UPDATED: What Are We Really Making Room For, or How Crazy Is This Gonna Get?

**I wrote this blog post yesterday after seeing the photo I included below posted on Facebook.  I hesitated to say too much about the photo itself until I knew the details….But, now I know the details from this article in the New York Post.  Updates are bolded below.**

A few years ago, a kind and well-meaning consultant took a look around my classroom and, with a clipboard and checklist in hand, suggested that I move my desk to the back of the room.

Positioned along one side of my classroom, my desk was as close as I could get it to the sole internet jack in the room.

“Think about the message it sends,” she told me. “Your desk is the first thing the children see when they walk into the room.”

I don’t blame our consultant for offering this advice. “Student-centered” learning, along with its sister-terms “personalized,” “customized,” “competency” and “proficiency-based,” are some of the hottest reform phrases out there right now, and consumers of current educational “research” are being informed from all directions that we, as teachers, must step to the side.

Just last week, a principal in the Bronx removed all desks and filing cabinets from her teachers classrooms.

“It’s the 21st century — you don’t need desks,” Connelly said, sources told The Post.

According to the Post, a city Department of Education spokesman said the furniture was moved “to ​facilitate better instruction.”

Remove the only space a teacher has to grade, plan, and store things like confidential student documents to facilitate better instruction??

How do such insane leaps of logic become endemic among certain people, and what are we really making room for?

The reform narrative goes like this: For too long, teachers have been simply “downloading” content into their students’ heads.

In a clever cooptation of the opt-out sentiment, some reformers have even appeared to ally themselves with our cause, suggesting that the NCLB-testing era has kept us trapped in an outdated, factory-model of education where teachers spend their days in teacher-centered classrooms demanding that kids do teacher-centered things like memorize all those facts they are expected to regurgitate on the state tests. Move the teacher to the back of the room, make him/her a “guide on the side,” and the kids will thrive.

But this narrative doesn’t hold up.

First, anyone who actually works in a public school knows that the state tests don’t expect students to know facts at all.

Teachers have been pulling their hair out for the past decade trying to make sure that their students have all the requisite skills and strategies necessary to pass these tests, and the teaching of actual content – history and science, for example, and all the dates and terms and facts that go along with them – has all but gone out the window.

And, except in certain extreme settings, most public schools employ “workshop” models that encourage teachers to teach only in small blocks of time – five to ten minutes at the start of a period.

Many veteran teachers will tell you that they have taught less in the last few years than ever before.

So what’s really going on here?

The fact is, what we’re being told to make room for isn’t the kids at all: it’s the onslaught of Common Core-aligned, digitized products that will allow corporate reformers to achieve their dream of students working “anytime, anywhere” – and on any device.

Check out which organizations are pushing this “student-centered” concept most heavily, and who funds them: the Gates Foundation, spin-offs of the student-loan industry, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and every variety of online and digital educational-product company  out there. Read about what’s happening here in Maine.  Get even more details here. 

Don’t be fooled.

And by all means, don’t do something like this:


Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

2 thoughts on “UPDATED: What Are We Really Making Room For, or How Crazy Is This Gonna Get?”

  1. I believe in the TEACHER-centered classroom. I am conveying knowledge — I know something that my students don’t (or hopefully know it) and I am conveying this knowledge to them.

    I sarcastically refer to a lot of the student-centered stuff as “HELP — I don’t know how to teach, maybe the students can do it for me.”

    As authoritarian as my attitude sounds — and it is, and I don’t apologize for it — I can then turn around and encourage my students to disagree with me. As long as they do so politely, respectfully, and back up their viewpoints with more than “I think.” Facts kinda matter.

    Besides — I’m the adult.

    I already learned all this stuff myself and if the students already know it as well, then why exactly are we all there in the first place?

    Liked by 1 person

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