Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Tip of the Hat to Mr. Dougherty

Today I read Mary Ann Bell's blog. She talked about creating assignments that are fun to grade and don't encourage plagiarism. She mentioned that this kind of assignment isn't new and cited Dr. Goode's class back in the 60's.

As I read, I was transported back to the 50's and my 9th grade Social Studies class taught by Mr. Dougherty at J.P. Cleary Jr. High. He was fresh out of the marines and I enjoyed his class. It was partly because he was a role model in many ways, but I don't remember a lot about the way he taught or the subject matter. None-the-less, there was one aspect of his class that stands out in my mind as something I remember fondly. It was the punishment assignments.

I tended to talk a bit during class, which sometimes got me in hot water. It wasn't just in Social Studies, but it seemed that his class resulted in the more heat than others. I suspect it was because I didn't mind his punishment assignments. In fact I enjoyed them.

No, I'm not a masochist. The fact is, his assignments were creative. They were the kind of assignments I wish other teachers had given. Instead of writing, "I will not misbehave" 500 times, his assignments were usually essays, but not what you might expect. Instead of topics revolving around why I should behave in class, he knew I already knew that, he chose topics like "Life Inside a Ping-Pong Ball", and "I Was the Bullet that Killed Abe Lincoln."

There was no grade attached to these assignments, but I spent more time on them and enjoyed them more than any assignment I ever had for English.

So I thank you, Mr. Dougherty, for you punishment assignments, ethics, your creativity, and your patience. They not only helped 9th grade more interesting, they helped shape the way I teach.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Different Look at Bullying

Sir Ken Rogers is one of the world's leading proponents for changing the way schools educate. I've seen dozens of his videos and never cease to be inspired and motivated to continue the work I've undertaken for the past 40 years, namely to change schools. Today, thanks to him, new research on empathy and two animations from the Royal Society of the Arts, I came away with a significantly different view of a subject bullying, something that I have been struggling with for years.

I've often put a lot of blame on schools for the frequency of bullying, but that blame has been because I felt that schools lacked a systemic approach to the problem. Today, after viewing these two animations, I believe it is not simply because we lack a systemic approach to dealing with bullying. I believe that our entire system of education is largely to blame and if we were to change it based on Sir Ken's model, there would be a significant drop in bullying without doing anything different to directly address the issue.

The first animation I watched, thanks to dealt with new brain research on things called mirror neurons and their function. Like some of the great leaps in science, the cells and their functions were discovered accidentally. Watch it yourself and think about the kind of light this research throws on bullying.

After you watch that, watch the animation of Sir Ken making his case for school change. Keeping the previous animation in your mind as you watch, ask yourself how the first animation can inform us on how to make the changes Sir Ken outline. Envison the end product of that process and ask, "How we get there from here?"

Royal Society for the Arts Animation - Empathetic Civilisation

Sir Ken Rogers - Changing Education Paradigms