Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Friday, February 23, 2007

On "intelligences"

Maybe I should just title this post "Opinions" and blame its crankiness on low blood sugar. Bear with me.

You know the saying that doctors make the worst patients? Teachers are pretty jaded parents of schoolkids, let me share that. For similar reasons. We know the bureaucracy and its foibles and are determined that their child avoid those pitfalls. I'll admit my knowledge of public school systems is hardly incentive to get my kids there (that's another post--or three).

The teacher "training" isn't all it should be, either. I had one prof whose voice was overpowered by the blower on the overhead projector in an 8:00 AM class. You might say that isn't that early, but trust me, as a college student it was fatal. She also read directly off note cards, "And when lecturing try not to read off note cards. It is difficult to maintain interest or attention without eye contact."

I don't have the quick wit my husband does but I can tell when something's fishy. Back in undergrad, we studied Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences. Back then, there were only three--visual/verbal, auditory, and kinesthetic, I think. Translated from teacherspeak, those mean showing, telling, and doing. I thought that pretty much covered ninety percent of kids. The last ten percent probably needed one-on-one time or just aren't cut out for it.
[I admit I'm balking at writing this because I can hear the Education Establishment shreiking in the back of my mind: "What do you mean, leave out that last ten percent? Don't you care about the children? How coldhearted! You're elitist! All children can succeed, and if you don't make them so YOU as a teacher need to work harder!"
Come on. Let's be realistic. Is every kid destined to be an all-A student, graduating magna cum laude from Stanford? Studies have shown that smart kids could virtually have chimps for teachers and still score above 1400 on their SATs. (Please don't make me find the link; I've got dialup.) I've had enough dumbing-down of education, eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian, honor rolls, et cetera so that nobody feels bad about someone else doing better. (Gag sound)]

In grad school, I found that Gardiner's intelligences had been expanded to nine, I think. Now there was physical, interpersonal, scientific, musical, mechanical... I got confused. Exactly how many different ways were we as teachers supposed to explain things? Their descriptions sounded pretty vague as well. How were students diagnosed with each of these learning styles? I admit I was overwhelmed.

And I smelled something fishy. I was snarky enough to whisper to a classmate, "In another few years they'll have, oh, about two dozen different 'intelligences'-- one for each student in the classroom!" They seemed more like astrological signs than actual science. Instead of "I'm on the cusp of Cancer and Leo, but my rising sign is Capricorn and I've got Gemini in retrograde" we could get "Johnny can't finish his math homework because he has an interpersonal intelligence with a strong tendency to musical." [No, Johnny can't finish his math homework because his parents have brought him up with no self-control or discipline. Or there are health issues involved that either haven't been diagnosed or you deny.]

I'll admit different kids have different learning styles. I see at least two here in my home--Madeleine is a visual/verbal kid with a fantastic memory, where Dale is more tactile and musical. Will I teach them the same material in different ways? Of course. Should I expect a public school teacher to come up with a dozen different ways of teaching the same thing? Of course NOT. Do I think it's a worthwhile way to spend teacher training time? What do you think?

Okay. Rant off.

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At 1:50 PM, Blogger Daisy said...

I went through a year of teacher training, before deciding it wasn't worth it and going ahead and getting pregnant (we were going to wait until I had taught for a couple of years). Talk about boring. The trend at that time was to make a very detailed powerpoint presentation, make it available in the note version (with extra spaces to write on it in hardcopy) with the expectation that students bring that to class, and then READ the presentation to the class verbatim. Good grief. No wonder school seems boring, if all teachers are taught that way.

The hard thing for me will be switching approaches quickly. When I was in college, I was a lab advisor for general chemistry. Often I would get questions from different people almost at the same time (since it wasn't a traditional, raise-your-hand kind of classroom) who each needed a different kind of explanation. They didn't get too jumbled I hope, but since my first is definitely one who learns by doing (puzzles taught her her alphabet before she could talk), and the second seems to be more verbal, I know I've got more of that in store.

At 2:15 PM, Blogger Barb, sfo said...

I loved this!!! I wasn't even an elementary-ed major, so my teacher-training was limited to about 24 credits of stuff instead of like 50....but it's all SO true. And I am a very jaded parent, because of my teaching experience. I'm at the point where I try to hide the fact that I used to teach, when I deal with my kids' schools.

I have one of those kids who could have a chimp for a teacher and still excel, but I WILL say that with a really good teacher, it's wonderful to see him inspired and working hard. But he does learn in spite of whatever kind of teacher he has.

But there are other kids who, I agree, just aren't cut out for it! There is not one-size-fits-all for school or anything else, and it makes more sense not to give every child the idea that they can go to MIT, in the name of good self-esteem.


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