Teaching kids by getting out of their way


General Robotwalla emerges from the shadows.

Testing is a tool. A tool all too often misused because the results get confused with reality. But used correctly, student testing is very helpful.

For instance, would you begin teaching all kids about fractions? Most likely you’d want to know what they know already. If they can’t count, might need to back up a bit. If they’ve mastered fractions, then skip it.

My wife uses all sorts of testing. Standardized testing, open response, pre-testing, journaling, etc. She uses it to craft what she is going to teach and how. Given that she has them set fires, build Rube Goldberg contraptions, and debate the history of genetic research, it would be hard to say she’s teaching to the test. She uses testing as an input, not an output.

Car analogy: It’s like checking the speedometer, listening to the engine, checking your mirrors, and scanning the road. Not because those are your goals. To know when to hit the gas or brakes, and when to swerve. To reach your goal of getting where you want to go. And sometimes going offroad works best.


Well, at least one can’t make the argument this time around that it’s a class of affluent kids with supportive parents willing to pay through the nose to get them into a school with excellent facilities and experimental teaching methods – as so often seems to be the case in articles of this nature. Still, there’s a curious lack of details regarding disruptive kids. (The bad kind of disruptive.)

I’d still much rather trust my children to some possibly-broken system of tests than some poorly-implemented horror story like “whole math”.

Check out the Montessori Education Method - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montessori_education - it’s whole child.


Oh this sounds so wonderful and perfect. I’m not sure if every kid has an inner drive, but my own child, I’ve always felt from a very small age that she just knows exactly where she is going. Not in the sense that she has any idea of what she’ll be doing at 20 or 30, but that at whatever age she is she knows exactly what she is supposed to be doing right then in and that all I have to do is observe and support her to get where she is going at that time.

I will say as someone who teaches yoga that it is very very hard to teach like this, and very inspiring when you are around a teacher who is. I took a workshop with a leader who really just listened to the group and sort of repeated back what we were learning from each other; I complimented her on that and learned she taught high school, then yoga for something like 30 years, so it takes a lot of confidence to not be scripted, to know how to mold a lot of little ideas in a group into a real shared experience.


All they’re really doing is making sure they have the correct network in future life to rub shoulders with, glad hand eachother etc. The mutual recognition codes are verbal accents, garments, behavioural aspects - in short, a whole lot of impossible to emulate in totality and over an appropriate period of time characteristics that inform the inner circle who you are.

Paid education is a step up to a potentially easier life, but it wants to mould the kids to its own system. The British system was set up to feed the Empire administrative requirements. Obviously, doesn’t need that any more, but many people are besotted with it.

Personally, I didn’t give a damn how my kids are educated, so long as they can exploit the amazing potential they have, they don’t exit screwed up by the system, and they can either make a decent dime or survive happily in the wilderness.


Moreover, one of Correa’s students, a young girl named Paloma Noyola
Bueno, demonstrated extraordinary talent and appears to be some kind
of savant with incredible potential.

Is her achievement only astonishing because she is poor? Would a rich kid with the same results be called a savant… or clever?

She had the best math test score in the country. I assume the10 year old with the best math test score in the US is also called a savant or a genius.


Good point.

It’s quite possible that there isn’t a lot of truancy enforcement in which case the disruptive kids take care of themselves by not coming to school in the first place.

I’m not sure I understand your last sentence. The “possibly-broken system of tests” is arguably itself a “poorly-implemented horror story” to be likened to “whole math” rather than contrasted with it. They’re both examples of “educational reform” – changes to curricula imposed by people and organizations without much classroom experience for largely theoretical reasons and without much consultation with the folks on the front lines (i.e. actual teachers) who will ultimately have to implement these “reforms”.

Bear in mind that, with the exception of the NY state Regents examinations, the heavy focus on testing and data in primary and secondary education is a fairly new and untested phenomenon in education. There’s obviously some good reasons for thinking that the test data could be used to improve education in the long-run but there’s also the risk that the tests are more like the streetlight in the old story about the drunk searching for his keys.

Testing is like guns - a tool which has many good uses, and can be abused. Like guns, the abuse is so dangerous and awful that it outweighs most benefits.
I’m a boomer, so when I went to school, they didn’t particularly teach to a test, nor did they allow us any freedom. In fact, the teaching philosophy was that children were, by default, dangerous, rather disgusting, little savages, who needed to be dragged kicking and screaming into civilized adult society.
This was also a time (cf Mad Men) when there were places meant for adults, where children were only tolerated if they acted in a disciplined, adult manner; and then only grudgingly. It is a modern innovation that everyone must tolerate other people’s children everywhere except possibly strip clubs - and, in an age when Hooters has a children’s menu, are even they far off?

w00t! Team Montessori, FTW!

It’s been great for our kiddo. Though it doesn’t work for everyone, I’d say.

Anyone interested in the idea that we should “get out of the way” and let children direct their own education, owes it to themself to find and read a copy of A. S, Neill’s ‘Summerhill’. Lots of used copies floating around.

When I taught in graduate school it finally came to my attention that those freshmen who did the work for themselves, were self directed, they did well, and those who were there without purpose would be lost I finally got it. Self direction is a goal we need to employ when raising kids, they need to own their homework and school work.

Which makes me batshit crazy when my kids kindergarten teacher gets on me for my little 5 year old not returning homework, why the hell is the child required to do homework in the first place even if it is coloring? ANYWAY, I have four kids and do not have time to attend or push them to do the work, they do it and I may give it a once over if asked but they are in charge. The teachers have not caught on yet that I am not doing it nor pushing them and they congratulate me on being an attentive parent. Internal eyeroll every time, so hard to stop myself. All I do is push an early bedtime, order (as in chaos does not reign, free time with time limits), family meals and unorganized freetime. That is pretty much what you need to do.

...answers that are close to correct are good enough...

Sounds like “whole math” is teaching them to be physicists…

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Sounds like it demands a higher level of competency than many of my teachers had. They need to know their subjects at a deep enough level to cope with, and guide the development of, nonstandard ways of doing things.

The more I think about it, the less I think there is really to be said about how education ought to work. The great victory for public education in the 19th century was establishing the principle that children should be exempted from grueling physical labor for a few hours every day. The great defeat for public education was the requirement that children be subjected to strict discipline and be droned at for those hours. Progressive education reforms always aimed at preserving the former and eliminating the latter.

Most of what goes on in public education, I believe, is preparation for most of what goes on in adult life: we waste a whole lot of time on tasks that we all know are pointless.

Every important thing I know, I learned because I became passionate about it.

That is what we tell ourself, but it’s most certainly not true. Passion makes it easier, but there is stuff we hate to learn but we must and do.

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