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教育访谈录:与 Dr. Eddy Pendarvis的访谈  

2009-10-01 11:04:03|  分类: 教育 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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上一篇文章“教改要的是对话而非炮轰”,在南方都市报上发出来后被一些读者批评,当然我现在已经修炼到无毒不侵的地步,根本不在乎你怎么批评。但是有一个说法引起了我的关注,我说需要对话,有读者说:谁跟你对话啊?这显然是太没有自信了。就我的经验,我每次和美国朋友谈教育,他们都是愿意就教育问题和我们交流的。大家丝毫不必妄自菲薄,连对话都不敢。我自己也常批评教育中的具体问题,但是,假借他人名义来全盘否定、炮轰中国教育,不做建设性的沟通和对话,是不诚实,也是没有什么用处的。事实上我最近还因Compton-Zhao的争论,为Fools' Mountain访谈了教育家Edwina Pendarvis,她每一个问题都认真回答,根本不像有些右派愤青所言的那样,人家对我们的教育体系不屑一顾。

Recently there has been much discussion in both China and the US about the advantages or disadvantages of education in both countries. For instance, Mr. Robert Compton made a movie called 2 Million Minutes, which advocates learning from China and India in its K12 education. Views by Mr. Compton was largely rejected by scholars such as Dr. Zhao from Michigan State University who suggests the US system is doing fine while the Chinese one needs reform. In the meantime, someone in China seems to have forged an article by Benno C. Schmidt, Jr., former President of Yale, attacking Chinese higher education as basically a joke. If that article showed anything, it indicates extreme dissatisfaction with the Chinese educational system.

During such discussions on the differences between Chinese and American education, we interviewed Dr. Edwina Pendarvis for her input on what went wrong with the US education. Dr. Pendarvis is Professor Emeritus of Gifted Education at Marshall University and an Internationally recognized scholar of high-achieving students.

In the following interview, she shares her thoughts on the anti-intellectual tendency in US schools, roles teachers and parents could play and her experiences with Chinese and American students. From an expert’s angle, and her experience working with parents and teachers, she sheds new light on the US-China education debate.

Question: Would you mind telling us about your background?

Dr. Pendarvis: I started teaching as soon as I completed college, at 21 years old, and have been in the field of education ever since. At first I taught high school English, then after completing a master's degree in gifted education, taught in a gifted resource room that included (at different times) students in kindergarten through middle school. I got a doctorate in special education (includes education of gifted children as well as children with learning, emotional, or physical problems). I worked as a state-level administrator in special education for several years, and then began teaching at the university level. At the university, I taught education courses and worked with parents of gifted children, as well as with schools, to design programs that would meet the learning needs of high ability students. At the university, for a year, I directed the honors program for high-achieving students at Marshall University. I'm a parent of two children, now grown. Most of my experience, both practical and in regard to research focuses on exceptionally bright students. It also focuses on rural and suburban schools. I have no experience with schools in large cities. Often the problems, and perhaps the strengths, of rural and suburban schools are different from those in urban areas.

Part I: Are US Students “Out of Their Minds”?

Question: You co-authored Out of Our Minds: Anti-Intellectualism and Talent Development in American Schooling. Would you mind elaborating on the "anti-intellectualism" tendency that happens in the US schools? Is this something that happens in higher education as well?

Dr. Pendarvis: Anti-intellectualism is a strong element in the culture of the United States. It permeates citizens' lives in school and out. It has been written about often and has been attributed to many sources. Some see it as coming out of the origins of protestant religion, the religion that is most tied to capitalism, of course. This religion is highly egalitarian (it came about partly in reaction to the hierarchy of the Catholic church that grew so strong in the European middle ages) and regards one person (man, anyway) as completely equal to another. It is distrustful of any hierarchy, including that of seeing one person as smarter than another. It also distrusts logic and considers faith and feeling more important. When an argument is complex, it is often seen as sophistical, or deceptive. However, the roots of this anti-intellectualism go back to many sources. (Some universal, I think, and so I'm not saying that Americans are completely different, but only different in degree according to their different history.) Part of this anti-intellectualism also comes from the fact that so many early settlers in this country were poor and were escaping oppression, mostly not religious oppression, but class oppression. They were escaping, in general, people who were better educated and who used the law and its documents to take away what little poor people had. So, the settlers often had an ambivalent attitude toward writing and reading. In the beginning, many trusted only the Bible and thought reading was important only for reading that book. As they got more land and more settled, they valued reading and writing for practical reasons of owning property and keeping up with news on events. Few, however, found value in reading for understanding life or for the beauty of language and thoughts until the early 20th century.

