Why I Blog

I’m pretty sure Dan Meyer wasn’t asking the likes of me, but as I read through the comments, I was reminded again that many teachers blog because they want a community.

I do not want a community, either virtual or meat space. In 20 years, I have had an actual casual acquaintance with just one neighbor, although I can’t remember his name. I may never have known it. He was a chain-smoking, beer guzzling truck driver, we both had teenage sons. A few years ago, the fire alarm at my last apartment complex went off in three buildings at 2:00 am, and so awful a sound was it that we all ran from our apartments fearing not fire but the very real possibility that we’d stab our eardrums with corkscrews in hopes of ending the torture. So we’re all downstairs milling about, dozens if not hundreds of Chinese, Indians, and the occasional Filipino, all of them complete strangers to me and each other, and everyone looking to me for answers. I thought at first they assumed the only white person in sight was custodial staff or maybe off-duty management (hey, I have an ego), but apparently they had designated me the person in charge of conversing with the fire fighters. When the big red trucks showed up, I represented with authority, telling the firemen (they were all men) that, while the community would not be ungrateful for any conflagrations found and extinguished, the Really Important Thing was to stop that horrible noise, which was this sound at this frequency. The firefighters obligingly made the dreadful noise go away, and I got all the credit—perhaps the Chinese thought money was involved, I don’t know. Anyway, the firefighters told me it was a false alarm, I thanked them, and started the trek back upstairs when a Indian gentleman approached me and asked for a status update. Good lord, I’d forgotten my leadership role. I turned, found a small mound of lawn to stand on, and they gathered round while I told them to go back to bed. They smiled, waved, and I never saw any of them again.

I’m not anti-social; in fact, I’m quite friendly. I can’t easily explain why I don’t seek out communities, but perhaps this OCEAN profile (that’s Big Five, right?) explains the paradox (I took the test for the first time last month when a commenter linked it in). Notice that I’m slightly above average on extraversion (in fact, it probably overstates my sociability) but abnormally low on agreeableness—that is, I’m quite comfortable with rudeness. In Myers-Briggs, I’m an INTP, but I’m very much a gregarious introvert.

All of this is to say that I occasionally run into trouble with math teacher bloggers. They’re mad because I disrespected Dan, or because I simply think they’re wrong or because I hold that cognitive ability plays a role in educational outcomes or….you know, I can’t really keep track of all the reasons.

Some of the problems arise because I’m blogging for an entirely different reason than most teachers are, particularly most math teachers. I’m not seeking bonds, looking for collaborative opportunities, looking to share, to network, to get validation. In fact, I’m not really a blogger at all. I’m a writer. I write to convince, to argue, to persuade–even, I hope, to entertain. But I’m not having a conversation.

In a much bigger galaxy, far far away, think about The View. The math teacher bloggers see themselves as Barbara, Joy, Whoopi, and so on (please don’t make me look up the names, the only time I watch the show is when my dad’s in town). Maybe Ellen. They want to exchange opinions and ideas in a safe place, with people they trust, the audience and the stars all part of a big, productive conversation in which everyone can express opinions in a restricted range in a polite voice. If so, they will be respected and heard, disagreement will be polite and constructive. To put it mildly, that’s not how I roll. In that galaxy, I’m akin to a Krauthammer, Brooks, McArdle, albeit several thousand rungs lower on the ladder. It’s kind of fun to imagine how these writers would response to Barbara Walters asking them, sternly, if they thought their columns were contributing to a productive conversation.

So every so often some teacher blogger tells me in frustration that I’m not being productive, that I’d get a better response if I were more constructive, engaged more, and I’m like dude, what are you talking about? I have so much bigger an audience than I ever dreamed of when I began two years ago. But while I’m happy to welcome them to my audience, they aren’t really who I’m writing for. And they can’t conceive of what I’m talking about, because they are writing for each other, to reaffirm their connections, their community, their sounding boards. (Keeerist, it sounds so very girly.)

