Monday, January 7, 2013

Postscript to “Reforming K-12 Reform: The Prequel”

Sunday’s Dayton Daily News, front page, published an "investigative" story then extending for 70.5 column inches, about a proposed, allegedly “STEM” academy sought in Springfield, OH.  The story revolved around financing physical plant and whether its focus, an agriculture/business combination, could attract enough enrollment to be viable.

The educational ignorance and parochialism of the DDN’s editorial and raporteurial functions in this story, and of the program’s Republican state legislator advocate – along with remarks of an alleged superintendent for the program – were breathtaking, even for Ohio K-12 education.  Totally missing, and apparently either disingenuous or not even perceived, recognition of the disconnect between an essentially vocational high school program and genuine and desperately needed science, technology, engineering and math curricula in Ohio’s 9-12 schools and even nationally.  Branding this program, covered with retro corporate ideological fingerprints, as STEM is so far off the grid that its advocacy suggests fraud.

That said, there is arguably a case to be made for education that addresses what is happening to US and world food needs, supplies, infrastructure, production and distributive strategies, and production technologies.  But it will also likely need to address escalating processed food issues, obesity linked to food strategies, food safety, land use policy, the effects of and agricultural adaptation to climate change, environmental impacts, genetic engineering (GM) of food supplies and potential consequences as well as cost-benefit assessment, and a host of other economic and ethical issues.  These issues are now pitting corporate food and agricultural chemical dominance, ethical failures, and growing monopoly against organic techniques and the "slow" and "local" food movements. That could engage STEM; what is being floated in the proposal cited appears to be throwing dollars at last century’s pedestrian and obsolete model of vo-ag.

By implication, the proposed program is to materially employ some form of project-based pedagogy.  There has developed a misguided and wrong knife-edge distinction installed between genuine science, versus most K-12 STEM schools, PBL (project-based learning), programs close to being scams such as PLTW (project lead the way), and programs such as New Tech High Schools, that launched with legitimate science goals, but have been twisted in some cases by adopters into vocational or alternative high schools, too frequently reflecting both educators and students who struggle in legitimate academic 9-12 work.

The “knife edge” cited is more nearly a chasm, reflecting educator naiveté of genuine STEM, and another coffin nail in much of public K-12 education capacities, both administration and teaching, that remain essentially unfit to teach real SCIENCE in caps.  That would involve embracing full coverage of the philosophy of science, scientific method, experimental logic, core theories of all science venues, what digital modeling has created, and experiential learning that goes beyond the trite and soft, sometimes blatantly stupid science and engineering exercises being offered by public schools that even assert STEM learning. 

Where PBL is being blended with STEM, few present public K-12 educators could even conceptualize the creativity and dynamics required of an interdisciplinary project, much less execute one in the real world, with even lower likelihood of guiding the novice through project-based learning.

One review of US STEM initiatives, that assesses whether what has been fostered as STEM  in K-12 is really legitimate and working, is linked here.  It is not comprehensive but a starting point for self-study by many in our society who cannot even define science, which as the precipitating story illustrates, includes our legislators, many public K-12 educators, and our media.

Perhaps the best brief and current thoughts on science in US education appeared in recent editorials in the premier journal Science, by Dr. Bruce Alberts, the journal’s editor-in-chief, and a recognized scientist.  They are linked here:  One, two, three, four.

Aside from the ignorance reflected in many depictions of US K-12 science and math needs, that won’t improve until our legitimate practitioners of real science step up to the plate, we now have practically STEM-obsolete collegiate schools of education that need to wake up and smell the coffee, and register the message being delivered by “Teach for America” (even as that program just skirts being its own scam of America’s education needs and dollars).

If there was ever an argument that it is time for the public K-12 establishment to open its eyes, and reach for some neural stimulants, it might be a leading political figure (even if the remarks are being critiqued as over-the-top) citing K-12 teachers and their unions as a class performing analogous to the N.R.A.

Good Dr. Brady’s assessment of US K-12 education, in perspective, was way too kind.  Mea culpa, Marion.

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