Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Writing on Education and English Education: Who is it for and who writes it?

In the sphere of Education, and more specifically English Education, there are a couple of different people that do different things regarding this field.  We of course have our English teachers, ranging from grades six through twelve that have the most impact on the students they teach.  We have principals and members of the school board, whose job it is to evaluate these teachers and develop and assess the curriculum that their students are being taught.  Then we have individuals who assess and critique English Education and the education system as a whole, publishing articles of what we’re doing wrong, and looking at data and test scores and making assumptions off that.  Of course we assume that the first two types of people play a role in the education system, they are the ones who are doing the interacting, the planning, and the evaluating.  They are the ones who have experience.  This third group of people however, while some may have field experience of many years, others who write and critique the education system and call for reform do so under what credentials?  In this critique I am going to explore the writing of the educational system and give examples of some writing that most teachers wouldn’t be able to understand.  In that regard the main question I have is: Who is that writing for?  Are not teachers the backbone of the educational system?  They are the ones who come in contact with those students, they are the ones who we deem responsible for teaching them the content that this third group is responsible for creating.  So shouldn’t those writings be for the teacher to understand?  Too much of the writing about the field of education is being written by people who do not have any experience in the field and for profit.  The goal of education is for teachers to educate students, not for these “elitist writers” to make all the decisions about the people who actually do all the work in the field.
            As far as people who write articles or publications about the field of education, some are very qualified to do so.  Peg Graham, the focus of my first example, taught high school English for seventeen years so the topic of whether or not this person is qualified or has experience in the field is not an issue.  However, the way she writes this article raises the question again of; who is this writing meant to be read by?  This is an article regarding teachers and their collaborative relationship with student teachers.  Just the abstract reads:
            This paper identifies two of the most divisive patterns of tension within the mentor teacher-student teacher relationship—philosophical differences and tolerance for uncertainty—within an experimental high school English teacher education program based on collaborative inquiry and teacher research. Five differences in principles and processes in the experimental program emerged which support more effective ways of dealing with mentor teacher-student teacher tensions: (1) mentor teacher ownership of the program, (2) year-long student teacher experiences, (3) same university teacher educators across the year, (4) content area research, and (5) respect for school context. Using a case study approach, the author discusses how viewing these tensions as sites of inquiry have helped to shape the teacher education program and exploited tensions as productive learning opportunities rather than merely failures or insults.
As far as readability statistics go, this comes in with a grade level of 22.6!  And teachers are supposed to read this?  I got lost just reading the abstract, it was only after reading the beginning of the article that I understood what the topic of the article was.  In my opinion, I am not saying that teachers should not be interested in where education is going and reading articles published about their field, because it is important to be well read about the field you work in.  But teachers are normal people too and I am pretty sure not many people would want to read Graham’s article based on that grade level scale.  So the question turns from who this is written for to why it is written that certain way.  For example, in the abstract she mentions “effective ways of dealing with mentor teacher-student teacher tensions” while she could plainly say “good ways to deal with student teacher issues”.  Why does she choose the official style?  Perhaps to sound elite, she wants people to know she is well educated and has many years of experience in the field so people should listen to her.  That may not be the case but it is hard to figure out a reason why she would write this certain way, a way most people cannot understand or just don’t want to understand.  On the other hand, people who write articles or publications regarding education, what’s wrong with it, or the reform of it and have no experience in the field itself; I find it troubling to take what they have to say seriously.  For example, take the current issue regarding standards in education, The Common Core in Wisconsin.  After looking into the writing of these standards one has to ask; who writes them?  Articles will say the government, or congress.  So if lawmakers are writing standards for education, how come they do not go into the field and teach so to get a hands on approach and figure out that way what students need to learn better?  Because they base this off of data from state and national tests that do not take into account important factors such as where that student is from and the environment or home life they come from.  Here is a Wisconsin Common Core State Standard for English Language Arts at the sixth grade level:
            Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.
According to the readability statistics this comes in at a grade level of 17.  And sixth graders are supposed to do this and understand this concept.  In my field experience classroom, these standards are hung up around the room for the seventh grade students to read and assess themselves.  Ninety percent of the seventh graders at my class don’t know what the words “acknowledge” and “distinguish” mean!  Again I will reiterate the question of who this writing is supposed to be for.  The national reading average is at a grade level of seven, yet we write education standards about reading at a level of 17.  This is just plain irony and even comical in fact because there literally is no point of writing in the official style for these standards regarding students.
            As I keep asking the question in this critique; ‘who are these written for?’ I need to understand that these policy makers may be writing for an audience that is used to seeing the official style.  As far as the State Standards go, if the people who write them are indeed working within legislation then they might feel as if they have to right in the official style because it is a government document.  Along with writing a government document there usually a feeling of professionalism that goes along with it.  Using the official style demonstrates professionalism to some.  Me personally, I think that the official style presents the fact that you are educated and are trying to show it off.  I think that people who constantly write or speak in the official style have a false sense of elitism and they want to communicate this way because some cannot understand it, thus making them feel superior.  Another reason why writing in the official style may be thought of to be beneficial towards education is that it is very descriptive.  As far as the state standards go, once you have deciphered what they mean they are pretty clear cut.  The only problem with this is that you have to take the time to decipher what they mean.  Writing in plain style versus the official style cuts time significantly when you are reading and comprehending text.  I think that writing state standards in a format where there is a sentence explaining the standard, then bullet points that better describe it is suitable.  For example in the following standard;
Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text.
This could be written in the plain format like this;
            Determine two or more themes of a text and analyze how they develop.  Include:
·         How the themes interact together/build off one another
·         Provide a summary of the text.
The readability goes from an 18.4 down to an 8.7!  This is a significant difference and may be a crucial timesaver for people reading the standard.

            In conclusion, I have the opinion and bias that the official style is unnecessary in the field of education, specifically English education.  I have provided some counter arguments that could be made to defend the official style in this sphere and have tried to understand them.  However, I am sticking to my opinion on this; the official style is not needed in education.  Documents that are written for this sphere need to be readable for all because that is the goal of education.  To educate students, not to confuse them or have them waste time in trying to understand them.  As I said in my introductory paragraph, the goal of education is to educate the students, the next generation and not to have elitist writers show off to make decisions about our field.

Cale Zuiker

No comments:

Post a Comment