Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Melody Schopp Should Watch Chopped

I was nosing around the South Dakota Department of Education website and came across this page suggesting a "framework for teaching."  The framework comes from the work of Charlotte Danielson and has four domains and twenty-two components.

I have a few suggestions for Secretary of Education Melody Schopp.  First, keep the DOE's language simple and concise.  Instead of using wordy jargon like "framework," "domain," and "component"; use a simple clear adjective like "cookie-cutter."  Everyone will understand what South Dakota's Department of Education wants from teachers.

Second, read some Emerson.  Here are a three of my favorites from "Self-Reliance."
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. 
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.
Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. 
I know that Emerson doesn't fit into Schopp's STEM-centric worldview, but Walt Whitman presents a simple challenge to any STEMmy cookie cutter.
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Something tells me that Schopp will get plenty of applause for mandating that teachers act in a cookie-cutter fashion.  Teachers, meanwhile, will get more sick and tired.

A careful reader might legitimately accuse me of mixing metaphors by using boring astronomers and kitchen utensils to make my point, so I'll return to the kitchen.   Schopp needs to watch Chopped.  Contemporary classrooms aren't like my mother's kitchen where everything was neat and orderly.  They're like the mystery basket that has canned tuna, blue cheese, cranberries, saltines, and a pork chop that need to be turned into a dessert in 30 minutes. 

On Chopped, the chefs combine the ingredients to the best of the their ability in the limited time.  They are judged on three broad criteria: taste, creativity, and appearance.  The judges actually cook for a living.  There's no room for cookie cutters on Chopped.

If Schopp were to watch Chopped, she might understand that the French Chef in the Black Hills and the rustic baker in the Southeast Corner will both do a better job with the mystery baskets that compose their classrooms if they are not hampered with the requirement to use a cookie cutter.

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