So how were you educated? Did you endure tests? Grades? Lessons? For shame! Those backwards concepts are catamount to child abuse! It never ceases to amaze me that Alfie Kohn's writings still get attention, years after No Child Left Behind's implementation. Often his writings show up in college education programs as if they are the gospel. Kohn is known for taking extreme stances on education issues and he's well known for arguing the very purposes of schooling, grading, and merit pay. Kohn has a way of making talked-about issues even more talked about. For example, lots of experts banter on about the issues of standardized testing in schools. Kohn turns the issue on its side by questioning the presence of grading systems at all. He relentlessly shapes issues in a way that causes experts to pause from the normal course of intellectual deb to look at educational issues in ways they have not been looked at before.
Myth: Vocational education is a waste.
Kohn maintains that it isn't the school's place to train students for their future jobs. The reality is that many students stay in school because they see a connection between their futures and their educations. Two-thirds of all high school students attempt college or university, but only one-fifth of students end up with a four-year degree. Nowadays, a university education is a huge financial burden to take on without knowing what the return on one's investment is going to be.
Myth: Schools are too much like businesses.
Kohn finds fault with the accountability movement's premises that competition among schools will lead to eventually better quality education for young people. Kohn argues that schools lack a worthy purpose. He lashes out against the memorization of facts. His solution? "To be well educated, then, is to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends." Ok, I get that Mr. Kohn, I really do. He calls for universities to get more involved in education reform. Good stuff.
Myth: Schools overemphasize achievement.
This is Kohn's pill that I can't swallow. Kohn writes that authentic learning is stifled by pushing students to excel according to grades, especially standardized testing. He doesn't agree with the SAT. He attacks grade inflation and even teacher praise of students in general.
Kohn is to educational reform what Malcolm X was for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. That is, as far as reform goes, they both were important propelling sources who affected the mainstream way of thinking but were not always accepted by the mainstream. I appreciate Kohn's brilliance, but only in a wow-that-makes-you-think kind of way. Yes, too much of our financial and human resources seem to be devoted to educational reform policies that blow with the political winds, seemingly in a different direction each election. Kohn may be the Gargamel of public education, but his arguments are important because us educational smurfs come up with the best potions under pressure.
Jane Thursday is a freelance writer, a mother of two young children, and an elementary school principal. She holds a doctorate in educational leadership, a master's degree in school administration, and 6-12 English Language Arts teaching licensure. She has studied public education in the United States, South Africa, the Philippines, and England.
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