Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn

Feel-Bad Education

Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn (Beacon Press: Boston, MY ©2011) is his twelfth book where he argues that our schools are in the grip of a “cult of rigor” where harder is confused with better. Joy and meaningful learning are at risk. In nineteen recently published well-researched essays, Kohn invites us to think beyond conventional wisdom. He questions much of what schools reflexively do and makes the reader understand why many current reform efforts are misguided. If you believe that NCLB and Race to the Top efforts make sense, you need to read this book. It will give parents and educators alike a fresh perspective they can use to shake the system for the better. Click the button below to purchase from Amazon.

”Well, Duh”: Obvious Truths We Shouldn’t Ignore

  • If we agree on something, why do schools function in a contrary manner? Kohn gives us more than a dozen. If you have more, let him know. 1) We require students to memorize material they soon forget. You are more likely to retain the knowledge you acquire pursuing a project than preparing for a test. Professional development also often involves the worst passive practices. 2) Knowing facts doesn’t make you smart and fact-oriented learning may interfere with your becoming smart. 3) If kids have different abilities, why to we teach them all the same? Lock-step curriculum and uniformity are valued by many leaders. 4) Students are more likely to learn if they are interested. Education isn’t like bad-tasting medicine. If we were turned off by an educational approach, perhaps we shouldn’t use it. 5) Students are more likely to be interested if they have some say.

More Duhs

  • 6) Just because something raises test scores doesn’t mean it should be done. Also, the more time you spend preparing for a test, the less meaningful the results will be. 7) Students are more likely to succeed if they feel known and cared about. They also need to be healthy and well-feed. 8) We want children to develop in many ways, not just academically. 9) Harder work isn’t necessarily better. It is likely to be frustrating. Pressure will also cause students to seek easier tasks. 10) Kids aren’t short adults. We have seen an increase of developmentally inappropriate instruction with more sit-still-and-listen for younger children. 11) Policies that benefit large corporations aren’t necessarily good for children. 12) It’s substance not labels that matter. If your PLC focuses on cramming for tests, what good is it?

Progressive Education: Hard to Beat-Hard to Find

  • While progressive education has many definitions, Kohn notes that it usually features hands-on learning, multiage classrooms, mentor-apprentice relationships, attention to the whole child, learning in a caring community, and an organization that features problems and projects rather than lists of facts and separate disciplines. Learning is active and the flexible curriculum considers the children’s interests. Kohn sites research that shows progressive education as more productive and efficient. Unfortunately, progressive education is also rare. It is harder to do and more demanding on the teachers. Teachers must give up total control and be comfortable with uncertainty. The pressure of NCLB testing is also a barrier even though there is no evidence that it works.

Challenging Students to Challenge

  • In this chapter Kohn touts the idea of teaching by doing and encouraging students to critically challenge ideas they encounter. Teachers should let students watch them write so they can see the process in action. Critical thinking helps students spot fallacies and develop a set of analytical thinking skills. Teachers, however, are more likely to focus on compliant behavior rather than raising rebels who can disagree as long at they have rational. How many kids would need treatment if excessive compliance was considered a disorder? Students need to also challenge their own beliefs so they can reorganize their thinking in light of new evidence. This is Constructivism 101. Making students feel comfortable challenging the status quo requires the right classroom culture. Unfortunately, many professors who espouse this approach use traditional teaching methods themselves.
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