13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom

At the end of my recent keynote on the power of reflection at TechitU, I closed by saying something to the effect “… as a teacher you get to reinvent yourselves every year … if you want to change the status quo at school, know that everything is conspiring against you … testing, parent expectations, curriculum mandates, etc … so perhaps you’ll need to be a bit subversive.”

If state testing went away tomorrow, would we actually teach differently?

Since I made that “subversive” comment, I’ve been thinking about reflective questions that would challenge the status quo in school. My list was getting rather long, so I decided to split it into two posts. This post focuses on reflective questions for teachers to consider when thinking about their approach to instruction. Its companion post, 14 Provocative Questions for the Faculty poses disruptive questions for teachers and administrators thinking about reforming their school at the program level.

  1. If a question has a correct answer, is it worth asking?
  2. If something is “Googleable” why would we spend precious class time teaching it?
  3. When we ask students to summarize, do we actually want to know what’s important to them?
  4. What do you suppose students think they are supposed to be doing when we ask them to analyze?
  5. Do you ever ask your students questions you don’t know the answer to? Why not?
  6. Think about all those things we teach kids claiming “you’ll need to know this someday.” With the exception of teaching it, when’s the last time you needed to know any of that stuff?
  7. Do your students need more information, or skills in how to critically evaluate the information that surrounds them?
  8. How much of what’s really important in life, is taught in a classroom?
  9. Why do we usually teach all the boring facts first and save the interesting stuff for later?
  10. When we cover material, what is it that we think we have accomplished?
  11. Is being told something the same as learning it?
  12. What would content area teaching look like if it were taught the way an art teacher teaches art?
  13. If state testing went away tomorrow, would we actually teach differently?

Add your subversive questions in the comment section below!

“Subversive” inspired by “Teaching As a Subversive Activity” by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner. You should read it.

“13” is a cool number and people love reading blog posts that are enumerated lists.

Image credit: Banksy subversive street artist.

23 Replies to “13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom”

  1. I have many questions mostly about why I don’t see any trickle down in the classroom from the brain research and decades of best practice research. Sigh. It frustrates me.

    Here are a few —
    Why are you assigning that homework? Is it essential for you to grade? for the student to do / learn outside of class?
    Why do you assign the same classic literature text when the same lessons can be learned from a more contemporary novel the kids are motivated to read?

  2. What is it that you, the teacher, would want to learn/learn about if you were back in the student desk right now?

  3. Albert Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.
    And this was before Google!

    Why does the emphasis in too many classrooms still center around filling students with knowledge- too often readily accessible “knowledge” that feels largely irrelevant to them.
    Why isn’t there a greater emphasis on developing and valuing students imaginations, their critical, innovative and creative thinking?

    Solutions to the worlds many, complex problems will require out of the box thinking…. Why are budding poets, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, designers etc… still being kept “busy” in school, rather than being creatively engaged?

    Why are students still being expected to sit quietly, for hours at a time, and to function within the confines of the stifling parameters of pre-determined content, rather than exploring their own passions and interests as a vehicle to their own learning?

  4. I’m happy that I actually already take most of this into consideration. I would point out though, that (especially in Social Studies) very few, individual facts will be very important in a given student’s life. Nobody is ever going to stop them on the street, grab them by the shoulders and shout, “Quick! What’s the capital of Belgium?”

    But there IS value to having a base of knowledge to pull from, to see patterns in History or to have enough of a Geographic sense of the world to get a better sense of the world and how it fits together. (#s 6 and 10 address this a bit)

    So, teaching facts – and even rote learning – is one of the ingredients of a well-rounded education. The hard – REALLY hard – part is working out which rote facts have value individually, which have value collectively, which are “sticky” enough for students to remember and which will still be of value after students have forgotten a third or a half of its brother/sister facts.

    Sorry. I didn’t mean to go on a rant. I’ve got a poster on my wall that reads, “What will our tests look like when all our students have Google in their pockets?”. I try to use that as a guide to what I teach.


    John in New Hampshire

  5. Why don’t we trust students to have more say in what they are learning?

    What from our own education has actually been helpful, and what can we easily eliminate?

    Why do we continue to keep students segregated by age?