Question: If the “protestant religion” is one of the possible causes to anti-intellectualism. Why did the best universities start with religious roots? Has the protestant religion played a positive role in the shaping of American education?)

Dr. Pendarvis: I’m not an expert on this, but I’ll say that my understanding is that the scholarly tradition of the middle ages was associated with Catholicism. Some of this tradition was carried on through the universities, which prepared clergy, both protestant and catholic. Though Protestantism rebelled against many aspects of Catholicism, it also grew out of it. However, Protestantism, especially as practiced in America and as it changed during the nineteenth century, became less and less interested in metaphysical and ethical argument and more committed to authenticity of feeling as a way of knowing. I’m especially attuned to this because of living in the Appalachian region, which was one of the major areas dominated by revivalism and fundamentalism. Preachers on the frontier here sometimes couldn’t read. Their education was less important than their oratory. This popular religious attitude has influenced public schools more than universities because it is also partly a class phenomenon. The people to subscribe to this common form of Protestantism were rural and small town mostly and often were poor and working-class. They didn’t usually attend universities. (Now more people subscribe to this form of religion, and also more people of the protestant religion attend universities because a university degree is becoming as necessary for a job as a high school degree used to be.) Anyway, yes, universities, were developed partly in response to religious denominations’ needs, including Protestant denominations, (and so have contributed positively to the US education system) but here, the intellectual elements of at least the Protestant religion have been pretty much overwhelmed, in my opinion by a seeking for consolation, affirmation, and community rather than for truth). I’m not saying this religion is the sole source of anti-intellectualism here in the US. All I’m saying is that it plays an important role in this trend to devalue and disparate intellect.

Our struggles to build a country are so recent and so physical that we're not over it yet. With compulsory schooling, once it was widespread, came some efforts to develop individuals' appreciation of wisdom and beauty. That was a luxury that could be afforded by then because people were more prosperous, in general than they'd been. Textbooks included poetry and stories that students enjoyed and, with poetry, often memorized. One school subject was considered about as important as another because the main point was getting a basic education that would prepare you for life, not for a particular job. It's an over implication, but that was pretty much true until Sputnik in 1957! Then, of course, math and science became important because the US was afraid that the USSR would control the world if it controlled space. We developed excellent math and science programs at that time and during the 1960s. However, these programs were so demanding that teachers hated them. They blamed the students and said the programs were too hard for students. A lot of the problem, though, was that the math and science programs were more difficult to teach and were, in fact, more than the teachers felt capable of handling. Parents also didn't understand the reasoning behind these difficult programs. They saw them as impractical and taking too long to teach. Perhaps, at this time, these programs should have been kept and provided only to the most talented and interested students. Instead, they were simply rejected. Schools went "back to the basics." Also at this time, many students with learning and behavior problems were beginning to stay in school, more than in the past. Teaching them was harder than teaching more compliant and interested children. Textbooks were watered down and made much simpler. If you compare, for example, a fourth-grade textbook from the 1960s with one in the 1990s, you'll see a big difference. The older one is much harder, but also more interesting in ideas.

This change affected average students, not just gifted ones. Average students didn't have any trouble with those textbooks in the 1960s. But the "average" became lower over the years. I don't want to give the impression that I think these students with disabilities were at fault. It's the lack of attention to anything beyond the basics that is still the main problem. But what is basic has gotten much less challenging over the past half-century. Since the 1960s, college here has become more and more specialized and geared toward jobs. That's understandable in view of global competition. I think one reason our universities are good is just the wealth of the country. We can afford excellent laboratories and libraries. There is a big difference between universities and the rest of public education. It is, in effect, education for keeping the country wealthy and powerful. K-12 education can no longer do this. Though many more students go to college here than in lots of other countries, it is still a small enough proportion and well funded enough that it can provide a comparatively more challenging education. It can't completely overcome the deficits produced by the unchallenging nature of the K-12 schools, however. Many college students want to learn the bare minimum needed to make a decent grade and get a decent job. They've grown up distrusting complicated ideas and they often don't want to hear them in college either, unless there's a financial pay-off. Many students think their ideas are as good as those of their professors, though their professors may know a few more facts. Because professors aren't wealthy, students don't respect them much. The only worthwhile intelligence is intelligence that makes money, for the individual. Improving society isn't regarded as a very important goal here. It goes back, in part, to the idea of the individual as the important unit, not family and certainly not society, even though we are taught to give lip service to the importance of benefiting society.

Our short-sightedness in focusing on the immediately practical and despising the intellectual results in impatience with difficult ideas. That, to me, is the reason for our relatively low achievement in higher mathematics and science. We may value them, but we undermine students' ability to learn them well.

