66/365 Stop Hacking Things (If that’s What We’re Doing at All)

Image from the movie Hackers

My first hackers

Remember about a week ago when we could talk about “innovation” and be cool? Those were the days.

I’m not sure what the half-life of a buzzword in education is these days, but I’m thinking, as private companies start to catch up with the markets opened up by new media in education and their marketing departments start to push out more glossy 1-pagers at conferences, the life of an edubuzzword is likely to be diminished.

The next word on the chopping blog…er…block is likely to be hack. Look at the next conference program you’re handed and chances are some panel or another will be hacking curriculum, professional development, assessment, recess, technology, school lunches…

It’s as though education has been given a shiny new ax and been set free on language to hack as we please.

I don’t mind all this hacking. I’ve been known to profess doing a bit of it myself. What concerns me is that we might not be hacking when we say we’re hacking, and we might not be hacking what we say we’re hacking.

Such uses are bound to dillute the terms as we’ve diluted 2.0, read/write, next generation, and 21st century before.

I suppose, in an era when pundits, politicians, and other leading personalities bandy language around as though it has no meaning, such a carte blanch approach is to be expected.

I also understand the arbitrary nature of language. The word tree and an actual tree have no inherent connection. But, this fragility of vesiles should mean greater care in our use of them, not less.

Yes, hacking is a simple term, and no great harm will come from its dilution into its mass application outside of context and thoughtful use. When we do this to words, we dimish what they can do.

21st century barely made it to its namesake with any of its spirit intact. At this rate, we’ll be making the case for 45th century skills by 2025.

Hacking is a thing, and hackers do a thing. Saying we are hacking a subsection of education like classroom management when we mean questioning classroom management approaches, researching proven effective practices of classroom management, and developing plans for the implementation of those practices of classroom management misleads others about what we hope to accomplish and makes it more difficult to call hacking hacking when we truly intend to do it.

Language will change, and we will always ask words to do new things. Applying those words because doing so is in fashion is not engaging the full set of tools with which we are equipped. It is not even a race to the bottom. It is a race to the popular.

Things I Know 257 of 365: It’s time to give up the drug of classroom management

We are constantly working towards the highest level of compliance possible.

– Mike Davidson

A few weeks ago, I had a telephone interview for a part-time job. If I’d gotten it, I’d be working with pre-teachers who are planning on seeking jobs with “no excuses” charter schools. While these aren’t the types of schools I’d choose to work at or send my kids to, if there’s a chance I can help out someone who’s headed to or in the classroom, I’ll pitch in.

Aside from my resume, it became apparent quickly the woman interviewing me had typed my name into a search engine and was struggling with how I might fit the model of the program.

“Now, we find our teachers struggle with group work and projects in the first year,” she said. “So, we focus on teaching them direct instruction and classroom management. It seems that you’re more of a constructivist.”

She had me.

“Yes,” I admitted, “I tend to favor inquiry and constructivism as pedagogies.”

And that was where it became clear to us both that I wouldn’t be the best fit. We said our goodbyes, both a little relieved.

I don’t think it’s a matter of the teachers not being able to handle group work or projects. It’s a matter of not asking questions or inviting them.

A friend of mine disagreed with me on the topic this weekend.

Here’s the thing, across international lines, new teachers polled after entering the classroom report they wished they’d had more training in classroom management. Kids, it turns out, are difficult.

I posit the idea that they’re asking for the wrong thing. I humbly beg whoever’s got their hand on the spigot of classroom management training to turn off the flow.

Let’s stop teaching classroom management. We’re not really teaching classroom management, anyway. Nor are we teaching learning management. The deeper we dig into classroom management, the closer we find ourselves to teaching management. If a kids happen to learn in the process, it’s likely because we’ve eliminated their access to anything (read everything) more interesting.

More heinous is how far training on classroom management takes new teachers from investigating how to foster caring relationships with their students, how to build systems to support curiosity in their students, and how to refine the theories of learning driving their own practice.

Implied in my interviewer’s claim that their teachers struggled with inquiry in their first year was the allowance that such an approach would be something they picked up in their second or third year.

It’s possible this could happen, but I’d wager such a turn would be by freak chance and not the natural evolution of things.

Managing children so that you can teach them becomes a bit of a drug. You get them semi-compliant and quiet the first year, and you start thinking about how you can get them to let you teach a little more next year.

New teachers struggle with classroom management because, given the choice, most students would not sit through their lessons. This should tell us we need to throw our interest behind improving the lessons, not finding new carrots and sticks for getting kids to listen while we teach.