Teaching Opinion

Final Post: Did We Prove It?

By John T. McCrann — September 24, 2017 7 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I started

this blog more than two years ago and named it Prove It with a nod to the Geometric proofs I was teaching that fall. This last post will soon join all of the others I’ve done in the great Internet Archive in the sky (luckily still searchable!). But before we say goodbye (and hopefully hello again in other forms—I will continue writing and publishing both in Edweek and other places, so please follow my Twitter if you want to continue thinking with me), I want to gather up part of what I’ve learned, contributed, and where I went wrong.

I am a classroom teacher, not a full-time journalist or researcher. I don’t have a PhD. I’m not a policymaker. I’ve never even visited a think tank. So, who am I to prove anything?

We certainly didn’t prove the best way to assess student learning. But we provided some evidence for how performance-based-assessment can lead to meaningful learning, better pedagogy, and an increased sense of meaning for students and teachers: like this post about increasing student motivation to work on tasks or this one proposing healthy assessment habits to help us break our addiction to the bubble test. I appreciated the opportunity to have an extended conversation with Robert Jeffers about issues related to different kinds of assessments (here and here). As well as posts by Angela Stockman and Loryn Windwehen about how they get information about what their students know.

I gave some ideas to encourage sense-making and perseverance in math/science tasks by sharing evidence and analysis from my class. I wrote about a salary problem I use to explore exponential growth by tricking students’ intuition, a project that has students explore the meaning of equivalence by creating mobiles, and an approach to teaching about geometric proofs that has worked for my students. I was lucky to be able to publish colleagues’ ideas from other disciplines/grade levels: Andy Snyder’s perspective on teaching civics, Megan Roberts’s on computer science curriculum, and Sharon Davison’s on using social media in her kindergarten class. But would these lessons, projects, and approaches stand up to rigorous inquiry and prove themselves to be superior to those of all other teachers? Probably not in all cases.

I wrote about my belief that teacher unions increase our level of professionalism and have a crucial role to play in establishing work/life balance and good working conditions. I shared evidence from my own career about how I am working toward work/life balance and engaging in union-based school reform. I shared some reasoning for why attacks on teachers unions are really attacks on students and some reasons to mistrust alternative “teacher professionalization” strategies, like Teach for America. Kathleen Melville wrote a nice piece on unionism in Philadelphia. But I don’t think we proved to anyone that organized professional labor is the best solution for all of our states, schools, and young people.

There were times when the blog focused on current events: like Julissa Llosa’s response to the Orlando shooting, Concetta’s Lewis’s reaction to the Flint water crisis, or the post I wrote about calls for reparations for descendants of enslaved people. These pieces were important to me but didn’t really even try to prove anything about these complex tragedies.

So what did the Prove It Blog actually prove?

Historians for decades to come will be writing about U.S. social and political culture from September 2015 to September 2017, the months that I happened to be producing this blog.

These are months where we saw reason and logic take a back seat to much more pernicious forms of “evidence.” Months that brought the term “fake news” into our consciousness and when emotional diatribes spouted out on Twitter became policy statements.

I like to believe that this little corner of the vast and increasingly unruly world wide web has helped assert that there is another way forward. One in which folks express their ideas passionately while acknowledging that passion is not the same as reason. One in which authors and commenters sought to express emotion and move through emotion to the logical systems and ideas driving those feelings. One in which people argued strongly for reasoned ideals and held a sense of humility that those ideals might be misguided or misapplied.

I believe that this blog, including its guest posts from my generous colleagues, has practiced an open and real form of mutual listening between the authors and others who hold different beliefs.

Of course, this is a big goal and I have not proved myself capable of accomplishing it at all times.

I wish now that I had considered more fully some of the negative potential consequences of the policies that I was advocating. Teacher-created performance tasks can lead to lowered expectations which leave students (especially our most disadvantaged students) unprepared for life after school. A focus on big ideas in math can take time away from practice with smaller ideas and lead to a lower level of mastery in numerical and algebraic manipulations. Worker protections which create a sense of professionalism can result in ineffective or under-functioning employees retaining their positions for too long.

All these unintended consequences can be addressed without undermining the broader scope of the policies we wrote about (I think we do address them effectively in my school). I wish I had engaged with those ideas in deeper ways on this blog, this would not only have strengthened my arguments but also helped me adhere more fully to the blog’s lofty goal.

Still, I do hope that I have done enough to prove to you that a higher level of public discourse can take place in a meaningful way on a public website while discussing matters of great importance in public policy.

So I’ll end as I began by paraphrasing Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade,” with a call to all of you who care about our young people and our future: your’s “is to reason why.”

We, the people, need you to share your ideas, experiences, and passions so that we can better understand the myriad experiences that people have in our schools every day. Please write blogs and letters to the editor, speak out at meetings and political rallies, have difficult conversations in your staff work room and over dinner with family and friends. This basis of shared understanding is our only hope in making schools more effective.

But it is not just that you speak out. It is also how.

We, the people, need you to do so with a commitment to reason and evidence that allows you to engage in discourse without destruction, in the analysis of ideas without demonizing those who have come to a different conclusion.

Prove it, was not meant as an end result but rather as a way of thinking. A challenge to me, guest posters, and readers to rely more on evidence and reason than emotion and pre-conceived notions. The ideas that we are grappling with in education are often too complex and too situational for us to land on a singular proof like we teach in introductory Geometry courses. But, if we can all do a little better job of supporting and encouraging evidenced-based thinking, then we can surely accomplish something. We can improve it: our mutual understanding, our insights about schooling, and our way of talking about policy.

In addition to the guest post mentioned above this blog archive is more rich for the contributions of David Sherrin, Chris Dawson, Myles Brawer, Amber Chandler, and Tom Huser. Thank you all for sharing your ideas.

Without the editing help by Mary Conroy Almada, Amber Chandler, and Andy Snyder the posts I wrote would be less precise and thoughtful. They would also certainly include more typos. Your help and attention to my writing was invaluable.

Every post was made better by the thought partnership, editing, skepticism, and support of my wife, Kelly McCrann.

Finally, none of my thinking and writing would be possible without the support, care, and education I received from the staff and students of the public schools that I have had the privilege to learn and work in since I was 5 years old: Wake County Public School, Durham Public Schools, Winston-Salem Forsyth County Public Schools, New York City Department of Education Districts 11 and 2.

Photo: “CatonWoodvilleLightBrigade” by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr. - Unknown. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CatonWoodvilleLightBrigade.jpeg#/media/File:CatonWoodvilleLightBrigade.jpeg

Follow John McCrann on Twitter.
Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Prove It: Math and Education Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.