Question: In earlier correspondence, you mentioned that students in the US are not sufficiently challenged. Do you refer to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects that Compton was talking about? Are you referring mainly to gifted students, or any average students? Whose problem is it? Are there any solutions?

I'm referring not just to STEM subjects, but to all subjects and to students at all levels. As you can probably tell from my earlier answers, I see this as a problem that has cultural and economic roots. One of the things that worries me particularly right now is the fact that so many poor and rural children have so little access to computers. These children will grow up doomed to a separate life from the mainstream. Right now many poor rural children are living in "micro" economies that depend on barter, hunting, gardens, and/or crime to survive. This will become even more true if things continue as they are. The new basics should include the basics of computer use. Schools here usually talk about these as 21st century skills. Solving that problem won't solve the problem of challenging average and high-achievers. I just mention it because it's becoming so glaring a problem here.

I can't recommend any far-reaching solutions because I think they will come about only through far-reaching cultural and economic changes. As far as small solutions that I have seen, I know that parents of high-achieving students acting together can change school curricula and programs to make them more challenging. Parents of gifted students in states that require IEPs (individual education plans) for gifted students (as all do for students with disabilitie) can also get more challenging programs for their children if they're willing to make administrators and sometimes teachers angry with them. I've worked with many parents of gifted children who have done that. It is time-consuming for these parents and can sometimes be emotionally painful for them because of the attitudes of educators who often think the parents are too demanding.

Part II:  China-US Comparisons

Question: If you can comment on the differences between the Chinese and US educational systems that would be great. If not, from your experience working with US students and Chinese students, what are some of the things that stand out to you as being very different? What could Chinese students learn from their US counterparts and what could American students learn from their Chinese counterparts?

Dr. Pendarvis: Lucky for you I know very little about the Chinese educational system, and so I won't go on so long in answering this question! I can only talk about the few Chinese students I've worked with. They were ALL more intellectual and interested in ideas than most American students I've taught. They were also more respectful of others' ideas, including the professors. Whatever their private thoughts, they consistently asked questions rather than dismissing others' ideas without giving them much thought. One thing that I especially enjoyed about working with Chinese graduate students was that they seemed to care about ideas and once they felt comfortable were direct about what they wanted to know or wanted me to know. (I suffered from the stereotype of thinking that Asians were unlikely to say what they meant.) Though they were never impolite to me, the students did tell me when they didn't see my point or didn't agree with it. My experience is so limited, however, that I don't know whether these students were typical of other Chinese students. You can surmise that what I wish many of my American students would learn from my Chinese students is respect for and interest in others' ideas. In regard to the few Chinese students I've worked with, I can't say what they could learn from their American counterparts. I know that usually teachers say that Asian students don't participate actively in class discussions or are reluctant to disagree with their professors. One Japanese student I had--and I've only had two Japanese students--fit this stereotype. He was very circuitous on disagreeing with me, but he DID give me cues so that we could talk about it. I feel uncomfortable even commenting on this because my experience is too limited.

Question: Most Chinese students complain about excessive time spent in school and they are quite envious of their US counterparts. However, for lack of better methods, time on task can be a good predictor of learning outcome. In your opinion, to what extent does the school time matter? Is there a balance somewhere? 

Balance is the key. How do children use their time? Many parents of gifted children don’t allow television or limit the time their children are allowed to watch it. Free time to play with other children is essential because children’s play allows them to use their imagination. Time for physical activity, too, and for being with the family. I think the school day here is about long enough—if we think an 8-hour day is a good workload for adults, we might not want to go beyond that for time in school for children. Now, I think here they’re in school about 7 hours. An hour or two for homework (on average) is important, too, in my opinion. More for older children who hope to pursue very competitive and demanding academic programs. But, hopefully, those children will also see homework as partly play!

I have to admit that I hate the idea of year-round school because I valued summer vacations so much as a child! I like summer enrichment classes, that offer art, music, dance, astronomy, etc. as part of a school’s vacation program, though. To me, such programs offer a good compromise between year-round school and nine- or ten-month schooling.

Question: It’s often observed that Chinese or other parents push their kids rather hard academically. Some American parents frown upon that practice and say that they don’t give these students “a life”. Chinese kids sometimes also say that their parents force them to go to things like piano lessons and Chinese schools while their American peers are enjoying sports and having fun. What would you say to these Chinese parents? Or Children?

