Book review: Class Warfare

Class Warfare
Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence
J. Martin Rochester
Encounter Books 2002

In Lake Wobegon, “every child is above average,” Garrison Keillor says. In my personal experience, I can’t think of any parents I know who don’t have children who are not gifted or doing much better than average. After learning about the theory of Multiple Intelligences in chapter four of this book, I now know why all children are gifted.

Multiple Intelligences is a theory, just over 20 years old, that says that besides the traditional areas of intelligence — linguistic and logical-mathematical — there are these additional areas to consider: spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. To this list might soon be added naturalist intelligence, and maybe others.

On the surface, this seems reasonable. Not everyone is good at the same things. We generally believe that besides the three Rs, it is also good to learn about physical fitness, the arts, and music. What MI does, however, is to treat all abilities as equal. If a child is not good at writing or math, they may possess some other of these intelligences, and that’s just as good.

MI leads to teaching exercises where, for example, to help learn punctuation symbols, the students might form punctuation marks with their bodies. That’s using bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Or students might assign an animal sound to each symbol, thereby using naturalist intelligence. If the only way that some students might learn the punctuation symbols is to engage in exercises like these, I can see how that would be good. But with MI, all students must do these things, even if they already understand.

As an example, the author’s son, for studies in Greek mythology, was assigned a project where he was to “produce a cut-and-paste collage that consisted of pictures, newspaper clippings, or any other items they could cull from newspaper sources that contained references to ancient Greek culture and showed the relevance of that culture to today’s society.” This was the “capstone project in a high school class whose subject was English and which was an honors class no less.” Evidently exercises like these have replaced the written essay or term paper, even for motivated students.

Other examples: “Choose a chemical element and write two paragraphs telling why it is your favorite. Be creative.” “For homework in the science class, students created collages and drew pictures of scientists.” “… the Clayton High School English teacher who had students produce bright yellow Cliff Notes covers and the CHS history teacher who had students draw a picture of any structure in their neighborhood that had meaning for them” “… required her students to do a project expressing their feelings about prejudice, using any ‘communication’ medium they wanted. This was classical progressive education — note the emphasis on personal affective, emotive learning; the social, ideological agenda of combating prejudice; and the child-centered license to express oneself even if it is not really using language as such.”

At a time when American students are being outpaced in math and science by students in other countries, when many young people have difficulty composing a coherent sentence, when large numbers of college students must complete remedial work in writing and math before taking regular college courses, this is the present and future of American K-12 education.

I learned a lot from this book, although I did not read every page of it due to time constraints.

Does the theory of Multiple Intelligences influence Wichita public schools? It appears that it does. Quite a few schools mention it on their websites. Here is a portion of the Mission/Vision statement from Wichita’s McCollom Elementary School: “Staff will enhance students’ performance using research-based instructional strategies that include multiple intelligences, hands-on and real world experiences.”

Supplementary reading: Reframing the Mind.

A joke, the source of which I do not know:

A Logger Sells a Truckload of Lumber

1960: “A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price. What is his profit?”

1970 (traditional math): “A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price; in other words, $80. What is his profit?”

1970 (new math): “A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100, and each element is worth $1. Make one hundred dots representing the elements of the set M. The set C of the costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M. Represent the set C as a subset of M, and answer the following question: What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?”

1980: “A logger sells a truckload of wood for $100. His cost of production is $80, and his profit is $20. Your assignment: underline the number 20.”

1990: “By cutting down beautiful forest trees, a logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? (Topic for class participation: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?)”

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