Objectivity, Science, and Other Silly Notions in Education

Warning: Rant Alert
I once read that scientific studies of the brain were, in large part, excluded from teacher instruction curriculum in the early days of teacher training because teaching was thought of as an art.  Science and scientific study was once thought to have very little impact on a profession that as heavily based in the arts.  During the last century of public instruction, the profession of teaching has moved toward science.    While there has been positive outcomes such as including neurology into teacher instruction, politicians and administrators need to remember that teaching is an art.

I have noticed this shift toward science in two ways.  I recently read about a married couple of teachers who teach math in a unique way.  The article said these teachers spend much of their summer teaching other teachers their methods, but the article questioned how much of their success could be transfered without their personality to support it.  Would their methods work if someone else was teaching?  Its a valid question.  Some politicians and administrators think teachers can scientifically take a process that worked for one person and simply replicate it.  While that may be true in science, it doesn't always work in the arts.  If Da Vinci instructed other artist on his art-creation process I don't think we would be enjoying a Mona Lisa in every museum.   I think we can learn from other teachers, but I doubt the success of any method or process in the classroom that 'can work for all teachers'.  It's an art.  There are no silver bullets in education, and sometimes learning is in the eye of the beholder.

Another place where science has become more evident is in the push for objectivity.  People want to take subjective assessment completely out of education.  Clearly there does need to be a fair amount of objectivity, but the world we live in is awash in subjectivity.  We don't award jobs based on the most qualified application, the interview plays an enormous part and lets not forget personal connections.  We don't buy houses based on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms--curb appeal and the "feel" of the house usually wins out.  There are many parts of our lives where we don't necessarily trust the objective numbers; we want to look at it ourselves and make a subjective judgement.  My question is who better to be subjective in education than a board certified, professionally trained educator with years of experience?  I want to remain objective, and I strive for it when I can, but I am not afraid to be subjective in the classroom.  Students need to be prepared and know how to maneuver through subjective judgement.

I'm not against objective assessment, I just think we shouldn't be afraid of subjectivity.  I heard so much recently about removing subjectivity from education, as if that is possible.  Granted subjectivity is bound to create some conflicts, but conflict resolution is a good skill to have as well.  An "objective" rubric can be nice when students or parents over-value their work, but sometimes you just have to make a judgement call--a student may claim its an elephant, but my experience tells me its a hand.  I'v been doing this for a decade, so this ain't my first rodeo.

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