    What does it mean to be educated? Answer without using buzzwords, or clearly describe what you mean when you use them.

    Do we really want all kids to get an education?
    (can’t get much more subversive than that)

  6. I started challenging my students to not be afraid to ask great questions. I loved the questions that I didn’t know the answers to because that meant we would all get to learn the answer….including me! Teachers don’t have all the answers, and it’s exhausting to act like we do. Life long learners. Excited to get up every day and ask great questions so you can learn something new every day makes life more intriguing.

  7. Thanks to all of you for adding insightful comments to the list.

    I learned long ago that the best way for a teacher to “kill” a classroom discussion was by feeling the need to say something after each student contribution. So I’m staying quiet for now.

    Tomorrow a new post on subversive questions for the faculty meeting.

    1. Dennis Littky, Met Center in Rhode Island, has a couplet: Teaching is listening. Learning is talking. (from his book The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Responsibility.) You can find the first chapter at http://www.TINYURL.com/LittkyChapter1 and the book is available in Spanish http://www.TINYURL.com/SpanishLittky1. Neil Postman makes the point, too, in his book Teaching as a Subversive Activity.
      Free PDF at http://www.TINYURL.com/50TAASA

      Perhaps the word “subversive” is heavy, since some people might consider it to be aimed at creating anarchy. Such questions will transform a classroom, if (as you note) the teacher continues to listen (and perhaps make comments and do some one-on-one questioning after the class or in email and text message followup).

      Bravo for starting this list of questions (which I suspect students don’t get to see). The Postman Questions (45 questions that are found around page 53 of the PDF) are aimed at students. The PDF has these questions laid out one per page so that the teacher can print and distribute the questions … students can answer the questions that they want to answer. The list is free http://www.TINYURL.com/postmanquestions. a short video helps to introduce the questions to the students http://www.TINYURL.com/postmanquestionsvideo1

      1. As a rookie teacher in the 70s I was inspired by “Teaching as A Subversive Activity” also read Zinn’s history about the same time. Both got me thinking about turning my students into historians instead of watching me perform in the front of the room. Great to see your use of Postman questions

        1. The Postman Questions PDF need updating (adding your questions) and more photos (to add visual interest). I want to add photos and maybe more quotes for students to respond to… THE FORMAT needs work.

          Would you perhaps invite some of your students/teachers who are adept at using iBook to create an iBook of questions? Feel free to use the BOISEWORKBOOK and the responses that some fo the students came up with. http://www.TINYURL.com/boiseworkbook2 There is one student, Cara Fay, who stunned the teacher with her response. Here is the link https://voicesthatwewonthear.blogspot.com/2016/10/heres-what-separates-our-generations.html?m=1 The idea of the POSTMAN QUESTIONS list is to make it easy for a teacher to print the questions and put the sheets in front of some students… and maybe the virus will spread.

          Do you think some of your graduate students might be invited to create an iBook using your questions and the Postman questions? I’m happy to assist from distance. my phone is (954) 646 8246 steve

          FREE TO DOWNLOAD. Spread the use of the Postman Questions…. let TAASA remain current.

          1. Hi Stephan, My students are in a MAT program with an aggressive schedule of classes and student teaching. No room on their plates for any side projects. But iBooksAuthor is pretty easy to use and copy / paste friendly. You should give it a try

  8. How about, why shouldn’t all tests be open Internet tests?
    Why is it that in the real world if you get a job done by marshaling the efforts of others it is not a problem, but if you do that in school you are cheating?
    If grades are extrinsic motivators and research shows that extrinsic motivation doesn’t work, why do will still give out grades?
    Why do we treat children like crops?

  9. Well, if you don’t know the answers to these simple questions…
    As a taxpayer, I’d question whether teachers like you … should be allowed to teach!
    But I will answer them for you.
    For free.
    Lest you be fired for incompetence at not knowing the correct answers.
    I think at least ONE of today’s teachers should know SOMETHING!
    I picked you. At random. And your readers. Be Grateful!

