Higher Order Thinking and Discipline: Two things Education needs NOW!

Seth Godin, author, change maker

Seth Godin is not God. I don't think he pretends to be but sometimes I think those that read his work don't realize who he is. He is a natural born gift writer / rebel who has made his own rules and had is own career. He is one of a kind. That is great. We need more Seth Godins.

In a recent post, Seth makes a great point that we are going Back to (the wrong) school and that we are educating kids for 1925.

Agreed. Totally.

I agree with this statement.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

But there is also some sort of insinuation I read into the post that the problem is having teachers/ educators in authority.

Let's make a line here that needs to be very clear:

We need to be promoting higher order thinking.

Memorizing is at the bottom. We aren't teaching problem solving. We're not teaching anything of lasting substance when we continue to see if kids can memorize. We just aren't.

Seth is on the money when he says that the testing environment has put us on the race to the bottom. I'm glad he's saying it.

Kids need to be problem solvers. They don't need to be told what to do at every moment. They need to know how to figure things out. This is exactly why I don't teach point and click software and handle it more holistically. We've already used more than 30 software programs to solve problems in my Computer Applications class as we customize the experience to the individual and the things we are trying to create.

We also need to have a respect for authority in place so we can have safe places to learn.

The one insinuation that I see in this discussion all over the place is the idea we should disregard authority. There is a big difference between questioning what a person in authority says and the fact that a person in authority has authority.

The lack of discipline in schools is one reason that many of my teacher friends are quitting. I know of one local school that talked to teachers about putting bullet proof glass in every classroom to protect the teachers. How about protecting the students? If teachers are afraid, how about the poor scrawny kid who won't go to the bathroom all day because he's afraid of bullying?

As a society, we don't trust people in authority. We don't trust organizations in authority. We've had a complete erosion of the belief in authority.

Never mistake a teacher in authority for a dictatorship.

Right now many of those in authority in education have led us down the wrong path as a country. So, it is understandable. But let's turn our eyes to the kids for a moment.

The danger of Selective Authority
Many parents have advocated a principle of “selective authority.” Selective authority looks like this

“I'm going to learn from you because you can give me something” or
“I'm not going to learn from you because I don't like you.” 

What results is punk football players who are very coachable but have no integrity and keep getting in trouble with the law. This problem is everywhere.

This type of philosophy means if a kid can convince Mom and Dad that “my Lit teacher doesn't like me” and the kid knows that suddenly anything I do to that lit teacher is excused and encouraged.


The “rights” of a few who don't deserve it

Rafe Esquith in his book,Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56,  talks about an incident where a group of fifth graders were interrupting their fifth grade graduation with profanity and trash talk. Rafe removed them from the proceedings and was promptly told by the principal that everyone “has a right to graduate” and that the could do nothing about it.

No! Those kids should get a diploma but they should not have the right to completely ruin the graduation for the other students.

Schools and principals who tolerate such misbehavior look impotent, incompetent, and totally backwards!

Do we encourage disrespect?
PROBLEM. The problem in many schools is that it is impossible to even teach lower order industrial age thinking because our society has so worshipped the young that we are encouraging a total disrespect for authority.

We all have bosses. We all have laws to follow. Lots of times we don't like the boss or the laws but we have to follow them anyway. We need to follow people we don't like sometimes so we can be successful in life. We can respect their authority even if we don't care for them as a person.

We can also be a renegade with cool ideas in the classroom and beyond if we have empowering teachers to bring that out of us. I can be empowering and still have my classroom management act together.

Show up and Keep your Promises
A young man at Walgreen's yesterday was talking to me. He was missing the first half of his family reunion because the manager could not get anyone to work for him. He was at work anyway. I was very impressed and told him so. He said,

‘My Momma raised me right. I need to show up where they are counting on me and keep my promises.”

Respect for authority does not mean subservience, slavery, or even the worst case, abuse. It means that we have guidelines. It means we treat each other with respect and have character.

