We read two articles about experiments this week. One awesome, one, not so hot. (the experiments I mean, not the articles.)
Thanks to Lizzie, we were reminded of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Put simply, they threw some unassuming men into a prison setting and watched them play cops and robbers. It turned out bad. Men took on the personas of both inmates and guards in a really negative way. Marginally related, I heard a podcast on NPR talking about solitary confinement and the psychological changes that a person goes through when separated from other people for so long. The man interviewed had been in solitary for 26(!) years and never knew exactly why. Now, he can’t stand to be in rooms with more than 10 people.
Both stories make me think about what happens to a person when they are incarcerated. To what extent do they act like “themselves” once they are labeled with the term “inmate”? And to what extent so they lose the selves that they once were?
Alina’s article was also about transformation, but this one was both positive and effective. This talked about an experiment in which struggling students were taught literacy through a community service project, which they designed. The kids’ skills grew dramatically, and all of their practice was relevant to service that they determined was important.
Duh. Of course kids learn more when you stop teaching them. Of course they are more apt to practice reading when they think it’s necessary. Of course the application of literacy is the key to becoming literate.
I say all of this not because I actually practiced this in my own classroom when I had one. In fact, the class was almost entirely direct instruction which, for better or worse, got some ok results some times. That’s very different from getting good results eventually. There’s definitely a time difference between the approaches, but considering that these children will eventually be leaders, the time is probably worth it.
Also, this thought of “Duh, service learning” comes at a time when service learning is under attack by conservatives, calling it “pushing the liberal agenda.” I call it “pushing kids to be good people.”
If only everyone would read this kind of research…and trust it.