A Teachable Moment

by Robert Pondiscio
April 30th, 2008

To write about education is to dwell, alas, on what isn’t working in our schools. So for once, a tale about something that went very right. If you don’t follow sports, you probably missed it on ESPN and the sports page of the New York Times. It’s the story of a remarkable display of character and sportsmanship at a college softball game the other day.

Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky, all of 5’2″ and a .153 hitter, hits the first home run she’s ever hit, in high school or college. Even though it’s out of the park, the rules say “touch ‘em all.” So when she runs past first base and realizes she didn’t touch the bag, she stops to go back. And blows out her knee.

The rules also say her teammates can’t help her around the bases, or even help her off the ground. If a coach touches her she’s out. If a pinch runner comes in, it’s a single, not a homer. Tucholsky crawls back to first but can go no further.

Confusion. Silence. Then a voice, belonging to Central Washington senior Mallory Holtman, who holds every softball record worth holding in the school’s record book: “‘Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?’” There’s no rule against it. So Holtman and teammate Liz Wallace pick up Tucholsky and carry her the rest of the way, stopping to let her touch each base with her left foot–an act that contributed to their own elimination from the playoffs.

“It kept everything in perspective and the fact that we’re never bigger than the game,” Western Oregon coach Pam Knox told ESPN. “It was such a lesson that we learned — that it’s not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we’re always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It’s changed me, and I’m sure it’s changed my players.”

Who Is A Progressive?

by Robert Pondiscio
April 30th, 2008

The talented Eduwonkette scores the blog equivalent of the the talk show “good get” by having Bill Ayers guest blog a response to Sol Stern’s broadside. Let a thousand flowers bloom. But mixed up in Ayers’ innocuous sounding responses (“Stern favors teaching for social injustice?”) is, as always, the great unasked question: Who is the true progressive? The teacher, self-consciously teaching for social justice, seeking to empower students in her child-centered classroom, a well-thumbed copy of Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed near at hand? Or the “instructivist” who seeks to give the have-nots the intellectual capital they need to be full participants in society? How do we best serve our students, through opposition or access to power? Ends or means? Who is really “serving the interests of oppressor” here, Professor Ayers?

One might argue that education in America—hence the cause of social justice—has been set back decades by wrapping any number of ineffective pedagogical fads with the progressive label. What earnest young teacher, starting out in an inner city or rural school doesn’t see him or herself as progressive? Yet an emphasis on academic curriculum or direct instruction—sound, academic content and effective practice–is somehow branded “anti-progressive.” It takes a long time, and a fiercely independent streak, for a teacher to realize that perhaps they’re failing their students by accepting these narrow, dogmatic labels.

Things Are Tough All Over

by Robert Pondiscio
April 30th, 2008

Any teacher who has ever felt disrespected and antagonized by disruptive students might take comfort from the actions of this instructor, who is threatening to sue her students for discrimination.  At least until they find out the plaintiff is a professor at Dartmouth.