I don’t want to make it sound like Them and Me. The vast majority of these folks don’t know I exist until I do something to offend. Many of them have far bigger teacher audiences than I, and are far better known. And while they don’t like me, I like many of them as teachers, read their blogs frequently and comment occasionally. But even in my comments, it’s clear I’m coming from a different planet.

Paul Bruno, the only other US teacher I know of who writes broadly about policy, doesn’t seem to experience this dichotomy between his writing and his place in the teacher “community” . But then, he doesn’t write much about teaching, and of course he has, er, a different Big Five score. Probably not as comfortable being rude.

Anyway. I thought I would write this post for the teacher audience, so the next time I’m lectured for being unproductive, I can just link this in.

I also blog for the reasons expressed here.

About educationrealist

30 responses to “Why I Blog

  • Tort

    As you know, I’ve been teaching for over three decades. Unlike many in the public school, I saw and produced excellence, but that was in Catholic schools. The problem I have is that I know what excellence looks like and I see why it isn’t happening in public schools. So, for me, I like reading here because you tell the truth. I am big on Truth.

    Regarding teacher communities, they mirror what is occurring in American society as a whole. In our zeal to collectivize, we’ve are killing individualism: everybody must teach like _______. Everybody must use the ___________ method or technique. Science rules the day: hey, don’t go into teaching unless you’ve had a thorough background in the Scientific Method. Of course, some of us know how diabolical all of this really is.

    Regarding the young fella you talk about herein, does he actually teach? Or, is he teaching teachers?

    • Roger Sweeny

      “Science rules the day” in education? Oh, my God, no. If science is what is described in the first chapter of most high school science books, then there is almost no science in education.

      Sure, you hear a lot of “research shows” but if you actually go to the research (and how many practicing teachers do?) you find that it is maybe one step above the research that shows some herbal extract will lower your blood pressure or cure your diabetes or give you the sex drive of a 25-year old.

      • Tort

        You are probably right, Roger, in your rejoinder. I probably needed to say “Ideology rules the day.” Thanks for setting me straight. Hope you aren’t freezing over there.

    • Inez Mond

      Technology can solve that problem – it’s absurd we’re still using lectures, a method designed in the middle ages because it was prohibitively expensive to buy multiple books. If I were a school principal, the first thing I’d do is run this experiment:

      Put half the students in conventional classes. Take the other half and give them laptops with exactly one program installed (to prevent gaming, web surfing, etc.). This program will test the student with problems that increase in difficulty, with the potential range stretching from 1st grade to college sophomore. When the student gets fewer than 80% correct answers, the program will switch from test mode to practice mode. When a student is introduced to a new type of problem, the first several examples will have answer boxes for every step of the solution, next to both audio and text explanations of what to do. When the student gets every step right three times, the next problem should have one answer box for the final solution. When they reach 80% accuracy, they move on to the next type of problem. The teacher will be free to walk around the class and tutor confused students on an individual level.

      This has several advantages:

      1. You can’t fix your mistakes if you don’t know what you did wrong. Instead of waiting days to get a corrected assignment, only to discover they did every problem wrong, students will immediately know which step they need to fix.
      2. Everyone works exactly at their own level (no more algebra II students who don’t understand prealgebra), but there are no fixed tracks. If you’re a late bloomer, you’re not locked in a path below your abilities.
      3. There’s no reason to sort students into classes based on ability, meaning troubled students won’t be concentrated in one class where they egg each other on. It will also be easier for the teacher to maintain discipline when they can swoop down on any student at any time.
      4. This software will hugely benefit the bottom 50% of the ability distribution, who really can’t learn abstract concepts but who can comfortably use algorithms with enough practice. This is especially true in writing. My brother, who’s autistic, benefited enormously from a handout that explained sentence-by-sentence how to write a five paragraph essay. At the same time, advanced students will be challenged for the first time since we cut gifted programs.

      In my perfect world, there’d be no such thing as a high school diploma, just a certificate with your final proficiency score from twelfth grade. If you want to get really radical, let students graduate as soon as they reach 12th grade proficiency in all subjects. Every year after until then turn 18, give them a voucher for the amount of money the school spends per student that can be redeemed at any public university or community college.

