“Those in the Know” and “Those Not in the Know”

Michael F. Shaughnessy and Delia Stafford

In education, we have books, journal, pamphlets, articles, speeches and newspaper articles. Apparently, over time, we have people who are “ in the know “ about education, and those others, who are anachronistic, and whose views, while once relevant, are now outdated. Who are these noted individuals and their anachronistic views?

For example, back in the 60’s before the first author was born, apparently Mario Fantini and Humanistic Education and Values clarification was “the big thing”. This was supposedly the answer to all education ills. However, there was more to follow. That’s about right for all, quote, and “new ideas”.

Proceeding along, we then had learning styles and learning inventories and Rita Dunn and Anthony Gregorc and a number of other Learning Style Preferences and Kolb’s inventories and things of that nature. Apparently, it was not so simple to discover exactly which style and which inventory worked for every child…

So, if you are not in the know what are you? Well, perhaps abstract random, or concrete sequential, if not that, then abstract sequential, but if you are a concrete sequential teacher, teaching abstract simultaneous children, you are going to have to change your ways!

Somewhere along the line, we stumbled into slogan heaven. At this time we had the slogan “Back to the Basics”, and the word “accountability” seemed to permeate the educational landscape. The “ in the know “ thinking at that time was that if only we go  “back to the basics” (perhaps back to the past) then we would have some success in educating our children. To our “in the know” knowledge, that has not worked!

Moving right along, in 1983, E.D. Hirsch wrote a book, which is still read, revered and criticized, entitled “Cultural Literacy”. He indicated that the problem was in the curriculum and that all we had to do was teach these basic essentials that all children supposedly should know or at least be exposed to in the public schools.

However, even though revered, hardly any educator, university or otherwise has used his advice. We simply expanded every objective for students and teachers, known to anyone who deems their idea “reform effort” into oblivion…

Alfie Kohn was “in the know“ and he lambasted stars, checks, smiley faces and all of the external reinforces that teachers would use to keep children from misbehaving. Did more kids graduate due to this astounding, revolutionary idea? Did learning improve as a result of “stopping” the reward system? We would say, not to our “in the know” opinion.

Theodore Sizer was “in the know” about Horace and the problems and dilemmas faced by the average hypothetical schoolteacher. Unfortunately, hypothetical teachers never behave like the “real ones”. In general, they act on their own beliefs; some are very good, some not so good.

And William Purkey for a time was “in the know “ as he had his Invitational Learning and believed that all we had to do was to “ invite” students to participate in the learning process. IF that had worked… we would be forever inviting students to learn! Unfortunately, when we invite today, the invitation appears to be, “more of the same” boring “teach to the test” curriculum. After all is said and done, inviting to learn is simply not enough, especially for the 15 million children in poverty.

He was followed by William Glasser, an “in the know” theorist, who initially said that we had to have “ Schools Without Failure” but then what was important was the Quality Teacher and the Quality School. What a declaration! If only he could have found enough believers. We would love to have schools without failure, but to date, 3000 students dropout of school everyday in America. Would that he had given a foolproof way to meet that goal. He would have been deemed mysteriously “in the know”.

During the last forty years or so, we have had such experts step forward to tell us how to teach children with learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and various and sundry other “exceptionalities”, to no avail for the masses. Perhaps with better strategies, these symptoms could be dealt with in a very different way. But those “in the know” have another idea… and that would be, “test” and “sort” at all cost! Teachers should not have too many of “those children” in their classes, for they would surely take away valuable teaching time for those who are, “ quote”, “normal”?

And the list goes on!  “In the know” Madeline Hunter, with the proverbial Lesson Cycle, which included good strategies for teaching. Those strategies became an assessment tool to evaluate teachers, which finally resulted into a “in the know” Dog and Pony Show” to receive an acceptable rating for teaching children. Let’s see now, “did we have more achievement gains as a result”?

Marie Clay, although it is not pronounced that way, had her own approach to reading and literacy and then another Marie Carbo was “ in the know” about the way to go; either phonics or whole language or a combination of the two. What to do, what to do?

Phonics, whole language, fuzzy math, zillion of dollars expended on textbooks purporting the objectives for every subject detailed by every state, computers for all, penmanship no more, everything printed from the HP Officejet and 3,000 students drop out of school everyday, each representing a personal tragedy; at every turn there are those who are “in the know” would propose yet another money making “new” idea to “reform” schools in America. For those “ in the know”, there is no reform effort that will work without good teachers and good principals.

Then for a brief moment, (school time) we had videodisks touted as the answer by those “ in the know” as the educational answer and now we have educational software and we can take the “ Oregon Trail “ and learn critical thinking along the Lewis and Clark trail. Most kids could care less about the L and C trail. They just want to “ hit the trail”.

