Rice (1893) vs. Tough (2006)

Contrast Rice’s 1893 description of a classroom in New York City:

Another way in which time is saved is by compelling the children to stare fixedly at the source whence the wisdom flows. When the teacher is the source of wisdom, all the children in the room stare fixedly in the direction of the teacher; when a word on the blackboard is the source of wisdom, all eyes stare fixedly at a point on the blackboard.

Now, here is Paul Tough describing a KIPP classroom in New York City:

Students at both KIPP and Achievement First schools follow a system for classroom behavior invented byLevin and Feinberg called Slant, which instructs them to sit up, listen, ask questions, nod and track thespeaker with their eyes. When I visited KIPP Academy last month, I was standing with Levin at the front of a music class of about 60 students, listening to him talk, when he suddenly interrupted himself and pointed at
me. ”Do you notice what he’s doing right now?” he asked the class.

They all called out at once, ”Nodding!”

Levin’s contention is that Americans of a certain background learn these methods for taking in information nearly on and employ them instinctively. KIPP students, he says, need to be taught the methods explicitly. And so it is a little unnerving to stand at the front of a KIPP class; every eye is on you. When a student speaks, every head swivels to watch her. To anyone raised in the principles of progressive education, the uniformity
and discipline in KIPP classrooms can be off-putting. But the kids I spoke to said they use the Slant method not because they fear they will be punished otherwise but because it works: it helps them to learn. (They may also like the feeling of having their classmates’ undivided attention when they ask or answer a question.)

When Levin asked the music class to demonstrate the opposite of Slanting — ”Give us the normal school look,” he said — the students, in unison, all started goofing off, staring into space and slouching. Middle-class Americans know intuitively that ”good behavior” is mostly a game with established rules; the KIPP students seemed to be experiencing the pleasure of being let in on a joke.

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