Category Archives: Anthropology of education

What Should Teachers Teach?

Source here.

Educators are wringing their hands these days about how much students have “fallen behind” the past year.  News story after news story laments a year of “lost learning.” 

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Those premature dirges assume a very narrow definition of “learning.”

Students everywhere have learned a great deal the past year. But what they’ve learned is far from the classic facts that they get tested on in English and algebra classes.

If math and reading scores are down, knowledge about the world is up.  Way up.

This past year, K-12 students have learned about viruses and epidemiology, racism and social justice, shortages and supply chains, loneliness and community.  From math and science to history and psychology, the lessons are profound, and worth exploring in great depth.  Instead of starting the school year regretting missed lessons that emphasize failure, how about starting on a note of opportunity?

This may be the biggest teachable moment in any contemporary schoolteacher’s career.  Teachers: grab it! What might new syllabi look like?

Source here.

Crafting active-learning exercises across 45 years of teaching college students has inspired me to rethink current pedagogical challenges.  Let’s imagine some Covid-inspired curricula.   

History: In what ways did, and didn’t, the Covid pandemic replicate the 1918-20 influenza pandemic?  The Black Plague?  What lessons do past pandemics hold for the future? How should students evaluate divergent data, rival interpretations, and competing claims?

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Poster published in the  Illustrated Current News, 1918. Source here.

Math: Teach students to read charts tracking Covid infections and vaccinations.  Compare the utility of different ways to visualize quantitative data. Do tables or bar graphs best illustrate certain kinds of data?

COVID Net Hospitalizations 12-14-2020
Source here.

Do pie charts better illustrate other kinds of data? Are all published tables equally accurate? How should students evaluate divergent data, rival interpretations, and competing claims?

Pie chart comparing Covid-19 infection rates globally, as of March 5, 2020. Source here.

Biology: How do viruses infect people?  What are all those spikes on the Coronavirus, anyway, and why is it called a “coronavirus”? How do vaccines work? How should students evaluate divergent data, rival interpretations, and competing claims?

8 Questions Employers Should Ask About Coronavirus
Source here (via Centers for Disease Control).

Social studies: How does “critical race theory” explain George Floyd’s murder?  How does democracy work?  Why have 78 percent of Covid vaccine shots been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries, while only 0.5 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries? How should students evaluate divergent data, rival interpretations, and competing claims?

One of countless protests around the world against racist police violence, sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Source here (via AFP).

Literature/English: Whose poems speak to the loneliness of quarantine? (Emily Dickinson? Claude McKay? Li Bai?)

Geography: Map supply chains for product shortages students experienced.  Brainstorm new technologies to halt climate change. How should students evaluate divergent data, rival interpretations, and competing claims?

These Maps Show Which Countries Could Survive Climate Change
Global map comparing risk levels to human life from climate change, due to a combination of geological, political, and economic factors. Source here.

Art: How can artists powerfully express their own engagements with the past year and speak movingly to others? For inspiration, check out the Plywood Protection Project.  Have students scavenge materials and recycle them into artworks to promote social justice.

Shop owners boarding up windows with plywood against Black Lives Matters protests in lower Manhattan. Source here.
 Tanda Francis,  RockIt Black  (Queensbridge Park, Queens)
Sculpture (RockIt Black) by Tanda Francis,
made from scavenged plywood,
on exhibit at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Source here.

Beneath all the specific subject matter ripe for discussion, notice the refrain?

How should students evaluate divergent data, rival interpretations, and competing claims?

That is the critical lesson that every teacher, at every grade level, ought to be teaching all year, in every class. Given the increasingly unhinged and medically dangerous calls online to inhale hydrogen peroxide, ingest horse-sized doses of deworming medicine, and gargle with Betadine as futile and potentially fatal prevention tactics against Covid-19, our very lives are at stake.