Shifting Phases's Reviews > What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies

What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated? by Alfie Kohn
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Alfie Kohn lays out his basic philosophy. If you're tearing your hair out trying to explain why standardized testing is not going to single-handedly save the educational system or the economy, this might make you feel better. It also probably won't surprise you. Kohn introduces basic critiques of things he disagrees with (punitive standardized testing and the cash cow it represents), but offers no in-depth critique of things he agrees with (for that, go read David Labaree).

A few useful tidbits:

On praise (p. 111)
"When unconditional support is present, 'Good job!' isn't necessary; when it's absent, 'Good job!' won't help."

On better feedback (p. 111)
- say nothing
- say what you saw ("You put your shoes on yourself," "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!")
- Talk less, ask more ("What was the hardest part to draw?" "What do you like best about it?")

On teaching principle vs procedure (p. 160)
"Regardless of the order in which these two kinds of instruction were presented, students who were taught both ways didn't do any better on the transfer problems than did those who were taught only the procedure -- which means they did far worse than students who were taught only the principle. Teaching for understanding didn't offset the destructive effects of telling them how to get the answer. Any step-by-step instruction in how to solve such problems put learners at a disadvantage; the absence of such instruction was required for them to understand." (quoting Michelle Perry in Cognitive Developement, no citation)

Noam Chomsky on social control:
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow lively debate within that spectrum -- even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." (1998, no citation)

Chapter headings:

One: The Purpose of Schooling
What Does It Mean to Be Well Educated?
Turning Learning into a Business
The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement

Two: Standards and Testing
Confusing Harder with Better
Beware of the Standards, Not Just the Tests
Standardized Testing and Its Victims
Sacrificing Learning for Higher Scores
Two Cheers for an End to the SAT

Three: Grading and Evaluating
From Degrading to De-Grading
The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation
Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!"

Four: Moral, Social, and Psychological Questions
Constant Frustration and Occasional Violence: The Legacy of American High Schools
September 11
A Fresh Look at Abraham Maslow

Five: School Reform and the Study of Education
Almost There But Not Quite
Education's Rotten Apples
The Folly of Merit Pay
Professors Who Profess

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Reading Progress

July 4, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
July 5, 2011 – Finished Reading

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