Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reflection on the Tattooed Man by Herbert Kohl

I've written something about the Tattooed Man by Herbert Kohl. The chapter is well-written, and certainly brings back memories of childhood and the love I had for writing during journal time, as well as experiencing professional live performances as eye-opening.

I have to view the world with some sense of hope. My philosophy is that it's better by far to create than destroy. Ironically, when I write, I tend to write fiction or fantasy.

The paragraph that I can most closely identify with is the one that begins on page 58 and ends on page 59.

"Live music, and especially that particular concert, was beautiful beyond all expectation." (Kohl, page 58) This sentence alone brings back memories of elementary school, and going to Ashland, Oregon to view Shakespeare at the theatre, or a concert at the Peter Britt Festival. Or, as I was fortunate in this regard, watching my parents and grandmother play the piano at the concert hall in Yreka, and turning the pages in the sheet music for my father.

The upper grades, six through eight I believe, went to one Shakespeare play per year. The teacher would prepare us for it by having us spend a week or two, or maybe it was more because it sure seemed like forever, reading from the book (it was The Taming of the Shrew one year). The work in class was extremely tough and highbrow. I barely understood any of what was going on in the play. And when we finally went to the play, it was still way beyond me. I believe I may have even fallen asleep during the play, since the English accents were done in an authentic manner and almost impossible to decode.

Does this mean that the event was a failure for the students? I don't think so. "I might even call that experience life-transforming, in that music, all kinds of music I never knew of as a child, has become an abiding joy in my life. It is hard for many people to realize that what is ordinary for them, a matter of common experience, can be a revelation to other people." (p.58) Between the Britt Festival and Shakespeare, I believed that all of my peers had had the fortune to experience live performances.

For me, this experience, and a variety of music presented by my dad, and at our surprisingly multicultural talent shows, as well as by my 3rd through 5th grade teacher who played guitar and sang with us, all led me to experience the variety in the world around me. "Throughout my teaching life my first encounter with live Mozart has been a metaphor for the joy of discovering that the world is larger and more beautiful than you imagined it. It has allowed me to explore new subjects and themes over the years, to move from a Bronx-centric stance in the world to one that is open to experiencing the range and variety of human creations that make life complex and so confoundingly challenging." (p.58) It was a breadth of education and open-mindedness applied to everything that I was under the impression was given to all students.

Only as I grew older did I realize that what I'd perceived as a shared experience was far from being that. It's something of a shame that not everyone can experience a quality live performance at a young age. It would be better yet if they could experience many. I'm talking about a carefully choreographed performance by professionals in their respective fields.

This brings me to the single most important statement in this paragraph, in my opinion. "It has also allowed me to understand that not knowing something is no crime if one never had an opportunity to know it." (p.58) Why is this so overwhelmingly important? I have encountered people who tend to put down children when they don't know something. These people tend to operate on the principle that if you don't know something that they think that they know, you must be stupid. Perhaps the reality is that these people are acting out aggressively in response to defensive feelings they had as children, when they didn't know anything and were embarrassed in front of a classroom.

I can't conceive of how they could possibly think that someone else is stupid for not knowing something. If you don't know something, it doesn't mean you're lacking intelligence. It just means you're lacking knowledge. Knowledge can be gained a lot more quickly than intelligence. I particularly take issue with people who try to assassinate the character of others by insulting their intelligence. "I refuse to judge students on the basis of what they can't do or don't know." (p.58)

"Rather, one of my roles as a teacher is to insinuate complexity into the lives of my students, to present them with new experiences and ideas whether they be contemporary or ancient, local or global." (p.58) As a teacher, I would endeavor to pursue these same goals. And, by following the path that I am following, I will have a wealth of experience and cultures to draw from.

Perhaps a better perspective to take on this chapter would be that it is about how Kohl became a 'hopemonger' in spite of adversity, as opposed to being a chapter about the virtues of being a 'hopemonger.'

"I Won't Learn From You" And Other Thoughts on Creative Maladjustment, Herbert Kohl, The New Press, 1994

Modalities in Education

I am not very familiar with the Multiple Intelligences, but I have encountered them in various ways over the years. The main way was through tests designed to indicate a career path. These kind of tests are great for indicating jobs that you might like.

Willingham has truly opened my eyes in a number of regards. The biggest eye-opener for me, which makes perfect sense, is that there is no evidence that applying modalities when teaching individuals based on their professed preference has any benefits.

I think the most important problem with modality approaches is the assumption that modality can be applied successfully based on the individual without regard to what is being taught. Teaching someone with a visual preference using a visual modality will not bear more fruit than the usual teaching techniques. Another problem is that modality approaches assume that children learn best in only one way, and that we have to specialize instruction for each individual student. Willingham's research has debunked this myth, perhaps.

Instead, the modalities are most usefully applied in the classroom as supplemental materials. They are more useful for livening up the class than for teaching specific individuals. With regard to workload, this should make teachers happy. It means that rather than spending inordinate amounts of time per student, they can create their lesson plan for the entire class, with a minimal focus on specific students 'learning styles.' In other words, only the students who truly need special circumstances will require that preparation.

What we've learned from Willingham is that modality can be used in the classroom to liven up the material in general. Certain subjects will lend themselves to certain modalities more readily than others. For example, music appreciation is primarily taught by listening, although basic music theory can be illustrated on the board as well. However, since "Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn," it isn't necessary for modality thinking to dominate the classroom. (Willingham, page 113)

Other subjects can be taught in a variety of modalities which can make the subject matter more interesting and applicable for the students. Altogether, it is perhaps best to use modalities in a holistic manner. They should be integrated with the standard curriculum as supplemental materials in order to maximize their usefulness. I think that it isn't necessary to use modalities in instruction, but I also think that the students would be appreciative of their inclusion, even if kept to a minor role in the classroom.

Why Don't Students Like School?, Willingham, Daniel T., Jossey-Bass, 2009