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Teaching vs. Learning

by Dennis Green.

In all my years of teaching, I never heard it put quite this way. One famous, or notorious, Alameda High School teacher says to his students: “Well, there’s teaching going on here. But that doesn’t mean there’s any learning happening.” As if he’s done his duty, but maybe they aren’t doing theirs. What a cop out!

And then I heard it again on MSNBC, Dylan Ratigan’s “Fix It” program on Education in America. One expert, Nicolas Negreponte, said, “Teaching and learning are not the same thing. Many times in a child’s life, there’s learning going on without any teaching at all!” Of course.

Kids learn intuitively from things and people all around them. I learned a lot about ecology as a kid just hiking by myself in the foothills around Blue Lake. Kids spend more time with their friends and family than they do with teachers, and the learning that takes place in their lives happens all the time. Teachers have no monopoly on their learning.

But the only learning we finance is teaching. The rest is left to some haphazard process of Fiddly-Dee. And now I ask myself, what other kinds of learning should we finance?

Well, some of the worst, most lazy teachers blame the parents. They say that the parents don’t truly BELIEVE in education, that they aren’t involved, that they don’t encourage or discipline their own children to learn. They don’t join the PTA and do any fundraising. And they say that it’s the parents’ fault if the kids don’t do their homework, but instead sit in front of the TV or play video games.

So let’s incentivize some of those other forms of learning. Let’s take some of that money AWAY from the teachers, (shortening their work day, of course), and give every student a connected laptop, and deliver video tutorials that engage both the student and the parent in interactive learning. Let’s even pay the parents for every hour they spend helping their kids learn. Record on the laptop time active, eye contact and duration.

And if it’s true, as the teachers tell us, that they are incentivized to do a better job of teaching by receiving more money, let’s assume that would also be true for students, that with some monetary reward, they would do a better job of learning. Again, let’s just shorten the teachers’ day and pay to reward the students who bring up their test scores.

Some districts have already experimented with student compensation, and have found that it works. So if teachers don’t want to and can’t be held entirely responsible for what their students learn, lets shift some of that responsibility to the students, and the parents, with compensation, and shift it away, by hours on the job, from the teachers. Maybe it’s just not really a full-time job!

What a valuable insight: teaching isn’t always learning, and learning doesn’t always come from teaching. Are we the last society on earth to recapture this cultural truism? Has specialization and compartmentalization urged on us the belief that only the “experts” can perform? That’s not what the teachers say, and for once, I believe they may be right.

21 comments to Teaching vs. Learning

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ActionAlameda. ActionAlameda said: New post: Teaching vs. Learning #94501 #94502 #Alameda […]

  • Hot R

    What a great idea! Let’s go to online classes and nature walks while we monitor the kids “eye contact”!!

    OK – let’s break it down. The first and most important teacher of children is the parent. Meanwhile, kids learn a lot of things from their environment. You learned something on your “nature” hikes, while kids in the inner city learn a whole new set of values and interesting skill sets which they then bring with them to school. Undoubtedly, YOU would have thrived by going to school less often, watching online instructional videos, and being intellectually stimulated by your parents, as they gently guided you down your educational path. Good for you. But what you should know is that what works for the 15% of students who learn like you will not work for the 85% of students who do not, or do not have the same access as you do to resources (like going on nature hikes). And I am sure you are aware that many studies have shown that computers and technology are no substitute for a motivated teacher in the classroom who engages students in learning, not processing. By the way that Alameda teacher you described is not “teaching” if the kids are not “learning.” But it is a leap to ascribe that to all teachers.

    The system you described is used at a college level in online classes, or to supplement lecture classes, but wouldn’t you agree it is hastening the death of print, and in some way taking away from rather than adding to the value of an education? Colleges are doing this because they simply cannot afford to do it any other way. Students as usual, will suffer.

    Cleveland and Washington D.C. started a compensation system with poor inner city kids with mixed short-term success. Of course, what it does is substitute for the middle class values these kids lack (putting off short term gains for long term gains). Is this a long term solution or just a feel good moment with hell to pay at the end when the money stops? I think it is the latter. Did Mommy and Daddy reward you for your A’s? Is that why you went to college? Doubtful…

    The business model adopted by No Child Left Behind will ultimately fail, because education is not “business” and students are not “widgets.” What you espouse will simply create a whole new bureaucracy of online video companies, more educrats to monitor them, and a widening achievement gap between the “haves” like you, and the have nots.

    Oh and “Big Brother” – you can’t seriously want student’s “eye contact” monitored can you? I can see you now overlooking the eye contact meter and sending an electronic signal to your young charge stimulating them awake.

  • The point is we should fund learning, not teaching. Or at least both in equal amounts. The current model is to fund only teaching – and any teacher will come forward and say things like “the most important teacher of the children is the parent” or “it’s the responsibility of the student to learn.”