AHA! Smaller Learning Communities, as we begin to add to the anachronistic “in the know” ideas. A Nation At Risk and today a new twist, No Child Left a Dime, the children continue to pay the price. With every new “in the know Administration”, a new idea, and new test, a different anything…and the dropout rate soars.

And then those who were “in the know” said that we were  “ A Nation At Risk “ and intentionally tried to keep the report short, so that all could read it quickly, because if it were too long, it would just sit on the desk and gather dust, as so many other blue ribbon panel reports have been. And it did, and we are more at risk today than ever.

Thomas Gordon was once “ in the know” with his “teacher effectiveness training” (obliviously didn’t work) or (we would still be doing that activity) program which morphed into his parent effectiveness training program, and his various other training programs. He could have been considered the precursor to Lee Canter.

Lee Canter had his books and tapes and videos and promulgated his own ideas about homework, and I am sure that he has a web site set up to sell his programs and in-services and trainings. Lee Canter was willing, for a price, to sell information about enhancing homework, dealing with parents, dealing with discipline problems, and the like. He expanded his stuff to offer 3 credit graduate classes on “ The High Performing Teacher”

“Succeeding with Difficult Students”, “Assertive Discipline” and “Parents on Your Side”. Of course you can also buy Desktop Motivators, Bulletin Boards for Reinforcing Positive Behavior, Monthly Citizenship Slips, Seasonal Motivators and of course you too can buy “Creating a Positive Climate Throughout the School” AND for bus drivers, he offers Assertive Discipline for Bus Drivers, for parents, “Homework without Tears”, and his study skill series-How to Study and Take Tests, Write a Research Paper, Write Better Book Reports, and Use the Library. One wonders where he is now, and what he is doing now. Spending the thousands of dollars he made on these books? Please! Where are the fantastic results of this mega bucks idea?  We would be more inclined to say it was a success, if we could have only observed Mr. Canter himself, being successful in a classroom in Chicago, Detroit, NYC or even small town America. He is wealthy and we are still looking for   the “ in the know” answer.

Howard Gardner had his own “Frames of Mind” about WHAT was “in the know “and believed that there was more than one intelligence, and that we should be educating the whole child. Another bandwagon was then started as people did “Multiple Intelligence“ workshops to address teaching to the child’s musical, artistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual spatial, and athletic intelligence began. Carolyn Chapman and others had their own “ frame of mind “ highlighted for a brief period of time. One thing we must mention here. Howard Gardner, to our knowledge, never taught in Chicago or NYC, or Detroit Public School. So how would he know? He is perhaps  “in the know”, unbeknownst to this unknown author.

And along we way, teachers now have to teach driver’s Ed, and sex education (hopefully with or without the hands on lab) and home economics and pregnancy prevention. Oh yes!

In summary, we find that there have been people who have been very knowledgeable about pedagogy and learning, but not necessarily about teaching. We have had Grant Wiggins and his stuff about measurement and, assessment but not much about motivation and getting students to want to learn. What he seemed to forget or not know, is this; one can only motivate if they know how to set the conditions. Students would be motivated if there were interesting things to do in the classroom?!@#

Books such as “ Touch to Reach, Tough to Teach “ sound good, but often it is the implementation of principles that is difficult.   Authors should be required to use the idea for 5 or more years before they put it on the market for others to flounder around trying to figure it out…all the while paying the price!

And then there was John Goodlad, who for many years, has been “in the know” about this place that we call school. Should we all take his advice?!

Over the past fifty years, we have had a plethora of books about education, why Johnny can’t read, write, spell, do math, do art, music, and P.E. and many extraneous factors have been blamed. The “experts”, ”in the know,” who are high on theory but low on common sense as well as the practitioners who were high on real life experience, but not so good on communicating are still with us, and still abound.   When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn. Common sense, is not so common!

We supposed that we have missed some “ in the know “ individuals along the way and that we have also missed some who were “not in the know”, and who have fallen by the wayside. We know there were people like Larry Cuban “ Tinkering Toward Utopia “ WOW!! and others questioning  about “ The Schools We Need : And Why We Don’t Have Them” Now that is a good question. Why don’t we have them? Good schools? Now what exactly would that look and sound like? IN THE KNOW?

A few years ago, we were ordered to adhere to the new adage ,  “ NO CHILD LEFT  BEHIND”. And those “In The Know”, said that this was the way to ensure that all children would have a glimpse of the American Dream. It may turn out however, that this was just one more American Scheme! With a few dollars attached.

Maybe we should just sit back, take a deep breath and look for one more “in the know” idea! Maybe, just maybe, we could find a “fool proof idea” from yet one more “in the know” upstart.