Scott Filmer's Photography Journal

We need yellow lines.
We have guidelines like the yellow line in the middle of the road.

Thank goodness for the yellow line in the middle of the road. It is that guideline that keeps us all safe. We need them in school too!

No Discipline Problems
I've had a few discipline problems in my career but not many. Typically, I have to fill out a discipline form once or twice a year. That is because my principal is exceptional at handling discipline. He is consistent (writing up his own son for not having a hair cut) and treats everyone fairly.

I am free to teach. There were times, I admit, under another principal that it wasn't so pleasant. When  discipline is maintained we have freedom to learn.

Appealing versus Arguing
Authority does not mean that a person is always right. The first day of class I always say something completely, totally WRONG. Something everyone knows is wrong. The kids now know my reputation and so they get it more often than not, but I always say.

“This is my classroom and we will work together to learn, but that does not mean that I know everything. I'm wrong quite a bit. You've just let me say something you know is wrong. Why did no one stand up to me? What is the right way to disagree when a person in authority says something is wrong?” (We discuss.) Then I end with, “This is OUR classroom. We learn from each other. If you disagree with me, I respect you if you disagree respectfully in a way that helps me and the others learn and I will treat you the same way. It is ok to make mistakes and sometimes I will say things to make you think that I may or may not agree with. I want your brains and your thoughts not just your blind acceptance of what I say. But you can know that if I do say something wrong like I just did that I will always correct myself in that same class period – you can trust what I say, but I needed to prove a point to you today. Say what you think not what you think I want you to say.”

Note that I don't make this a habit to do this very much because I want students to trust what I say. If I say something wrong, I always admit it pretty quickly so they know that I knew it was wrong. I don't think it is a good practice to just “lie” all the time to confuse kids. But to do it once to make a point and to say I intentionally did it is OK.

There is a difference. In this case, I've preserved my authority. My “yellow line in the middle of the road” type authority while also making my classroom a safe place for open dialog, discussion, and learning by everyone.

Our Current Students aren't ready for 1925 work in some cases
A close family member employs some of those “1925 labor workers” as he works in a factory. The problem is that many of the workers he gets aren't even fit for that. They don't know how to show up on time and only 20% of them know fractions. (They ask where the bubbles are for the answers and are told that in the real world you don't have 4 answers for every question.)

Right now, the current public education system, at least down here in South Georgia doesn't really even produce good factory workers. Yes, it is broken, yes we need to fix it.

We need people who can keep their promises. Who can be productive. Who aren't just robots who test well.  We also need students who know basic math and fractions in the real world where there are no bubbles.

We need to improve and change how we are teaching but we also need to restore the guidelines and accountability that keep us safe. According to Maslow's heirarchy of needs – if a student is hungry and feels unsafe they aren't going to learn. Yes, we need to improve our teaching but to have good teaching we also need good discipline.

The danger of the rebellion against “industrial age do what you are told” education is that some people ARE not going to realize that the scripted, step by step teaching, worksheet mentality, and memorization mantras are the problem and in fact will think it is having discipline, order, and guidelines that are the problem.

Seth Godin on Education
So, as smart as Seth Godin is, take his posts on education for what they are. Very well written big-picture critiques of the big-picture problems in education and not a prescription for how to fix education. Honestly, I'm not even sure that some of our current education “leaders” are prepared to fix those problems as they have a self-interest in preserving the current systems that have gotten us where we are.

Whatever the solution – restoring order and discipline and SAFETY is an important part of improving any school. It is called “learning environment” and it is a top indicator of a successful school.

In Conclusion
Let's promote higher order thinking but to get there we do need consistent discipline and respect for authority back in our schools.

Remember your noble calling, teacher. Remember that those who critique a system are critiquing a system.

There are many amazing teachers out there and most likely you are one of them. No one can take away your nobility but when you act beneath yourself, you alone can give away that nobility. Let's teach anyway as best we can until people realize that the Freedom to Teach is one of the best things they could give teachers.

Unless noted otherwise, photos are from iStock Photo.

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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