Detecting Baloney about “Schools of the Future”

As part of a brief project before our study of the Scientific Revolution, I recently had my sophomore high school students read Carl Sagan’s “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World. The aim of this mini-unit was to provide students with some tools with which to sharpen their critical thinking skills, and to this end Sagan provides an overview of how to evaluate the credibility of scientific research specifically, and arguments in general. I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet read it; it is a lively, at times personal, and very effective guide to healthy skepticism. Sagan concludes the chapter with definitions and examples of seventeen major logical and rhetorical fallacies.

Demon-Haunted_WorldAfter a discussion of Sagan’s piece and a bit of practice recognizing and creating examples of fallacies, I wanted the students to apply their critical tools to an actual argument. A bit on the fly, because I knew it was riddled with easily-recognizable fallacies and other weaknesses, and because I thought their reactions to it might be interesting, I gave each student a copy of pages five through nine of A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future, by the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) Commission on Accreditation.  The students were to read the brief section for homework and come to class armed with four substantive critiques of the argument’s structure and credibility. I made it clear that whether they agreed or disagreed with the general point of the essay was irrelevant to this assignment, which was concerned only with analyzing the argument’s effectiveness. Continue reading “Detecting Baloney about “Schools of the Future””

Fending off the Barbarians of Educational Technology

As I took my seat in a high-school auditorium recently, I noted with surprise and a bit of subversive pleasure that our speaker, a prominent author and professor of creative writing, had requested only a podium and an ancient, Little House on the Prairie-looking chalkboard as his stage setup. For the next forty minutes, this awkwardly charming middle-aged man held his audience’s rapt attention as he spoke about truth, language, and the writing process. In my classes later that day and throughout the days following, students enthused, mostly unprompted, about how much they enjoyed the author’s talk, how his way of thinking resonated with them, and how intriguing they found his notion of the relationship between the truth and the stories we tell. It was a lovely period of collective intellectual excitement.


Continue reading “Fending off the Barbarians of Educational Technology”

Please Don’t Call Me “Passionate”

“Good teaching is as much about passion as it is about reason. … It’s about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.” Richard LeBlanc, York University


If you work anywhere near a school, you’re probably accustomed hearing people praised for, or urged to “rekindle” their passion for education. You may also cringe every time an administrator or consultant or parent mentions the word “passion,” because you understand it to be a platitude in the service of a larger pattern of condescension toward teachers. Practitioners of few other professions are so regularly praised for their emotional enthusiasm toward their jobs. Continue reading “Please Don’t Call Me “Passionate””