Category Archives: fundamental education

Listening for Silence

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Usually I try to get these posts up quickly after the debate, but I needed to sit with this one for a bit. I tried typing my thoughts, deleted them, tried again then walked away. Sometimes time helps clarify and measure thoughts. The fact that I have wrestled with some of these thoughts in my past didn’t necessarily help.

It took me a while to decide if what I, and lots of other people in my position do is right. More on that later.

Debate #3: Fundamentals vs. Future

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It is important to recognize when a skill still holds relevance and when it is safe to leave another behind. This debate may even be split on generational lines, with those before preaching the benefits and those after calling it unnecessary.

Agree made some valid points about how a majority of us use technology in some way to “ensure accuracy,” like doing taxes. Personally I use word or google docs to check spelling and grammar. The issue I have with this is technology is not perfect and with most languages there are intricacies that programs may struggle with (their, there, they’re) or formats that may play with structure intentionally. As programs develop, this may be a harder point to argue in the future.

The argument of using technology to create more class time is accurate.  I spend the first few weeks of each school year reviewing the basics.  If I handed out calculators I would have enough time for an additional unit. My students that struggle with the basics could also more easily keep up with those that excel. My retort to that would be that I can provide calculators to specific students who require that modification.

They listed the following quote from Alberta’s top math bureaucrat, “Memorization doesn’t necessarily mean we understand what we’re doing. This is true in the same way some students can read a text perfectly, but have no idea what it is talking about; fluency vs. comprehension.

I would argue the same can be said for the use of a calculator.  I often tell my students a calculator can get you the wrong answer quick. As disagree stated, being too reliant on a calculator diminishes understanding.  To be fair this can also be the case using traditional formulas. Students know the formula works, but do not know why.

Without knowledge of the fundamentals we lose the ability to recognize when something is not right, either through the technologies mistake or one that was created from our own misuse. For example, knowing the rough amount your groceries cost could save you hundreds of dollars when a mistake has been made.

Trusting technology to always be right means you can blindly follow it off a cliff.  I’m reminded of stories of people who have followed GPS instructions directly into a lake.

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Disagree also focused on spelling and cursive hand writing.  I am split on this.  I see spelling in a similar way to mathematics fundamentals. Practice with spelling can internalize rules and make your brain perk up when it sees something that appears wrong. It can also improve your intellectual appearance when you are presenting written work on a board (although this is limited to specific situations).  You could point out that this is a result of discrimination, rather than a fair assessment of ones skills.

As for cursive, I agree that it allows your writing to keep up with your thoughts over print, however I feel less inclined to say it is a necessary part of our education system.  On a personal note, my cursive writing was not legible and once people began borrowing my notes in university I switched to print, a habit I have yet to break. Print was more universally understood than cursive and the same can be said for many of our students.  Even though cursive is part of some indicators in our curriculum, it has been put aside in many classrooms to make room for other instruction.  It does feel like the weeks I spent in school learning cursive, could have been reallocated.  The lack of cursive understanding has created a new type of language barrier, as instructors write in cursive and those who never learned it struggle. As Mason, Shaw, and Zhang (2019) state:

Probably the greatest impediment to teachers adopting or adapting digital technologies for student learning is the significant inertia that exists in trying to bring about a cultural change, particularly changes in entrenched practices.

Mason, Shaw, Zhang (2019)

While I would miss that style that cursive signatures bring, I would morn it more for a lost art than a huge addition to education.  I can see how it improves hand-eye coordination, but so does typing. Speaking of which, typing has been shown to be an easier alternative than pencil to paper scribing.

Both sides have good arguments, but with so many of these debates a combination used with best practice is probably the answer.  Providing a mix of opportunities will allow students to develop their skills and scaffold their learning.  Working with Agree rightfully stated that we need to consider skills needed for the future.  

Fundamentals will deepen understanding and provide working skills and strategies when technology fails.  We have seen the past few weeks how reliant we are and how unprepared we can be when our electronic support structure is taken away.

Debate #4: Anonymous Advocate?

