September 2016

This. A Thousand Times, This.


Found on the Shit Academics Say Facebook page.

Time to Chop Chomsky

This article lays out the case against Chomsky’s universal grammar theories. Essentially, despite decades of refining the theory, it has never been able to accommodate all languages. More damningly, it doesn’t correspond to research about how children learn their native language.

The alternatives that are coming up, it seems, view language a bit like the way neuro-scientists  are starting to think about consciousness, as an emergent property of the brain. The authors are careful to denote that there is no comprehensive, widely-accepted usage theory to replace universal grammar. But, as more and more corpora become available and more brain science is done, it is very likely that a better model will emerge.


I’m Awake!

Students (and teachers) after lunch be like…




Administratium, the Heaviest Element

I once had a professor who called bureaucracy, in our university or in business or in the public sphere, administratium, the heaviest element. It made everything slower, harder to wade through, and generally more frustrating by the fact of its very existence. While he talked about this fictive element jokingly, it was clear he felt stifled by the burdens of administration.

The teacher profiled in this NPR article, Rick Young, shared my old prof’s disdain for administratiumatom-clip-art-cliparts-co-kkxcjj-clipart

“Everything’s very time-consuming. In in my mind, it’s not productive time,” he says. “It’s not helping my students. It limits the freedom of teachers to really freely teach and of principals to freely lead and evaluate.”

Young, an effective and beloved instructor in an alternative high school, has given up teaching after 25 years, thanks entirely to the weight of imposed standards and formats and requirements from district, state, and federal authorities.

Much of the burden he and educators across the country face comes from our national addiction to data. Everything related to education must be turned into a metric that can displayed on a PowerPoint slide. If something can’t be datafied, then it is all-too-often deemed unessential and is tossed out of the school along with PE and Art and recess. Hence, our love of standardized tests and our push for teacher evaluations (which have been shown to be poor measures of ability). Standardized tests often just show whether a student is good at taking standardized tests, and can demonstrate wildly incorrect results based on a number of confounding factors (race, gender, sleep, diet, weather, etc), AND aren’t always good indicators of future academic or career success.

Instead of overburdening our educators with mandates, focusing on better training and support for teachers, paying them better and attracting more enthusiastic and capable people to the field, and, critically, not losing them in the first year or two, would go a long way to improving education in America. Train good people, give them the respect (salary) and support they deserve, and step out of their way.

If I’m Talking…


H/T to the Create-Abilities Facebook page.

Well, most of you.


H/T to the Grammarly Facebook page.

What New Teachers Should Know

This article from Edutopia by Elena Aguilar has been making the rounds lately, for good reason. She captures the confusion and strains of the first year of teaching well. I’m not sure all of her points resonate so much with me, as my teaching context has been quite different than hers, but certainly I can relate to what she says. For one, I adamantly wish I’d had some sort of coach or mentor during my first year (point #5 in the post), or any year after that. Having to wing it, day after day, wears you down, even in the relatively low-stakes environment I worked in my first few years.

One thing I might add to her list, a trivial point, is to save your materials and make them reusable as much as possible. After the third or fifth or ninth time you’re cutting out the same Concentration tiles, you’ll want to turn those scissors on yourself.


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