    Bear in mind, that I am an adult, and I come from the world of business. So I have a different viewpoint about the world than you. Too many teachers pretend to work for years, do very little, and get paid way too much. In business, that would never happen. (Except in Speculative Finance!) In all my jobs, there was a productivity aspect. Never has been in school. May never be. But we can hope. It would be very easy to fix….

    Bear in mind, that 13 questions take time and space to answer. But you asked them. “Do not ask a question, if you do not want answer.” I forget who said that.

    1. If a question has a correct answer, is it worth asking?

    YES! The question as to whether a question needs to be asked is entirely determined by the questioner. Art is in the eye of the beholder…. (A better quote on that follows.)

    Example: A friend in Sweden wants to send me some money. To do a bank transfer, my bank needs to know BOTH the fax number and phone number of his bank. Would not the phone number be enough? And since it is an EFT, why do they need the originating bank’s street address?

    If you want to do the EFT, you have to supply the info they want. Whether or not it makes sense to you! There may be some law or other reason that requires this. But then, I take it you are neither a history teacher, nor have you been living on Earth for very long, and thus have never heard of 9/11. You and I are not bankers. I would assume they have certain needs, cultural or otherwise.

    So if a question has a correct answer, and someone wants/needs to ask it, YES!…. It is very much worth asking.

    Example: A math teacher once wanted to know if I had learned how to do certain Algebra problems. He asked me 10 questions. Each one had a correct answer. He was quite capable of solving the problems and coming up with the answer himself. Yet, I had to answer them. I have rarely used any Algebra in any of the jobs I had. Yet I enjoyed learning it. I have not used it in over 20 years (Since the last time they made me learn it!), so I recall none of it. I did have fun learning it though. And YES, I did answer those 10 questions. Correctly, astoundingly enough!

    Same with history and social studies. Never used a stitch of that crap to earn a dime! Truly: History and social studies should be banned, at any level except self-interest courses in university. Perhaps. More on that later….

    Yet, my three favourite teachers were history / social studies teachers. (Mr. Ference – Grade 8, Mr. Jack Rickard – High school, Dr. Tom McCool – CVDCS High School. There is a fourth teacher, which I will not name here, as this teacher is still active.) YES, I had fun learning the stuff. I even remember some of it, today…. But to quote Henry Ford: “History is Bunk.” To quote Napoleon: “History is a conveniently agree upon set of lies.” Shall I quote Churchill also? …

    I barely passed Ference’s class. Barely passed Rickard’s class, too. Flunked McCool’s, but got a pass on extra credit work. (More on that below. With an interesting story about “tests”!) Oh, well. The only matter of it is…. That it is part of MY own history. And is not that of some importance? To ME it is. And, you might, if you choose, learn something from it. Sometimes learning is a choice. Sometimes not.

    Yet, we teach those 2 subjects! WHY? WHY? WHY do we teach that crap?
    They (the teachings in history & social studies) create “socialization” in people. The history of France, is what makes French People … French. The history of Canada, well, “C’est une Epopee!”… But it helps Canadians to differentiate themselves from all the American crap that comes sliding north across the border! It helps make British culture, different from Chinese culture, even if, in the past, those 2 countries have had a bit of interaction!

    That is why we want, as a society, some standardization in what the kids are taught. The kids in Vancouver BC, should feel some affinity and unity with the kids in Gander Newfoundland, some 2,445 miles and 6 time zones away. Whether in my Canada, or your country: Common things being taught creates a society and a nation. It inculcates values. It creates loyalty, and patriotism. It passes on “things” through the ages….

    There, I asked a question worth asking, and gave you a short form answer.

    2. If something is “Googleable” why would we spend precious class time teaching it?

    Because they are students…. who may not know it is Googleable….

    I use google all the time. At my age, I often need to recall some fact I learned 40 years ago, and cannot recall today. I use Google as a second memory. For example, 20 minutes ago, I needed to know how to spell Van Goh’s name, and ascertain whether he indeed painted “Starry Night”. But a student (I assume 12 to 18 year old kids, here.), without having been taught about Van Gogh, will never ask Google those questions. See above, re: 6 time zones. Will a kid know about those? NO! We teach him the concept. Even I had to look up the exact number. (Which I rarely use…)

    You are there, kind sir, to teach a curriculum, which “your betters” have decided on. If you do not like the job: Quit. This has often been told to me. I pass it on to you. I only quit 1 or 2 jobs in life, I am not an easy quitter. Your mileage may vary!

