Monday, February 9, 2009

Education is All in Your Mind

I spent eight years of my early adulthood teaching high school - long enough to prove I could do it without the students cowing me, a real problem in Israeli schools full of cocky adolescents with zero tolerance for their elders. Actually, once I got the hang of compelling them to listen long enough that they started to learn, I mostly enjoyed it, and in all the years since have never again encountered such a concentration of fine minds as the more unruly 11th or 12th graders I used to confront.

So I'm not automatically into educational policies based on what you might call touchy-feely tactics of making the students feel good about themselves and what have you. Find the way to challenge them, and then never stop doing it, if you ask me. Ah, and employ fine teachers, who know their material and know their trade (or art, more likely).

Still, Richard E. Nisbett's op-ed column in the NYT explains why with some groups, a little bit of that is exactly what's needed - and not the large expensive and grandiose programs. I think his point is that with some groups, there's a societal handicap that convinces the kids they can't learn and succeed, so they don't; remove that by suggesting it's all about their efforts, not their identity, and they'll flourish. Sounds reasonable to me: set it up so they decide to learn, and they will.

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