A Kohn-headed argument
Kohn constructs a pedagogical strawman
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In his most recent missive, Alfie Kohn decries “the pedagogy of poverty”—i.e.: the “drill and kill” method of rote instruction that he sees being thrust upon many low-income students in public district and charter schools around the nation. And on that front, we couldn’t agree more. No students, low-income or otherwise, should be forced to choke down lackluster coursework through lazy pedagogy. But then he kept on writing, as he so often does, falling into emotion and false dichotomies, his logic becoming increasingly murky. He implies, for instance, that having tight classroom management and routines is antithetical to students being able to think deeply about issues. Nonsense. Oftentimes, that is exactly what’s needed to create conditions in which students can learn. Going further, Kohn insinuates that high-performing charters (we assume he means models like KIPP, Achievement First, et al.) are not high-performing at all; the students have been taught to succeed on tests and all traces of intellectualism have been stripped from their schools. Wrong. Done well, many of these schools help push students far beyond low-level test questions. What’s more, plenty of their teaching techniques are effectively used in suburban and private schools around the country as well. (Catholic schools are, for example, known for their tight culture and strict rules—and their long history of success at educating poor children.) There are plenty of thoughtful criticisms to be leveled against plenty of reform efforts—criticisms that the reformers themselves struggle with every day. Kohn, however, fails to make any of them.
“Poor Teaching for Poor Children…in the Name of Reform,” by Alfie Kohn, Education Week, April 27, 2011.
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