Arnold Kling  

What I'm Reading: 2

What I'm Reading: 1... More Gangs, Less Crime...

Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov. As a teacher, I find it helpful. However, with apologies to James C. Scott the book could have been entitled "Seeing like a teacher."

An excerpt:

the "plane" of your classroom is the imaginary line that runs the length of the room, parallel to and about five feet in front of the board, usually about where the first student desks start...try to break the plane within the first five minutes of every class. You want to make it clear to students that you own the room--that it is normal for you to go anywhere you want in the classroom at any time...If you don't do these things, you risk allowing the territory beyond the plane to become the property of your students.

A couple weeks ago, Robin Hanson wrote:

School isn't about learning "material," school is about learning to accept workplace domination and ranking, and tolerating long hours of doing boring stuff exactly when and how you are told.

Lemov would certainly say that teachers should inspire and convey knowledge, but he would say that inspiration and instruction are only possible if the teacher effectively controls the class. Therefore, much of the book offers techniques for classroom management. He has in mind the interests of the students, but the need to control behavior is really at the heart of the book. And if you've ever taught below college level (and nowadays, perhaps even at that level), you have encountered the need to change student behavior.

I am very conflicted about the book. On the one hand, it is fantastically useful for classroom management, which is a very important issue in teaching. On the other hand, think of a teacher as a role model. In some sense, what you are modeling is manipulation and control. If a student wanted to grow up to be just like you, he or she would want to be in a position of authority and dominate those underneath.

In a perfect world, the students would just love learning, and you would not have to do anything to control them. In the real world, it seems that teaching seems to require more conscious efforts to manipulate and control.

This book would be an interesting one to read for a discussion group. Even if you are not a teacher, I recommend reading it in order to see like a teacher from Lemov's perspective.

COMMENTS (11 to date)
Tracy W writes:

On the other hand, think of a teacher as a role model. In some sense, what you are modeling is manipulation and control. If a student wanted to grow up to be just like you, he or she would want to be in a position of authority and dominate those underneath.

What's the problem? Someone who is good at manipulation and control, and wants to be in a position of authority, sounds to me like someone who is going to be very hard to manipulate and control and dominate.

And when I look at the history of the world, education certainly seems to go hand-in-hand with stroppiness - eg the civil rights movement, feminism, the neoliberal revolution, all of those were led by people who weren't happy being dominated and controlled.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

Last Spring, my English Comp teacher liked to sit on the long table just in front of the desks. On nice days, we'd open the window or sometimes we went through our lessons on a grassy hill just beyond the buildings. She definitely had a good grip on that classroom.

Robin Hanson writes:

The strange thing is how many people idolize teachers, as if they were our greatest heroes, and demonize firm managers, as if they our worst villians, when the former mainly rule you to train you to accept the rule of the later.

Tracy w writes:

Robin, you keep making this assertion but you never explain how come the civil rights movement and so forth happened after the introduction of widespread schooling.

Rebecca Burlingame writes:

Robin, I must admit that I have enjoyed many of my teachers over the years. However I do not believe that education as it is currently structured is sustainable for much longer. I believe that the best role for teachers in the future is actually that of an entrepreneur in a community, who can sell to others based on their passion for their subject. Each entrepreneur/teacher would have the opportunity to shape their community based on what they could bring to it, and each student could also bring to others what they have been taught, wherever they are, not always some obscure elsewhere. In other words, a direct economy. I believe the same principle should also be true for doctors.

guthrie writes:

Again, I must recommend the introduction to 'Impro' by Keith Johnstone where he deals directly with 'how' one teaches (as opposed to 'what').

Noah Yetter writes:

Students DO love learning. We are born with an unquenchable desire for knowledge of the world around us. It is the school SYSTEM that destroys that desire, deliberately and systematically.

Tracy W writes:

Noah, you've clearly forgotten Hanlon's Razor.

guthrie writes:

LOL Tracy! You know the SYSTEM could be set up stupidly...!

sourcreamus writes:

I don't think it is that strange in that the people who do the idolizing are out of the reach of teachers but are still under firm managers.

Noah Yetter writes:

Point taken re: malice vs. stupidity. Does it count if we stupidly copied a system that was designed maliciously? I'm speaking of course of the way we copied the Prussian education system which very explicitly was created for the purpose of turning out loyal little soldiers. I think the individuals who operate within our system are usually well-intentioned but the structure itself is not.

Anyway, when it comes to education, read John Holt.

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