Monday, November 24, 2008

Crayon Crusaders

In the push for academic rigor and higher student achievement superintendents make various proclamations...then, in large districts, the Super's minions carry the word to the troops.

This can lead to problems. For several years now, KSN&C has heard numerous "horror stories" of district administrators swarming through schools in what are known as "walk-throughts" - a quick assessment of conditions in a school, without the benefit of longevity, and sometimes, common sense.

Teachers tell stories of being scolded in front of students and other faculty over issues large and small - real and imagined - important and unimportant. Some teachers pejoratively refer to the district team as a "hit squad."

Today, H-L provides a pristine example of how communications can get twisted in a hurried environment that values compliance over critical thinking.

"What I heard was that Stu Silberman and the director of high schools were doing a walk-through at Bryan Station and saw a social sciences class where students were using crayons and markers to make a poster representing something they were learning about...They (Silberman's group) thought the learning level was too low and they wanted to get rid of it, because they thought it would take away from us achieving higher test scores."

- William Waun, Bryan Station High School Senior

This from H-L, Photo by Pablo Acala:

Coloring controversy breaks out at Bryan Station High

A controversy over crayons broke out at some Fayette County high schools last week, but Superintendent Stu Silberman says it's really a misunderstanding.

It began midweek at Bryan Station High School, where a student said dozens of his classmates began wearing homemade necklaces made from crayons tied on a length of cord or ribbon. Students said they donned the neckwear to show their displeasure over an alleged directive from Silberman to "ban" crayons from high school classrooms.

Although Bryan Station officials say fewer than 10 students were wearing the crayon necklaces, some students at Henry Clay High School said they joined in by Friday and were wearing crayons around their necks too.

Silberman said he did tell Bryan Station administrators during a meeting about two weeks ago that he did not want students to be coloring in classrooms.

Silberman said it all apparently started after he discussed academic achievement with the school's leadership team and department heads.

"This really wasn't about crayons, it was about rigor," he said in an interview.

Silberman said he told the group that classroom time should be used as productively as possible, which should not include students spending time coloring graphs, posters or similar types of assignments...
Referring to Harvard educator Howard Gardner's work on Multiple Intelligences, Waun told H-L that any move to eliminate coloring could hurt students who are "visual learners."

And of course, there's now a FaceBook Group which at the time of this writing had garnered 434 members....many of whom, like Justin, are my former students from Cassidy.
Waun writes onFaceBook,
As to clarify what exactly this ban consists of, it is rather difficult considering that Stu often changes his mind and takes things back. As of now it is a ban solely on crayons, saying that crayons are the "low-level" learning, whereas markers and colored pencils are not. This seems to be a scapegoat for Bryan Station's low test scores, as the other High Schools in Fayette county have not yet recieved this ban. If it was truly "low-level" shouldn't all the High Schools recieve the same ban?
Scott Clark (Lexington, KY) wrote,

You *must* be kidding. Drawing is integral to my thought process and I constantly mind-map my ideas visually using paper, colored markers and similar items. Yes, this despite the fact that I live online and have access to 100s of drawing tools on my PC. Abstract concepts can be brought to life for some students via a quick sketch, and coloring is a meditative activity that relieves stress and gets people ready for mental challenge.

Sarah Whitaker wrote,
as an educational psychologist i am astounded to see this. For what it's worth, I'll be sharing this facebook page and the details of the story with my department at the University of Georgia as an example of a very sad misuse of educational research. good luck to you all, and let me know if there's anything I can do to help!
And Ellen Neuville wrote,
I will stand in defense of "using crayons to do your math homework" even if others won't. As a kinesthetic learner I learn best when I have hands on interaction with the content, so for me seeing a graph is not nearly as effective as actually drawing a graph myself. I'm not a high school student, I don't even have kids who are in Fayette County public schools anymore, but I still want to support making valuable changes to the curriculum. Stu Silberman would be better served looking into the prevalence of teachers showing commercial movies to fill class time which have absolutely nothing to do with the course work. My step-daughter was one of the "lucky" students who were treated to a viewing of The Forty Year Old Virgin in a Spanish class a few years ago (Tates Creek H.S.) and I think that's a much more serious detriment to the process of learning than coloring is. But apparently our school board isn't willing/able to take on the real issues facing our students.


Chandler said...

This is crazy, I am in college and I still love to use crayons. When I am stuck in the middle of a paper and don’t know what to write next, I always color or draw to relax and get back on track. I don’t think that crayons have anything to do with low-test scores. And I for sure do not think that they are “low-level” learning, crayons and other forms of art media are ways to express yourself. Not every one can crank out papers, and do good on them, for people like myself, crayons, markers and paint are the only way to get thoughts across. If they are going to ban crayons what is next? Colored pencils, markers, paint, all forms of art media in the classroom? That would be ridiculous, students need the chance to express thoughts in other forms that writing.

Annette said...

I am astonished that this would even be considered an issue in the classroom. The superintendent is now going so far as to “ban” crayons in the classroom? They are taking music programs out of schools, saying that Arts and Humanities classes are not important, and now saying that the use of colors in the classroom is “dangerous”? I am on my way to becoming a music educator and the fact that they are saying the arts aren’t as important as Science, Math and English is ridiculous. I find myself reading texts, facebook statuses, and even emails and finding so many grammatical errors in them. What are teachers teaching our students now days? I believe the Superintendent should be focusing more on how the students are learning, rather than what color they are using to make a poster. As Claude Monet said, “Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” Where would we be today without crayons? This is absolutely ridiculous to read. I went to Bryan Station and am now attending college and I am a good student. I'm in the music program, make good grades, and I still use crayons every now and then. I’m sure if it was any other school, nobody would say anything, but it is Bryan Station…They always have something to say about it. I got just as much of a good education there, as friends of mine did at LCA, Dunbar and SCAPA.