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Those Who Can’t

March 6, 2014

I have always hated George Bernard Shaw’s quote: Those who can do; those who can’t teach. I find it personally offensive. Moreover it discounts the work that teachers do as professionals. It seems, however, that education is the one profession where everyone is an expert. After all, didn’t we all spend at least 12 years in a school? Shouldn’t that make us all experts and give us the capacity to form an opinion about best practice in education. Or is this too somewhat offensive?

The Misconception

On Tuesday, the National Post published an online article by Margaret Wente titled Canada’s Math Woes are Adding Up. I am certain Ms. Wente is an excellent columnist. She appears to be experienced and seems to be a professional at her craft. What concerns me about this article is the all or nothing approach Ms. Wente takes. Lately, there has been a great deal of negative press about math in Alberta. Like Ms. Wente, people question the approach Alberta Education and Alberta teachers are taking. My concern is that the voices against math education in the province advocate for a complete return to drill and practice and basic facts. As a parent, I agree that basic fact understanding is integral to future success in any academic area. However, I am also of the opinion that students need the opportunity to explore, question, and create. I do not believe our approach must be all basic fact instruction or nothing. This to me is short sighted.

Alberta Education is currently in the midst of a large curriculum redesign for the entire Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum. The Wildrose Party of Alberta refers to this redesign as “radical.” They are right – it is a radical overhaul of a system that was created over 100 years ago. However, they see it as a negative change. Again there is a focus on “traditional” teaching and learning. Of course, if proponents of the Wildrose position want students who are able to memorize facts and concepts that is a good approach. But, if they want students who are curious, search out answers, can collaborate, use technology to create and communicate ideas, are engaged, ethical and think differently, then the traditional approach will not work. Again, basic facts are important but is not the only approach that is needed.

The Experts

I suggest that proponents of traditional teaching methodologies such as Ms. Wente and the Alberta Wildrose party engage in dialogue with the experts who are driving the curriculum redesign. These experts base their work on research, not just a feeling. Let’s leave curriculum redesign to the experts and trust teachers as professionals. Afterall, we have the best interests of our students in mind. Of course, those are just my thoughts and I’d be happy to dialogue with people about this issue.

Have a great day,

Sean

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