    Young people are empty. They know nothing. We can teach them anything we like! And they will learn it. Example: All religion is nothing but poorly conceived science fiction, yet billions are taught this crap. Then they go and die in wars over it. We may as well teach them “Star Trek History” or “Star Wars Philosophy”. HELLA! We do! I have seen the college course titles! BUNK! So if we teach crap, can we not take a few precious moments to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic? Some science would be a good idea, too.

    3. When we ask students to summarize, do we actually want to know what’s important to them?

    Well there are two things you should be interested in:

    .a. An “accepted” summary of what something was about.
    ie: Read this chapter. Summarize.
    If the chapter is about how things went at Alamagordo between roughly 1939 and 1946… and the kid answers gobblelygook about LOLcats, then either the kid is a moron, or should be expelled immediately, as being a smart ass disruptor. Finis!

    .b. You may want some of the student’s own perceptions.
    ie: Read The Highwayman
    Summarize YOUR thoughts.
    This means: I do not want a re-telling of every line of the famous poem. I am curious to see if the kid got anything out of it. This will let me know if the kid even knows how to read, for one thing. Or if he ever read the dammed thing. Asking the kid to memorize it, should be grounds for a summary firing squad. The asking teacher gets to be the guest of honour, and I will carry out my duty gladly. No blindfold!

    4. What do you suppose students think they are supposed to be doing when we ask them to analyze?

    Well, depending on the course, and the unit of study…. I assume they are analysing it. I analysed a lot of stuff in chemistry class. I also blew up 2 chem labs doing it…. But that is another topic….

    Else, here is a simple suggestion:
    Now THAT, that is a subversive thought for you!

    5. Do you ever ask your students questions you don’t know the answer to? Why not?

    If the kid does not know the answer, well, you will learn zero. If you do not know the answer, you should perhaps go to school, and learn a few things, before you assume the position of teacher. If you ask the question, and MY kid asks what the answer is, and you cannot answer it, I shall have you horsewhipped. We do way too little of that, nowadays.

    Technically “Unanswerable Questions” SHOULD have a short place in Philosophy class — in University. I took that course too, in school. Never made any use of it. Whether these questions belong in high school, that is another matter. The parents who pay your salary, and thus who should have some say in what they want their kids to learn, should decide that. That and whoever creates the syllabus/curriculum for your area. MOST grade school kids, to my knowledge, are too young for that sort of thing. It is wasted on them. And they have other more important things to learn, things they will use every day in life.

    6. Think about all those things we teach kids claiming “you’ll need to know this someday.” With the exception of teaching it, when’s the last time you needed to know any of that stuff?

    This is why school should only teach reading, writing, arithmetic and science.
    All the rest is mere personal interest material.
    BUT… The problem is, that we do not know what path in life, a kid may take. And we do not know the future. (Any idiot who tells you that he “knows” the future, you may discount.)
    So we often DO teach things that we think they may need later on. Sometimes we are right. Often we are wrong. So we teach the other stuff, too

    Example: In grade school, some penguin nuns, in Arizona, tried to teach me about music. What torture!!! Mind you, their methods sucked. Their curriculum sucked, too. I had no interest in it. I had no comprehension. I also had no talent. To this day, I hate the word “Viola”. If I knew what they looked… or sounded like…. I would destroy every dammed one on the planet. … Thank you.

    I think one or two of the other kids learned something. I do recall that they learned they did not want me in class with them. I probably wasted my time there, and theirs. I should have been learning something. ANYTHING.

    BUT: Instead, I learned how much I hated those 2 nuns. How much I hated those little round tuning harmonicas. How much I hated “Peter and the Wolf”…. How much I hated being called Peter. How much I did not like being called Pete. My real name, no one would/could pronounce. I hated it, too…. That probably is not what I was supposed to learn. YOU do not want to know what they thought I was suposed to learn. I still have nightmares about it.