      • Tort

        Your ideas are good and while I have not thought through the details as you have, I believe computers will allow students to enter at their own level and most likely provide a more intriguing platform for students. I am not sure I would use them on an everyday basis. Kids like variety and a little novelty. There’s nothing better than taking them outside to find a way to measure the height of the flagpole using a drinking straw, a protractor, string a tape measure and calculator.

        The other things you mention are correct. We need to supervise the students, of course, because the some of them WILL damage the equipment. Also, they are perfect for differentiating instruction and could be programmed to provide both discovery/inquiry based learning with drill and algorithmic learning.

        Where I work, I buy supplies the kids use because the district doesn’t provide the math department teachers a budget beyond $90 per teacher. With that, we mostly buy ink for our printers. So, while we always hear about technology, we never see it. We need more computers for the students to do the Smarter Balanced Tests that juniors will take nation wide.

        I appreciate your suggestions and the detail you have provided; this is something I will discuss with my colleagues. Please reply with some software suggestions that fit the bill. P.S.: I previewed Adaptive Curriculum from a company in Arizona a few years ago and though it was pretty good, but since it’s been so long since I looked at it, I am not sure it fits the description you have provided.

        Thank you!

  • JayMan

    Any HBD’er is likely to be a curmudgeony person. You would have to be. HBD is a forbidden topic so it takes someone who is comfortable going against the establishment.

    And I suspect you are correct here.

  • Eric Fleming

    I respect that you fight a wave of people who cling to ideas rather than an inquiry based approach to the issues at hand. I care less about if my idea will “save math education” and more about trying to look for new ways to look at the issue to derive a solution. Yes while I commend these math teacher/bloggers out there looking for new ideas on the web actively trying to find a solutions, I am also disappointed when they turn their brains off and accept the work of “experts” without testing the ideas for themselves. These teachers jump on the group-think bandwagon because it supports their current schema of how math education should be.

    When I look at my math classes, I know the way I learned math will most like not be the best for them. This is neither a good or a bad thing, it is just the task at hand.

  • anonymousskimmer

    For what it’s worth, as a Jungian introverted thinker (MBTI INTP, Socionics INTj) who spent a decade (1998-2008) studying personality psychology and personality typing systems, you’ve always come off as a Jungian extraverted thinker (ENTJ – i.e. Heinlein) to me. At least online.

    I don’t know you IRL, so I definitely could be wrong, but I have consistently noticed what I think are significant tells.


    • educationrealist

      Oh, this isn’t in dispute. I am deeply P. Insanely so. I am a highly organized thinker who lives an external world in mild or extreme chaos. I’m also very much N, obviously. The I/E barrier is quite close to the line, but on certain tells I’m definitely I. Similarly, T/F preference is moderate, but I think I’ve trained myself out of hyper-T behavior over the years. I’ve learned a lot of coping mechanisms over the year, and much of what you see here is a persona. But this is me, very much so: http://www.intp.org/intprofile.html and this is pretty good, too: http://www.typelogic.com/intp.html

      • anonymousskimmer

        P/J generally doesn’t have much to do with how clean or messy a person is, or thinks they are.

        I don’t particularly agree with significant parts of the second description, and the first description could be misinterpreted (personal-referential adjectives implicitly make it very difficult to ensure mutual understanding between the writer and reader).

        But I won’t insist. There generally isn’t any point in doing so. The only types likely to change their ideas as to their own type based on an outsider’s opinion are IST/FPs (and they’ll begrudge it) or INFPs (and if they do, they’ll waffle all around to a bunch of different types).

        And who knows, I may change my mind, it does happen.

      • educationrealist

        “P/J generally doesn’t have much to do with how clean or messy a person is, or thinks they are.”

        I understand that. Like most INTPs, I did a huge amount of reading about MB and Jung. But of course, you’d know more about me than I do.

      • anonymousskimmer

        I already said I obviously don’t know about you. All I have is the style of what you write here, and the stated intent of why you write here.