Dr. Pendarvis: Again, balance seems to be the key. Parents of students who do the best in school do what Chinese parents do. I’m sorry to say I may be remembering inaccurately, but it seems to me that I’ve read that second-generation Asian-American students do less well than first-generation ones. If I’m remembering correctly, this lower achievement was attributed to changing family habits. As the family adopted American habits, the children’s achievement dropped. I can’t sorry to say I can’t remember where I read this; so I can’t say whether it’s a valid claim. I’m working with a parent right now, a mother who is from Sri Lanka. She has worked so hard to help her boy fulfill his potential and to get the best schooling for him. However, she finds him, as a teenager, resisting her efforts to get him to study hard and do his best. He is too easily satisfied because without trying very hard he can do better than his peers. Nonetheless, because he would like to go to MIT or Carnegie Mellon, she knows how essential it is that he excel far beyond what his natural inclinations to study would allow him. He has plenty of opportunities for fun, but has more demands on him from his mother and father than do his friends. I sympathize with her, and I think she’s doing the right thing. He has many opportunities for fun.

Question: From your perspective as a gifted education professor, do you feel a two-track high school system (putting gifted or high-achieving students in something like a key high school) is more beneficial or more detrimental to the overall educational system? Should the USA have special high schools that cater to high achievers, or should they be kept with the general student population? What are the most detrimental effects of students who graduate from lower tier high schools in China?

Research clearly shows that advanced classes help high-achieving students to learn more than they do in homogeneous classes. Research also clearly shows that moving high-achieving students through school more rapidly than other students helps them learn more than if they're not accelerated. The detrimental effects on other students, after taking the top 2 to 10% out and putting them in advanced classes, have not been clearly demonstrated through research, though such effects are often given as the reason for not advancing high achievers here in the US. On the other hand, remedial classes for low-achievers have been shown to have detrimental effects on the students who are placed in them. Taking the top half of students away might be like creating a remedial class for the bottom half. It seems to me that that would show detrimental effects, but I don't know research on this because we don't do it much here anymore. I think advanced classes, advanced schools within schools, and even advanced high schools (such as key schools if I understand the concept correctly) are good ideas. Of course in an unfair economic system, such as ours, the benefits of such classes and schools go disproportionately to students from middle- and upper-class socioeconomic families. There should be concerted efforts to identify and develop the abilities of poor children. Our schools for the poorest children provide only a rudimentary education. I don't know how these schools compare with lower tier high schools in China. I don't think we should spend more money on high-achieving students in high school than we do on low-achieving students, however. When I said there should be advanced classes and special schools for high achievers, I didn't mean that. They should be funded at levels comparable to other classes and schools. The extra cost is in just having extra classes and extra schools. I do want to stress that the research is overwhelming that high-achieving students benefit from advanced classes and/or acceleration. Not to provide those is to hold these students back.

Question: Speaking of student achievement in the secondary system, it seemed that the secondary education system in China performs better than the US system (judging from test scores). However, the US college education is still unparalleled in the world. Is this mainly a money/resource issue or does it have more to do with deeper cultural or structural factors? In other words, why those countries that are successful in secondary education can't extend the trend to the college level? For instance, why are there more Americans winning the Nobel Prizes if student averagely perform poorly in their secondary schools?

I do see this success as having to do with resources put into colleges and universities; but I don’t have research to support my opinion. I don’t know how much money is spent in other countries, maybe it’s comparable. Here, we spend in Ohio, for example, about $9,500 on average per year for each K-12 student. One Ohio university says that it spends on average about $23,000 for each college student for year. This is probably typical in the US (but not for the top schools like Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, Harvard, etc., which spend much more per student.) I don’t know how these amount compare in the economies of other countries. But they are probably not the key to the success on indicators such as Nobel Prizes and major research successes. The key there is grant money, public and private, and research support for professors who are considered to be exceptional in their knowledge and creativity (especially in fields of importance to science and business.) Money for up-to-date facilities, such as laboratories and computer facilities, must be part of the US success. But keeping research professors happy by allowing them to teach mostly within their major area of interest may be part of the high quality in US universities. Really, I’m speaking in ignorance on this topic because I’m so unfamiliar with universities in other countries.

Part III:  Parent and Teacher Roles in Education

Question: In your opinion, are teachers in the US given enough latitude to teach effectively?