    My singing voice peels paint. My mother forced me to take piano lessons for 3 months as a kid. I had no aptitude. My fingers would not find the right keys. My mind could not remember the “stuff needed to play”… When I finally broke the dammed thing, they let me stop. (My dad paid to have it repaired.) My ignorance of music, is a gap so vast, it cannot be measured. I think NASA tried, and failed!

    YET: I truly envy those who have good singing voices! I greatly admire some of them. A few voices, I love, absolutely. And a few of the singers, I “love”, too. (They do not even know I exist.) Some people sing like angels — better than angels!!! Truth.

    Oh, yes: I apologize for my country’s foisting Justin Beiber on the USA. Yet, if you Google the War of 1812, and you will understand our diabolical revenge. I hope he never returns! May they keep him!

    ALSO: I admire a number of people who can play a musical instrument well. To me it is a complete, yet divine… mystery.

    Example: I know, and infinitely admire, one certain, very special man… who can play guitar, violin, drums, harp, and a half a dozen other instruments… that I do not even know the names of….. He can even COMPOSE music!!! To me, he is a true hero. Not for just his ability to play instruments, oh no, he has done far, far, far, far more than that!

    Yet, no one will give him a Nobel Prize. They gave one to Barrack Obama. May I ask what he ever did in life? Other than raise a billion dollars which he spent on getting elected? And they call the USA a democracy! HAH! These days, one of the least democratic countries on Earth, IS the USA. The USA is a wealthocracy. It may also be a plutocracy. BAH!

    Yet… I do listen to, and greatly enjoy, music. Despite the dammed nuns! Not all kinds, and a lot of the classical stuff, I find is bunk, but then so is most modern music….
    “Beauty is in the eye, the ear, the touch, nose, and the taste buds of the beholder.” — Pete Laberge

    7. Do your students need more information, or skills in how to critically evaluate the information that surrounds them?

    Probably they do. Your students, too. You must do your best with the resources you have at hand. It is your job to determine what help they need, and try to provide it. This help will not be identical for each student. You will need, as best as you can…. need to determine what information, and what skills are needed. You will not be right all the time. You are only human. Just try the best you can! And hopefully, you will “DO”!

    I know when you think “help”, you think “ipad!” You think “Program XYZ!” Youthink “Presentation!” You think “Khan, or Youtube!” You think “www.website.com” ….
    Sadly you are so wrong, it gives me pain.

    There are students in Africa, today, who learn more than kids in Canada, or Europe, or the USA. Their tools are an open air classroom, a blackboard, and some ordinary notebooks. The whole class may share 2 or 3 textbooks. Ask yourself: WHY? HOW?

    Technology is only ONE mere tool in the teaching arsenal. There is nothing wrong with technology. There is something wrong with USING it when the teacher becomes a mere babysitter, and lets the tech “do all the teaching work”. (A teacher does have other duties besides “teaching”.) Why…. Tech cannot teach, any more than it can learn….

    Sadly, too few teachers today, have any real interest in teaching. They are too busy complaining that the students have no interest in learning. Teaching and learning, are like the 2 Gemini spacecraft of 1965-66. They (teaching & learning) have to dock, for the mission to be successful. There are some kids who learn one way, some who learn another. Some learn fast, some learn slow. It is the teacher who must try adapt things “as best as best can”. A good teacher will do this.

    Now then: If you can do this, and if you have some teachable knowledge yourself, some skills, and some techniques yourself that you can bring to the equation, then you MAY be a teacher…. But you will need a gift, a very special talent to do it. And you had better have a certain desire.

    Without all of that “stuff” above, please get out of the classroom. DO IT NOW! Your place is NOT there.

    BUT: If you get up each morning, with a burning desire and a great need, to know that “when Johnny comes in at 8 AM, he will know X facts, and will be ble to do Y things”…. and by 4 pm when he leaves, YOU will be the reason that “Johnny now knows X+K facts, and can do Y+K things”…. then YOU, yes, you, may be a teacher.
    Regardless of what tools you use.

    But the teacher is only half the equation. Johnny may be a poor learner, and that may not be your fault. (YOU must determine where the fault is.) If Johnny is a poor learner, then do whatever you can… to “even up the odds” for him. That is your DUTY. If you cannot teach everything to Johnny, then teach whatever you can, whatever he can learn. Because Johnny will NEED whatever he can learn. After that, well hope for the best.