        I’ve made original synthetic contributions to the realm of personality systems (posted to a non-peer reviewed board). So I do tend to think I know more about personality typing systems than most people who aren’t specialists. That is all. But I obviously know far less about anyone else than those people know about themselves. This can be said for everyone, and it’s true for me as well.

        To me, you seemed to be wrong. And I really think that typelogic description is bad (not just ambiguous, but truly bad – it’s a composite of sub-types of multiple types), and have for a long time. I just wanted to possibly enlighten (yourself or your readers), or at least get you thinking about the possibility.

        I am posting this to answer this misstatement: “But of course, you’d know more about me than I do.”

        I won’t post again on this topic.

      • educationrealist

        I’m perfectly open to the possibility that the Typelogic description is bad. I’m also not someone who thinks MB describes personalities, as opposed to preferences in certain behaviors. I had my day as an MB nut, but it’s 10-15 years in the past.

        But the idea that I’m a J is ludicrous. If there’s one thing this blog shows on MB, it reveals me as a P and no, it’s not because I’m messy.. So if you don’t see that, you might want to consider the possibility that you aren’t very good at deriving type in certain situations.

        For one thing, Js don’t normally insist they are Ps.

      • anonymousskimmer

        Drat, I meant IST/FJs, not Ps.

      • Roger Sweeny

        P, J, MB, INTP, IST/FJ, … Do you guys have a secret handshake and a decoder ring?

      • educationrealist

        Yeah, I’m kind of embarrassed. Most geeks get into MB at some point, because it helps them explain to themselves why they are so different. As I said, I went through that phase a while ago. It was very helpful.

        It’s a way of explaining preferences in learning and decision-making, among other things. Google Myers Briggs if you need info.

    • Sisyphean

      Hmm, ER has always felt like a rational (NT) to me, and likely an introvert primarily due to the (enjoyably) complex and sometimes convoluted thoughts I’ve read on these pages. I too tend to score just below extroversion most of the time, even though I’m relatively talkative in person and I’ve been known to perform in plays. One of my biggest problems with myers briggs has always been the binary nature of the typing structure. A 49% E is an introvert, but a 51% is an Extrovert, yet these two probably have a lot more in common than either of them do with a 1% or a 99%. Likewise a 51% N and a 99% N are very different. Seeing four general areas with blending between the values has always made more sense to me than 16 discreet types. But Hey, I am an INFP, so my interest is more in the flavors of personality than the details.


  • panjoomby

    the myers briggs was pretty close to reality (empirical reality being of course closer to OCEAN – the big 5 factors) for an armchair test made up off the cuff! e.g., the MBTI is much closer to reality than much of what Freud made up! but still, most of real psych research (if there is such a thing) poo-poos the MBTI & goes with the OCEAN factors… of course, nothing with some validity ever dies (even without validity rarely does something ever die in ed or psych:)

    • anonymousskimmer

      There is a real question whether factor analysis – which is what OCEAN and MBTI both use – is the best, most empirical way to measure personality/temperament, and especially personality types. I personally think cluster analysis is a better bet (it seems less pre-hoc), and thus prefer the enneagram + instinctual variants typologies. They seem to me to be more accurately representations of whatever it is that forms the basis of human personality.

      It is interesting, though, how much the Big-5 factors seem to correlate with the descriptions of the 5 elements in Chinese 5 element theory. I don’t know whether this is me reading too much into it, coincidence, or whether it points to something potentially very interesting.

      The MBTI wasn’t completely made up off the cuff, it used a lot of Jung’s synthesis from the literature and his psychoanalytical data.

      “(even without validity rarely does something ever die in ed or psych:)”

      Oh yeah! You’ve got that right.

      (I don’t consider this to be “posting on this topic”, since what I’ve written here is unrelated to typings of particular people.)

  • meh

    Educationrealist, this piece over at The American Conservative should be right up your alley:

  • Andrew

    I am a high school math teacher (17 year veteran), and I agree with pretty much everything of yours I’ve read…

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