to be “successful” at math or piano by simply being compliant and willing to please, which can easily be mistaken for dedication.  When told exactly what to do, I could.  A’s in math, scholarships in music.  I also know first hand the thrill of realizing there was so much more, that instead of passively following directions, I could actively listen and notice and explore and question and make sense of and mess up and try something else and reflect and maybe most important of all, feel competent and joyful. 

Whenever anyone over-simplifies anything as intensely complex as teaching, learning, math, or music in order to justify a particular personal stance,  its a whopping red flag for me.  I cringe at math-music (or math-sports, etc.) metaphors that appear to convince but under scrutiny, fall apart.  I am skeptical whenever words like “drill”, “understand”, “practice”, “learn” and (good grief) “ingrained” are used liberally without any clear, consistent definitions by the writer, especially when said writer makes claims about what’s wrong with teachers (or kids) these days and here’s exactly how to fix it.  I am perplexed by beliefs that Only This is Right and Poo-poo to That (Its Not How I Had to Do It).  I know how easily the general public latches onto back-to-basics type opinions and then banters them about as utter truths, forgetting about bias, prejudice, and self-interest and heaping more myths and misconceptions onto the pile about teachers and teaching, learners and learning.  I cringe whenever motivations for transforming education are driven by competitiveness and better test scores.  And I feel quite, quite sad that someone who confesses to hating math as a child believes its OK for learning to lack pleasure— to the point of being painful— and that we should make our daughters (OK, sons, too) experience the pain we did, and expect them to be grateful for it. 

While some people have a NY Times op-ed piece or masses of twitter followers, I just have my nearly invisible little blog.  This does not mean my reflections (which give me clarity) and opinions are any less important. I’m just less influential.

I leave you with links to Mark Chubb’s response to the same op-ed piece that’s particularly thoughtful and constructive (and influential), and to Dan Meyer’s follow-up question that re-focuses an out-of-control discussion.  In my opinion, of course.  As always, any additional resources you find valuable and/or insights you include in the comments are greatly appreciated.

Mark Chubb: The Role of Practice in Mathematics Class

Dan Meyer: What Does Fluency Without Understanding Look Like?

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One thought on “The Thrill Remains

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. If only we could all experience what it means to understand mathematics like this… the conversations we would have would be far more productive. Hopefully every blog post or tweet helps us move in this direction.

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