A Kohn-headed argument


Kohn's strawman argument

Kohn constructs a pedagogical strawman
Photo by srqpix

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.

longer version of this piece first
on Fordham’s
Flypaper blog. To subscribe to the blog, click here.

Poor Teaching for Poor
Children…in the Name of Reform
,” by Alfie Kohn, Education Week, April 27, 2011.

Kathleen Porter-Magee
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.