    So the model is off-kilter… Why fund “teaching” so much when so much of the learning effort relies on factors other than teachers?

  • Sorry, Hot R, except for my tested 168 I.Q., I was not advantaged, and even that I.Q. cuts both ways. I knew guys at San Quentin with even higher I.Q.s than mine. But I’m still trying to figure out what your point is…that online learning doesn’t work at all, that it works only with college-age instruction…WHAT?

    Both inner city schools and major universities are beginning to pick up on the value of online teaching, both as supplements to lectures and discussion classes, and industrial demos, as well as CORE teaching. You deny the value of all that progress only at your own peril of calling yourself a “Progressive.’

    You’re defending the 19th Century model of “factory education,” whereby 30 students or so sat in front of one teacher and learned things. Why get stuck on that, unless you have a vested interest in a model that doesn’t work all that well anymore?

    It’s not about taxpayer dollars at all, in the final analysis, but why American education is such a failure, or mediocre at best, including the schools here in Alameda. If you disagree, post some links to websites that prove me wrong.


  • Hot R

    No I’m not defending 19th Century education. It is exciting that teachers today are using 21st Century learning techniques right here in Alameda. Yes, Google Scholars (know what that it is?) instruct committed educators who use these techniques every day in their classrooms. The fact you don’t know about it is of little consequence. Here is Bill Maher’s tongue in cheek response to your little argument…

    “Yes, America has found its new boogeyman to blame for our crumbling educational system. It’s just too easy to blame the teachers, what with their cushy teachers’ lounges, their fat-cat salaries, and their absolute authority in deciding who gets a hall pass. We all remember high school – canning the entire faculty is a nationwide revenge fantasy. Take that, Mrs. Crabtree! And guess what? We’re chewing gum and no, we didn’t bring enough for everybody.

    But isn’t it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn’t us, and the fix is something that doesn’t require us to change our behavior or spend any money. It’s so simple: Fire the bad teachers, hire good ones from some undisclosed location, and hey, while we’re at it let’s cut taxes more. It’s the kind of comprehensive educational solution that could only come from a completely ignorant people.

    Firing all the teachers may feel good – we’re Americans, kicking people when they’re down is what we do – but it’s not really their fault. Now, undeniably, there are some bad teachers out there. They don’t know the material, they don’t make things interesting, they have sex with the same kid every day instead of spreading the love around… But every school has crappy teachers. Yale has crappy teachers – they must, they gave us George Bush.

    According to all the studies, it doesn’t matter what teachers do. Although everyone appreciates foreplay. What matters is what parents do. The number one predictor of a child’s academic success is parental involvement. It doesn’t even matter if your kid goes to private or public school. So save the twenty grand a year and treat yourself to a nice vacation away from the little bastards.

    It’s also been proven that just having books in the house makes a huge difference in a child’s development. If your home is adorned with nothing but Hummel dolls, DVDs, and bleeding Jesuses, congratulations, you’ve just given your children the gift of Duh. Sarah Palin said recently she wrote on her hand because her father used to do it. I rest my case.

    When there are no books in the house, and there are no parents in the house, you know who raises the kids? That’s right, the television. Kids aren’t keeping up with their studies; they’re keeping up with the Kardashians. We’re allowing the television, as babysitter, to turn us into a nation of slutty idiots. By the way, one sign your 9-year-old may be watching too much One Tree Hill: if she has an imaginary friend with benefits.”

  • Cleverness and sarcasm doesn’t beat logic, never did. And it’s hilarious that Bill Maher, who makes a fortune off TV, slams it. Facile? Deep thinking? Yeah, right. If revenge were the motive, we wouldn’t just fire all the teachers, but probably burn them at the stake. And that guy from Lompoc Prison I had to flunk would probably put the torch to me too.

    Firing all the bad teachers might not take out more than a third of them. The ones remaining could get A’s, B’s, and C’s. And we will adjust their salaries accordingly, rewarding the A team with big bonuses, and the rest with smaller ones. I doubt you would be so agitated, Hot R, if you were on the A team. If you display the same virtuous logic in the classroom, I’d gladly give you a C-.

    Oh, we want all the money, but none of the responsibility! It’s the parents, the video games, the TV, a society so dysfunctional that it cares only about the money, unlike us devoted public servants who make only the equivalent of a full-time worker making more than a hundred thou a year. Sniff!

    So, even without Measure E, and even if the March tax is defeated, you will still get your 3% raise, according to the AUSD budget. Way to go, Hot R! That’s putting on the hair shirt for those poor, struggling little kids you aren’t responsible for. YUCK!


  • Barb

    So I am starting to get it. Is Hot R an AUSD employee or spouse of one? AUSD has some serious foundational problems. To begin with it has too much plant for too few students. Why not charge each out of the out of district students the $659 that AUSD was willing to charge residential property owners?