    But, sometimes personality plays a role. If you and Johnny simply do not get along, for whatever reason, then if there is another teacher that may be better for Johnny ….. PLESASE! Swallow your dammmed pride, and try get Johnny into the other teacher’s hands! Both you and Johnny will benefit. So will your other students. And the other teacher may benefit, too!

    8. How much of what’s really important in life, is taught in a classroom?

    I don’t know. No one does. Neither do you. Some things CAN be taught. Others can only be learned…. Sometimes through bitter experience. I know that sounds stupid. I do not know how better to put it. Sometimes, in life, things happen. They cannot be foreseen. Sorry, Yoda.

    But that may not be why we pay teachers…. The education committee has certain things they want done. Try work with them. They do have the upper hand.

    SHORT STORY: In high school, my dad spent 3 years dying. One day, I was kind of down on things. I was a brown bagger. So was Mr. Wallgren, my physics teacher, and I had zero aptitude for that topic. (Really, he should have taught economics.) Maybe I had other things on my mind…. But I was/am no math whiz, and the stuff they required us to learn, was rather advanced. Anyhow, one HELLA day, he had lunch with me. The only thing he could say, was: “Hey? Do you want a carrot stick?” I have always remembered that….

    Sometimes, that is the best you can do with a student. But, I hope you never have to do it. Because both you and the student will be in pain together. Although, you will be together, against the whole dammed world. And that may be of some consolation.

    9. Why do we usually teach all the boring facts first, and save the interesting stuff for later?

    Because you need some common ground, to start. You need some facts, some data, to begin the educational conversation. And what is boring to one, may not be to another….

    Now YOU, you just have to learn, through experience, which facts NEED to be there. And you have to learn when and how to bring the interesting stuff in. And bear in mind, that what is interesting, may not be relevant. Try teach relevant stuff. It may not always be “fun”, but the kids need it.

    Of course, figuring out what is relevant, is a bitch. Partly because things change. Partly because different people have different needs. I could write an hour on this. I won’t.

    If you cannot answer the question, or solve the problem, please get the HELLA out of the classroom. You do not belong there, not even as a visitor, let alone a teacher. Just go. Go now. Thank you.

    BUT: If you are fighting like a knight to answer that question, if you are working like a dog to solve that problem… Somebody lock that person in the classroom. We need to investigate. We may have a real teacher.

    10. When we cover material, what is it that we think we have accomplished?

    You have done your job. You have taught the curriculum. Now if the curriculum sucks, and you and the student know it, well then, there are channels to get that fixed. Use them. Inform the parents. Get them on your side. That’s part of your job, believe it or not.

    But if you cover material, and it is good material, then you need to know if the students learned it. If they can make use of it.

    That is fairly easy in math and science. It gets harder in other topics.

    Example: Dr. Tom McCool once gave what he thought was an easy history test. It was an End of Term test, and he thought he was giving us a break. As great a teacher as he was, he blew it! What he taught, and what we learned, were worlds apart! What he asked (tested) about, and what we answered, were also worlds apart. Yet, he knew that we knew the material. We were able to discuss it, and argue about it intelligently. He was especially disturbed and upset about me. I had failed so spectacularly, that he had never seen the likes of it. I think I got 38 out of 100 points. So he called me in after school for an interview. (It was called The Canadian Inquisition. He forced me to drink regular 7up! With cookies! The man was cruel, I tell you!)

    The stupid school (school board?) would not allow him to re-test. The test had met “all their rules”. He realized that HE had blown the test! Not Just Us! So he found extra credit things for us to do. AND GRADED THEM ALL BY HAND. HE READ AND COMMENTED ON EACH LITTLE “PROJECT”. He gave us the best breaks he could, while grading. He worked like Hannibal’s army crossing the Alps. In Winter. Before global warming. On starvation rations. We all passed, anyway. Well, I nearly got expelled. But that is another story….