IDEA (a law for programs for students with disabilities), Title I (a part of a law for programs for economically disadvantaged students), our equal opportunity laws and even, to a certain extent, the No Child Left Behind law, as well as many other laws and influences have created a system that does a good job at providing the basics (except computer basics ) to almost all students. In doing that, we've made teachers’ jobs much harder (though it's worth it). High-stakes testing to meet state standards for education (and also No Child Left Behind requirements) have routinized learning and limited teachers' flexibility. I've observed many classes in which teachers drilled students for the test instead of going on to new learning. However, I've also observed classes in which excellent teachers made preparation for the test a meaningful learning experience. Teachers enjoy their jobs less now, or say they do, than in the past when they had more latitude. If I were betting, I'd bet that students enjoy classes less now, too, because of the emphasis on drill and practice. I'm torn on this question. There are some teachers who would do less well in preparing students if they didn't have tests to make them accountable for their students' performance. Many teachers would do better if they taught what and how their best thinking suggests, rather than trying to focus on the state tests. (That was kind of a weaseling, nonanswer, wasn't it!)

Question: In your view, where should one draw the line in terms of responsibility between teachers and parents?

Dr. Pendarvis: Generally, parents recognize that they are the only ones to hold their child's best interests uppermost in their minds. Teachers must keep the entire class's interests uppermost in their minds. Principals, the entire school's interests, etc. Some parents think they should leave their children's education entirely to the professionals. Probably, most of middle-class children will do all right (but not great) under that kind of approach. The children who do best, however, are those whose parents are actively involved in their child's education and who demonstrate that interest to the teachers. One parent I was talking to recently demanded that her child be taken out of the low-achieving reading group. Her child had a 94%ile score on the standardized reading test, but was still placed in the lowest reading class. Some parents wouldn't have understood the discrepancy between the test score and the child's placement in a reading group. This woman knew enough to know something was wrong and to act on that knowledge. The school refused to change the placement until she threatened to call the news media (she and her daughter are African Americans). The child was moved to a higher reading class. This is an extreme example, of course. But it is fairly common for students who are poor or different in some way to be placed in a low group for math or reading. That is a sure road to low-achievement for students that may be average or gifted in their abilities. Usually, I've worked with parents of gifted childern whose children were kept out of advanced classes or not allowed to accelerate beyond their age level to higher grade levels. These parents sometimes met little resistance and sometimes a lot. When they were able to succeed, their success often helped other bright children because what the school does for one child, they often have to do for another if that child is in similar circumstances. Teachers' training seldom provides adequate instruction in the needs of high-achieving students, so parents who understand their children's abilities often, in my opinion, need to step in to advocate for their child. As I mentioned, doing so often helps not only their child but others as well.

Question: How should parents and students themselves be made accountable?

Dr. Pendarvis: Again, how parents and students behave is so much an expression of our culture that I don't expect that they'll behave very differently from those around them. However, ideally, parents will model for their children the importance of learning in order to have a full, productive, and happy life. They'll not only read to them, but show an interest in the children's opinions and ideas. They'll provide as much enrichment as possible, through books, art, music, games, and trips. They'll demonstrate the importance of school by visiting the school, supporting school projects, taking interest in the child's schoolwork, and helping the child to learn how to learn. Of course by helping the child develop good study habits, no matter how bright they are. Parents should show respect for learning, for ideas, and for people charged with their child's education. When they disagree with the schools' decisions, they should not be afraid to say so, to the school or to their child but should always speak respectfully of the school and acknowledge that there are several perspectives in any case. With gifted children, parents may be the only ones who recognize that all children should be given the opportunity to fail. We learn more from mistakes than from things we do right. If children make A's without having to work, they are being done a disservice and will suffer for it by learning poor study habits and by becoming vain (and thus ill-suited to trying difficult things). I don't think I can give a very good answer about holding students accountable. Students' accountability opens up a big topic. I think I can only say that with children we are the ones who are most accountable. How we structure home and school is the biggest determinant in how they will perform. Of course we have to keep children from hurting each other and from distracting others from learning. A harder thing is to keep them from hurting themselves through underachievement.

Question: What is the best way to measure a teachers' actual performance, where everyone (parents, teachers) can be happy with? Dr. Pendarvis: These questions are all hard ones! Probably the best way to assess a teacher's actual performance overall is through "triangulation." By observing them and comparing their practices to those that research demonstrates as effective (such as time on task, which was mentioned recently on a Fool's Mountain blog), by looking at their students' performance on tests relative to the performance of similar students (and/or relative to that group of students' performance in previous grades), and by surveying students. The last part is seldom done in K-12 education. It might even sound silly, but we take children's opinions too lightly (in my opinion). One thing I've found often is that the teacher is, in a sense, a different teacher to every child in his/her class. A teacher may be bad for two or three students and good for everyone else, or vice versa. This isn't a conscious choice on the teacher's part, but just results from the interactions between the qualities of the teacher and the qualities of the children. 

 This concludes the survey. Many thanks to Dr. Pendarvis for her insights, and the time she spent in answering these questions.
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