Location: Texas, United States

I am a teacher with 33 years experience in public education. The purpose of this web log is to critically examine the present state of education in our great country and, particularly, in Texas.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

On dropping AP

Over at Education Week Bruce G. Hammond writes about schools who are dropping AP.
When I saw this headline I knew I would quickly need to get a new valium salt-lick because I could feel the screws that keep the top of my head on backing out.

Mr. Hammond tells us: Bold text will be my comments

"The case against AP consists mainly of what good teachers know in their bones about education: that students learn best when they can immerse themselves in hands-on work, and that the best learning involves genuine discovery rather than the mere ferreting out of information already hidden away in the teacher’s brain.

What good teachers know in their bones? First of all, I recall a number of teachers at my former building who were thought good by the former principal. They were good in that they could smell their way to the teachers lounge when it contained donuts. I recall one teacher who let a kid fail, thereby barring him from his extracurricular activities, because she had not graded his papers. She gave him three zeros for work that was laying, rotting in the stack of ungraded work by her desk. The reason as I see it that AP is finding a less welcoming environment is that there are now far and few among the treestumps who sit behind the SOME of the teachers desk who are capable of teaching what the AP courses require. Thank God for the saints who sit behind other desks. AP coursework does require a bit more of a knowledge base in the teacher. AP courses do require an actual "sage on the stage" rather than a "guide on the side". Otherwise, the average cafeteria lady could take time out from adding water to the instant macaroni and cheese kidchow to be a "guide on the side" of any AP physics class.

Modern research tells us that the human mind does not absorb knowledge so much as construct knowledge.

Construct knowledge from what? What the mind does do is use taught concepts to realize rules. Rules then lead to generalizations. But, first must come teaching. When a child is extremely young, the child has no knowledge base from which to construct rules. So, the concepts like the hard "c" are given to the child so that rules can be produced. This is the germ of the conflict between phonics based instruction which gives a child a set of rules with which to tame the beast that we call written language and the appalling notion of making the poor child learn every word in the language separately and independently -- called whole language. Every school in the country should simply drive the heathen hoards who assaulted children with whole language back to the wilderness from which they came. Be gone foul and pox ridden word walls. So what does this have to do with AP? AP courses provide the concepts upon which the more advanced regions of the disciplines are built. They allow students to internalize the concepts that will lead to the rules and the generalizations needed to --- oh, say --- learn enough biochem to make a new drug that will keep my astoundingly fit body going into its' 100s.

"Students who initiate and control their learning process retain far more than those who are passive receivers".

Anyone who can write that statement understands nothing about excellent teaching. The person who can believe that AP students are passive receivers is still an intellectual virgin with a simple mind that has not yet seriously engaged a brilliant teacher dealing with a difficult subject. They might also be seriously injured or killed if a single serious thought passed through there brains. The ding-dong who writes that must think that you can disturb the depths of the oceans by piddling in the surf. Hands-on learning indeed. Yes, I taught my middle school pre-AP students using many hands on activities. But, unlike tweedle-dee at the school across the street, I found that I had to actually take time to seriously explain some of the mysteries of the atom, instead of having them do yet another "PointlessPoint" presentation showing atoms fading in and out while the neutrons, protons and electrons dance across the screen like so many deranged elven Fred Astaires singing in the rain.

"Modern research tells us that the human mind does not absorb knowledge so much as construct knowledge. Students who initiate and control their learning process retain far more than those who are passive receivers"

Unfortunately much of the modern research in education is so much frog piffle. I know of a Grand Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Sabotage who is doing her Doctoral work by giving third graders a survey to find out their opinion about something or the other regarding what they like to read. Frog slobber - all of it.

Again, this genius may have actually walked into an AP class in full debate or question phase and didnt recognize it as a class because he couldn't understand the elevated discussion or, perhaps, thought they were sacrificing a goat. If I walked into a room where a group of people were speaking to each other in Klingon I would have a lot of trouble understanding (and not peeing in my pants from fear). That actually happened to me at a Star Trek convention - don't ask. I walked into a room of Klingons speaking to each other. I thought I had walked into the the red-neck butt scratchin, fartin and yelling football calls at each other padded room where everyone was running on about a half pint of Jack. it is possible that our dutiful scribe simply didn't understand advanced calculus or perhaps biochemistry.

Then we find this remarkable statement "None of this is compatible with Advanced Placement, where the central emphasis is on teacher-driven coverage of large amounts of subject matter handed down from the College Board."

No, dear writer, it doesnt come from the College Board; no, it comes from God - yep - the big guy. AND GOD SAID, LET THERE BE LIGHT. Thus sprake zaratustra but it was really physics he was talking about. AND THERE WAS LIGHT AND IT WAS GOOD.
I think the real punishment for goofing up our original grace in the garden of eden was physics, calculus and all the other stuff... See before eve took some bad fruit and suddenly the black boards fell off her eyes and she realized that she had to actually learn physics and chemisry. Adam then fell into the trap by eating said bad fruit. He too was condemned to have to learn calculus by hands-on-activities only. We fell from intellectal grace as well. We were condemned to be in the room with Ms. Handason where we folded paper in the shapes of small books with doors that opened onto a single word forever. Then God had mercy and divided the chaos into several different areas called AP PHYSICS, AP CHEMISTRY, AP ENGLISH AND SO ON TO MAKE SENSE OUT OF IT ALL. God gave us teachers who actually knew the subject well enough to each it with the view to helping his or her students grow smarter, wiser, and more skilled. Heaven save us from those who would make it simple.

OK Ill cut my part a bit short tonight by simply saying that I hope that my cardiac surgeon last week did not have to reconstruct of his medical skills in a pair-share format. I'm a bit worried because something down around my prostate seems to be pumping - oops checking that again are we, doctor. You do know I had a triple bypass
right? I even wrote a YES up and down my sternmum and a big cross out no on my .... well we won't go there.

Here is the original blood-sucking article here.

I just discovered Professor Plum - who is one of the greek small case gods by the way. Sorry, prof, you don't get the stage with the big guy. Please check out his sayings about instruction at his site about instruction Where was this man when I was in ed school being brainwashed.

I will now be following the adventures of Professor Plum as he is now elevated to at least the status of a greek god. What a man....


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