    He accomplished his goal. The material was on some stupid thing in Europe. In France, actually. The rough syllabus description was: “The events leading up to, during, and after the Revolution, including the Rule of Napoleon, and the clean up work after, by amongst others, a guy called Metternich.” WHEW! I actually remember some of it to this day. I’d know more, but as I noted above, my dad was busy dying at the time. Today, I could sing him most of the answers to that @#$%^!&# Test. And it involves yet another “teacher”. But that is another story, too….

    11. Is being told something the same as learning it?

    Yes! And NO!! Depends on what you mean by “told”– or “tell”. Depends on what you mean by “learning”. Depends on the teller and the listener. And the topic. And the context. And just “how” you “tell”. And just how the learner “learns”.

    I could tell you something about Calculus, if I remembered any of it. But will you be able to do anything with dx/dy? Probably not. I was once told about, and read about, and worked a number of problems, in trigonometry. Fascinating! Yes, it really was. I recall zilch, today. I had interest, but my brain does not work that way. Of course, not having done anything with it in 16 years, may account for my remembering nothing….

    To tell something, you are exporting data that is presumably important to you, to someone else. To learn, you are trying to import data. If the “handshake” is not properly made, the transfer will not be successful…..

    I have been told a lot of stuff that I did not learn. I learned a lot of stuff that the teachers had no clue they were telling me. See MUSIC Class story, up above. See the Carrot Stick story.

    There are many ways to tell, many ways to learn. The topic, the telling, must match the learner, and the learning. Often, they do.

    Sometimes, you can just tell someone a simple fact, and they know it for life. Other times, you can spend hours, talking, writing, drawing, etc… and no go.

    Sometimes it is the teacher’s fault, sometimes the student’s. Sometimes it is the material. Sometimes there is NO fault. It just did not work….

    Example: I can no longer do the chemistry equations I once knew how to do, and liked doing, 40 years ago! But I still remember the word: ClONFBrIH. “Clonf-brih” – The names of the diatomic molecules! Thank you Karl Benson! The Great Bensoni. My chem prof was an amateur magician. Set fire to me, one day. Nothing personal. Part of the act. Very successful.

    Funny what we retain in our brains, eh? Same for you as for me. Same for your students….

    12. What would content area teaching look like if it were taught the way an art teacher teaches art?

    It would be a mess. Chemistry is not art. Math is not art. Some things may BE an art (Or so they say!), but they are not art.

    I could not tell you which is which. That is, what is considered an “art” and what is not, as it is not relevant to me. I could probably google it.
    The bitch of googling things to get an answer, is figuring out what question to ask, and how to ask it…. This is something the current generation is better than mine at. But should we teach them this?
    Google is today. Tomorrow…. There may be no Google.
    Why? Peak Oil, WWIII, and all that stuff.
    We might be better off teaching kids how to survive in the wild, than teaching them “Prezi”. They may curse their teachers as ineffective sots some day. Remember that. We will not know until that day comes…

    BUT: Painting is not sculpting. Math is not English. Chemistry is not History. “Some kids have no talent in art, some do.” TRULY: You should write that down on the blackboard 50 times. If you have no blackboard, use paper. You may not copy and paste.

    Just because YOU happen to like “art”, or “music”, or “whatever”…
    Do not foist that on all of your students as your “set in concrete” teaching style.
    If you do, and I find out, I will hunt you to the ends of the earth. And I will cut you down… like the cur that you are, sir.

    My art teacher once told me that I could not draw a straight line with a ruler. He was right. I loved art class, but if you asked me to paint a boot that was on the table, what you got, looked nothing like a boot. We were asked to draw our faces in a mirror. Trust me, nothing Salvador Dali ever drew looked as bad, or as un-recognizable….

    I learned nothing there. Yet, my art teacher was a great artist…. “Those who can, do! Those who can’t, teach!” But teaching paid for his art addiction. Too bad. Example: Perspective, I learned from Mr. Taras Sawchuck, my RESPLAN teacher, about 5 years later. Can’t do it today. Never used it in 40 years. But I still am grateful, and still remember Mr. Sawchuck. Some of the things he taught me let me earn a living for several years. When I read his obituary, I cried for days. HELLA! I’m crying now. Because he was a real teacher.

