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[Channel-talkcivics] Behaviorist v. Constructivist

From: Bill Lee <lblee@athenet.net>
Date: Tue Jul 04 2006 - 03:32:30 EDT
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My name is Bill. I'm a high school social studies teacher in Kaukauna,
WI. I am late to the course but would like to respond to Megan's
earlier email. I enjoyed the article and Megan's question. I believe
factual truth at its most basic level can exist although we can find
ourselves in trouble as we attempt to expand to conceptual truth. Of
course our factual data rests on a conceptual foundation. For example,
viewing the weather channel, I can find out the time the sun rose and
set today. Yet we can explore the basis for our very determination of
the concept of time, and realize that it is an artificial construct to
provide us a logical pattern of understanding. Further we can locate
statistical data collected by some economic measure. Within the
confines of the measurement system, we can determine the data is
accurate. But is the conceptual basis for the measurement biased,
subjective or based on supposition? The former indicates why I
probably did not pursue philosophy as a major.

For me the question raised by the article is whether too many of us put
the content cart before the goal-oriented horse. I am beginning my
17th year as a teacher, and my department still struggles with the true
goals of our discipline. I believe the article is correct in its
thrust that student learning is more developed and deeper using the
constructivist approach. I believe the true debate is not whether
active learners benefit more than when they function as passive vassals
of knowledge. Instead, I think we struggle to truly come to grips with
what we want our kids to learn from social studies. What knowledge,
skills, and values are we hoping to impart so that they can be
productive participants in a democratic society? I can use a
behaviorist or constructivist approach to teach students how a bill
becomes a law. Yet retaining this serves our students in what way? Do
we expect that we can test them five years into the future with hopes
that they have retained the knowledge, or do we want them to possess
something more? Does a pure constructivist approach suggest that we
set no goals relative to traditional knowledge-based social studies
education? Do we simply hope to impart critical thinking skills, and
democratic values?

I know that if a bunch of social studies teachers made a list of all
the things they would like kids to learn and comprehend, almost no one
would oppose it. But given the reality of the time we have with our
students, the challenge comes when we begin prioritizing. I really
enjoyed the lesson on the New Jersey mayoral campaign, and would love
to do something similar with my students. Yet I believe many of our
colleagues would respond that the lesson is fine but one can't do too
much of that because there won't be enough time to teach the core
civics concepts such as how a bill becomes a law. Thus, before we can
determine the best approach to help students learn, we probably need to
find out whether we are on the same page. Imagine this debate within
the context of teaching a traditional textbook-driven history course.

I have completed my rambling and posed more than enough questions. I
hope everyone enjoys the 4th!!


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Received on Wed Jul 5 09:36:14 2006

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