  • Smart voter

    Barb, Hot R is a administrator at AUSD. His last name starts with S.

  • Thank you, Smart Voter! The more we know about these worms, the better. They have been attempting to dominate all the news sites, including this one, Stepford Bayport Blog, and Michelle’s “Island” blog. On hers their is even an AUSD insider who calls himself “Mike”! Guess who.

    We need to keep up the pressure on these folks, for many millions of dollars are at stake, as well as the questions of transparency and whether there will ever be an honest debate about AUSD mismanagement and the low proficiency scores of the schools. Unfortunately, when it comes to bloated payrolls and mismanagement, it’s a race between AUSD and City government, where many millions of unfunded retirement debts due City employees are coming due fast!

    Both the schools and the City government are politically and fiscally bankrupt, and it’s not the fault of the taxpayers, but ultimately them bailouts fall on us.


  • Barb

    Ah ha. One of those persons that the teachers say wouldn’t be missed. Makes all the more sense now. If the 14,415 persons who voted for Measure E send in their checks for $659 each rather than try again with yet another parcel tax, that amount equals $9,499,485. [Yes I know that some actually live together so would only have to pay 1/2 that, but really if you have even one child in school, $1318 is still cheaper than private school]. Add the 480 or so out of district students for $316,320 Voila! more than enough to keep the status quo.

  • nomoretaxes

    Great idea Barb! Also, some businesses would have had to pay more than $659 so the $9MM you estimate should actually be higher right? A tax deductible donation via the AEF for the donor. Oh, by the way……found another “McMahon” connected to AUSD. Go to the AUSD website, click on the link of “ratified contracts” for the 2010-2011 school year & you will see………….

  • Barb

    Oh come on now. That can’t be true. That would be about as an improper appearance as possible, if she were related to the McMahon on the AUSD Board too and the Webmaster McMahon. Maybe we should just call the next parcel tax Measure MMM the McMahon, McMahon and McMahon family full employment tax. Doesn’t AUSD have any ethics or conflict rules covering this? Don’t any of the McMahons understand the concept of conflict of interest?

  • Can’t be true. Everyone knows that our government agencies are squeaky clean….

  • Let’s not forget Mike’s wife, who is also employed by AUSD, as a secretary! And he has pledged in public not only to run for re-election, but the next four year term after that! When I interviewed him for an article in the Sun, (“Doomsday Scenarios!”), he came off as a real bully, and what do you know, he’s been acting that out on a chat thread on “The Island” blog, tried to bully me into describing a parcel tax I would support, and when I challenged him to do the same, vanished into the night. I think we can all be activists in questioning, if not opposing, his re-election, before that distant cousin of his from Fresno, gets a job with AUSD next!

  • And Mike’s daughter still needs to correct the spelling of “Singleton” on the Woodstock Child Development Center page on the AUSD site:

    190 Singlton Ave.
    Alameda, CA

  • Barb

    So it is McMahon, McMahon, McMahon, & McMahon. The 4M parcel Tax. MMMM Full employment Measure. What will they dupe the well meaning parents into supporting next in the name of education?

  • nomoretaxes

    LOL @ Barb!

    I have no idea if the Independent Contractor “McMahon” is related to the AUSD McMahon family; could be a coincidence.

    Check out this SFGate article:

    The comments lean towards the failure of future parcel taxes.

  • I encouraged Jill Tucker, related to an old friend of mine, Peter Tucker, who designed my “EdgeCIty” blog, to dig deeper. I’ll clue her in on the “AUSD McMahon Family Co-Op” next.

  • Anonymous

    AUSD leaders and the teachers are doing a terrible job in alameda. They don’t take their responsibilities for kids’ education. I have a child in middle and one at Encinal. My kids do their homework and turn in, including others kids, but the teachers find excuse to lie to students not receiving their homework or etc. Many unprofessional teachers in science and others classes; happening to most asian students are receiving unfair scores from the teachers. the teachers give grades whoever, whenever they want. Parents associate with admininsters and teachers may get a better off. If the child is in proficiency or advance on STAR TESTS, how come the child is getting below average grade. DISGUSTED TEACHERS. For sure AUSD administors and the teachers don’t want the children to succeed, and they blame the students and parents don’t get “involve in PTA and do any fundraising….” A lot of students are being neglected in alameda schools. Reputations of AUSD, Alameda city is getting worst. Unbelievable in America.

  • Anonymous

    My daughter and nieces also are one of the victims in middle and high school in alameda. Every child should be receiving equal amount; it’s equal opportunity for every color. Taxpayers pay the administors and teachers to do the job and what they do to the kids that is immoral and unethical behavior. Shouldn’t they or teachers prosecuted???

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