Things I Know 17 of 365: Preaching doesn’t convert

I can’t believe I’m saying this, Mr. Mali,
but I think I’d like to switch sides.

And I want to tell her to do more than just believe it,
but to enjoy it!
That changing your mind is one of the best ways
of finding out whether or not you still have one.
Or even that minds are like parachutes,
that it doesn’t matter what you pack
them with so long as they open
at the right time.
O God, Lilly, I want to say
you make me feel like a teacher,
and who could ask to feel more than that?
I want to say all this but manage only,
Lilly, I am like so impressed with you!

– Taylor Mali, “Like Lilly Like Wilson

I spend the bulk of my day attempting to draw out, negotiate and refine discussions. It could be between people and people. It could be between people and texts. It could be between people and themselves.

Asking my students to consider their questions and then find answers to those questions affords me multiple moments of mindchange.

Being worth my salt requires me to keep my hand in the game as well. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by colleagues keen on elevating discourse. Each idea runs through the pasta maker of dialogue, elasticizing my thinking.

A few weeks ago, I read this blog post regarding what Lynne Munson believed to be the common flaw between former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee and newly minted head of NYC schools Cathie Black.

I took issue with the following:

Topping Black’s list of work she wants to get done: “[R]ethink[ing] the standard model of a classroom so we can teach 21st Century skills in innovative and engaging ways.” 21st century skills is not a curriculum. It is a fad.

I tweeted my discontent. Debbie Schinker asked if I would be commenting. I said I would.

I haven’t yet.

Reading the four comments already posted, I’m not entirely sure how much my contribution would move the conversation. Munson seems fairly comfortable in her rightness.

Mary Worrell summed up my concern best, “Sometimes it’s so hard to even try to break the ice on stuff like that. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t just preach to the choir.”

In moments like these, I think about what I’d hope my students to choose in their best moments, and then I do that.

As enough preaching has happened and I’m genuinely interested in building my understanding, here’s the comment I’ll be posting:

Ben and Lynne,
Who decides the necessary information, and what’s the process there? I see the point about the importance of knowing things. At professional conferences, my ability to reference any number of authors acts as my entrance ticket to conversations. At dinner with new friends, whether or not I’ve seen Mad Men or Dexter – my pop culture fluency – can determine my social stock value. How, though, does one extrapolate those facts necessary for inclusion in curriculum?
If knowing facts can be quickening and enlightening and no real way exists for the teaching of all facts of possible relevance in the lives of our students, does it not seem prudent to help students navigate the structures (formal and informal) for the procurement of facts as needed?
Be certain, I include facts as a component of any conversation I have with my students. I’m able to shore up arguments and illustrate examples of otherwise out-of-reach ideas because of the knowledge I’ve gained. I certainly see the worth of this. Still, I recognize the absolute worthlessness of these facts in situations I’ve not anticipated. So, turn to the scientific method – a key 21st Century Skill – as a model for uncovering the facts my students may need and I can’t provide.
What do you think of the idea that championing the teaching of facts and labeling 21st Century Skills as a fad sets up a counterproductive falsely dichtomous mutual exclusivity?

That’ll do.

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