More on learning styles and the distorted ideas the Neocons give us

This isn’t the post I sent to flteach but it has some thoughts in it.

The thread of learning styles was going in directions so typical of these listservs and I was trying to figure out what was going on. I am trying to stick to “helpful” posts and not get involved in these endless debates that go nowhere as people hurl charges at one another. So I read the article in the Journal of Higher Education that William Jirafalles kindly provided the link for.

I am not aware of any political agenda the author of the article or the journal has, but this is the sort of thing that is used to try to dismantle the public education system and replace it with for profit schools. I just think teachers should be aware of this.

If you are sitting in a classroom wondering if “learning styles” should be something you should know about, this article has nothing in it I recognize. It gives the impression that every lesson plan should have four or five elements in it, each designed to address a specific learning style. Of all the teachers I’ve talked with over the years who think it’s important to take learning styles into account, none would think this article describes anything they do.

Where did the author get his ideas? Does anyone ever just go observe a normal teacher? Who would have time for all that? It’s ludicrous on the face of it and if someone things that’s what teachers do, no wonder they want to fire us all.

No, folks. That’s not what learning styles are about. They are simply about avoiding the thing many of us experienced: a rigid teacher with no engagement with students who thought everyone learned like he did and falls into a panic if anyone suggests he alter his routine one bit. Talking about learning styles is just a way of getting us to keep in mind, when we make lesson plans, that there are all kinds of people in the world and in our classrooms so we just have to keep that in mind as we run our classes. Is that really so hard? I guess for some people it is.

Are there gurus out there making money off giving seminars and workshops on how to make every child a “winner” (note relation to hucksterism – everyone a winner, see you at the top, and all that)? Are there a few teachers here and there who think they have to run out and apply this new fad religiously? Sure, just like there are teachers of all kinds, plumbers of all kinds, surgeons of all kinds, but they are a tiny minority. Most teachers intelligently adapt new ideas to their classes in the way that best fits with the way they teach.

It’s the same way with communicative teaching, tprs, so-called natural approaches, grammar-translation, oral Latin, multiple intelligences, etc. We use them as we see fit. That’s why we are called professionals. Next week I start my grammar manual. GRAMMAR MANUAL??!!! Pat Barrett??? Grammar manual? Yes. I could explain why but I’ll bet I’d get posts congratulating me on finally coming away from that terrible whole language and communicative crap and coming to the true light of of grammar-based syllabi. Crazy. But I do lots of things, as we all do, at least the ones on this list.

But let me give an example of how these things get used politically. A few years ago, a stalwart of this list, a great guy and excellent teacher but definitely possessed of a strong political agenda, posted that things were so bad in public education, that catering to minorities had gone so far, that standards had so dropped, that schools in Arizona were teaching something called Mayan Math. Yep, teachers in AZ were so polluted by this terrible multiculturalism that they had abandoned regular math for Mayan math.

Well, my friend, Brian Barabe, and I had been involved in AZ education for over 30 years in one way or another, Brian as an English, Spanish, and Latin teacher and I with a teacher wife and experience consulting to schools and, by then, some years under my belt as a teacher. We had never heard of anything like this, so Brian decided to track it down. Had anyone even proposed teaching the mathematical system of the ancinet Mayans in AZ?

It took several years, and Brian can correct me on this as I am sending him a copy of this post, but he eventually ran down the Great Mayan Math controversy. It seems a math teacher thought it would be neat to devise a unit on Mayan math b/c the Mayan system used a different base and he thought it would be an interesting way to help the students understand the concept of base in math.

I just asked Brian about this but I cannot remember what he said about whether this guy ever actually taught the unit or what, but that was it: a lesson on the math of the Mayans, surely a fascinating topic, a circumscribed introduction is all, and designed to teach an important math concept to a math class.

From what I can tell, here is what happened to it: one of these think tanks devoted to destroying public ed got ahold of this and decided to blow it all out of proportion in order to feed the idea that Am teachers were nuts and seemingly out to destroy our children, etc., etc., etc. I made mention of Neocons, incl. Hirsch, and I’ll have the article I referred to soon and can give some quotes – off-line b/c I do not wish to pursue this on flteach – re the Neocon arguments incl. Hirsch’s.

If people want to improve public ed or replace it with something else, that’s their right to struggle for that. But when you lie and distort in order to make public school teachers look stupid or incompetent or dedicated to undermining Am ideals and ed, then you need to be called on it. But it’s hard; look how much effort it took Brian to run this down and find out the truth. If that had been allowed to stand, I am sure some flteach member would be telling people that those crazy teachers in AZ are teaching Mayan math. If that were true, would Intel and other electronics and aviation firms locate here? Don’t they usually locate where the schools can provide them with a good work force?

Some common sense must be applied. Please think these things through. Is multiculturalism really a plot to replace Am values with Islamofascist values? Have Communists really taken over the teacher unions? How many teachers do you know personally are dedicated to the homosexual agenda? Any in your school? How about Socialists (New York excepted)? How about……….

To be fair, there are teachers who try to do psychotherapy in the classroom or who try to internationalize their students in some bizarre way, but do they really characterize YOUR school? YOUR school district? Let’s face it, we have people and always have had people (I know, I worked with lots of them) who say our country became socialist when FDR was inaugurated or who think a secret cabal runs the country. There are crazies who get a teaching certificate; I’ve known a few. But do they CHARACTERIZE your particular school? Do you really look around and fear for your job b/c you don’t address 4 learning styles in every lesson? Not what some crazy admin says he’s going to look for but actually implemens and actually fires people for violating?

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