    (I had to google the question “what artist drew a melted clock” to get Dali’s name. I am terrible with names. If a kid had never seen that painting never been taught about it … how would he know what question to ask? The name of it, which I do not recall ever learning, is: “The Persistence of Memory”. Google told me. How’s that for a coincidence in an essay on teaching?)

    13. If state testing went away tomorrow, would we actually teach differently?

    I do not know. I can approximate an answer. Some teachers would… Some teachers would not… It might or might not make a difference.

    I gather you do not like state testing, just from your asking the question. Perhaps that is your problem. Lay down on the couch, and tell me about your mother. That always solves things…..

    Perhaps state testing is broken. Maybe it needs to be fixed. Maybe it can be fixed. Maybe it cannot. But it is apparently there/here. You are being paid by us taxpayers to deal with it. Please do so. Maybe you and your fellow teachers could help fix it. It will not be fixed in seconds. It may take years. “The sooner you start a 360 degree scan, the sooner it will be complete…” (I recall this as a line from a Star Trek TOS episode. Which one, I do not recall.)

    Would it really matter, if you actually taught differently? Do you think you would obtain better educated, more knowledgeable, better skilled, more diversified students? (That is the goal.)

    It does not matter whether you would be having fun. I have worked a lot of jobs that were not fun. But, they needed to be done. It does not matter if the students would have fun or not. Some things are not fun. We do them anyway. I love doing other people’s tax returns. I hate doing mine. I save it till last. I do it anyway. Kids badly need to learn this. You need to teach it. Well, you can do that, soon.

    You can start teaching differently tomorrow if you really want to. Oh, you may not be able to do ALL the fun or revolutionary things you want to do, but you could do little things. To quote from above: “Hey? Do you want a carrot stick?”

    Think about what I have said. We may not agree on everything. But hopefully, my words gave you a few useful nuggets.

    As for being subversive…. Well, there is both good and bad to that. And remember: Being controversial, and being subversive, are not always the same thing, although, they can be. They both have their place sometimes. But there are times where they do not have a place. I hope you pick the right times. For the sake of the students.

    “First gain the victory and then make the best use of it you can.” — Horatio Nelson, 1797

    Yes, I know. You hate me. And I just got an “F” on answering these. “Bully!” — TR
    Well, I could quote Martin Luther on that, too:
    “Here I stand. I can do no other”. Or: “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders”.
    Some say the words are apocryphal. Maybe. None-the-less, they fit.

  10. Peter L, You have way to much time on your hands, and you just put the entire class to sleep. IF there is an important point you are making, I missed it for all the ego-speak.
    Peter P, Great post. Thank you. You made me a follower. Here is my Q:
    14. Are you exercising your authority in such a way that it increases the authority of others?

  11. Rick,
    I agree with your #14. Most districts have a mission (or is it vision?) statement with some line about “creating life-long learners.” How’s that going to happen in classrooms where students are doing routine tasks in a lock step manner?

    You are correct – we need to find ways to give kids greater “control” over their learning. As I note in my blog’s tag line – “Dedicated to relinquishing responsibility to the students.”

    Cheers ~ Peter

  12. I found a PDF of Neil Postman’s book at http://www.TINYURL.com/50TAASA. There is a blog about “an online ongoing celebration of 50 years of Postman’s book” at http://www.50Yearsofsubversiveteaching.blogspot.com Nice list of questions. You can download the Postman Questions at http://www.TINYURL.com/postmanquestions with some quotes, too.

    If you want to see what happened in a Miami charter school when these questions were distributed, look at http://www.TINYURL.com/boiseworkbook2

  13. This post was particularly interesting since I am in my last semester at grad school in an Education program and eager to make a difference in the lives of the children I will presumably start teaching soon. Your questions are well thought out and I believe that many teachers would benefit from thinking about them or through them while teaching. I think that some of them come up when others are observing teachers teach their class but seldom do they come up with teachers thinking on their own. Thank you for sharing these questions I believe they will be pivotal in helping me make a difference in the lives of the children I interact with. Again, thank you!

    1. Ghadir, I applaud your self reflection and I’m pleased to see a new teacher who is already thinking about their art and craft. Thanks for sharing your observations. Cheers, Peter

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