Students have been advocates for change long before social media, weather participating in protest marches and student walk-outs or as simply writing a letter asking for better food in the cafeteria.

2018-Student Protest- The New York Times

My students are familiar with advocacy.  We have discussed residential schools and systemic racism. They have written letters to the Prime Minister demanding action on better access to medical support and clean water and local politicians to change streets named after problematic historical figures.  We have done research on gender discrimination in video games and how to challenge it. Many of them participate in speaking out against actions in Palestine and joining marches and protests on discrimination and violence against Muslims. At home my students and their families will engage in social media to promote personal causes.

As Agree mentioned advocacy through social media can expand your world view. This is something that can be limited in a culturally sheltered school. We battle this by reading current events and discussing local news to slowly broaden their world view.  Liang, et al., (2010) suggest joining students online communities to “teach and mentor each other.” This is not a boundary I feel comfortable crossing. To maintain a professional distance I would rather demonstrate and display how social media can and is used to participate in advocacy and democracy. Liang, et al (2010) goes on to discuss how using a social media program can improve competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring. In addition to engaging and empowering youth, I would suggest this is possible outside of social media as well.

Agree argued that there is no such thing as neutrality in education, that you cannot stand aside when someone is targeted. This is in line with Angela Watson (2019) who states: “There is no such thing as a “neutral” standpoint on issues of human rights or social justice, and it is a function of privilege to pretend that there is, and to simply opt-out of those discussions.” This is a compelling argument, but what happens when it conflicts with something else Watson says.

“Should you force your personal beliefs on your students: No.”

Angela Watson (2019)

Disagree also made a number of persuasive arguments. Mandatory participation in advocacy would become “preformative activism.” In the classroom this could be worked around by providing students with a choice on a subject for their advocacy.  Choosing something they are passionate about could create authentic results which are far more likely to engage students than assigning them something they are apathetic or directly opposed to. “Slacktivism” as Disagree described it, is something I need to combat in my personal life.  I donate to causes, participate in walks, and sign petitions, but there is always more I could do.

There is also a large potential for conflicts with parent and community viewpoints. My political views often do not mesh with the communities I work in. Sometimes that is easy to forget when my peers are typically more in line with my beliefs. As Madeline Will (2020) notes that there is growing divide where taking a stand on political issues can create a lot of difficulty and lead some parents to believe teachers are indoctrinated their kids.

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While I agree that teaching advocacy is important, I do not agree that I should push my opinion on my students. When we have class debates I will admit to them my biases, and I do my best to present multiple sides to an argument so they can make an informed decision.

 I work in a school that has very clear objections to communities that I support. My students are aware of this and I am aware of the environment I work in. I support their rights while reminding them I demand respect for everyone.  I shutdown any verbal slurs of any group, and have been available to students who want to share concerns that could create a conflict in their community.  For the most part this never comes up, and when it does I treat it carefully. At the same time I have made it a personal policy to never lie to my students. In my private life I can engage in any advocacy. I am not afraid to wear a pride shirt, but I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t be uncomfortable if I ran into a parent. The school also knows that most of the staff are allies. They do not push an agenda on us but they do ask us to keep our home life at home.

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If I encourage students to discuss these topics in class I will not only endanger my position I will create an unsafe situation for my students. Imagine a scenario where I create a project that promotes advocacy for a group that the community disagrees with.  The community will ask for my removal.  The students will know why I am gone; most will agree that I should be.  A few will make note of what happened to me and decide they need to hide; it’s not worth the risk.  This is not hyperbole.

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This is what I chose to do.  I promote advocacy for situations that are safe for my students to participate in (clean water, truth and reconciliation, community support) and those that are building but still challenging to some (feminism). I teach them about the tools that are available and how they can be used safely and effectively. They are aware of the power outreach can have, it is part of their faith. I look at the great things they promote and I struggle with those they do not. I do not push them aside because we conflict on some things, and I am not denying some of them are major. I’d like to think that I am someone my students can turn to and I worry that if I am not there they will lose that person.  I know I am not the only one to struggle with this.

I also know that some people consider this cowardice, but sometimes listening is confused with silence.

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