Social Oxygen Update in April 2017

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Last Edited: April 20, 2017

Informal reviews by educators of my early drafts of Social Oxygen: Reflections on Education may be summarized as “boring!” One commented, “I’m not a salamander” referring to the lack of reference to cognition. A retired teacher said, “Tell me a story. My Daddy told me that any point can be told in a story.” A teacher said that other teachers won’t pay attention to it; write for faculty who prepare new teachers before they set their ways. Two retired sociology facuity members who have helped to prepare new teachers asked questions and offered suggestions that have been incorporated into these drafts. Responses from non-educators may be summarized as, “Yes. That’s obvious. Everybody knows that.”

I want to say that these are all busy, talented people with families and other responsibilities. Each can show accomplishments beyond what a scholar might classify as “average.” These people keep schools, farms, and other businesses open for the benefit of the rest of us and they “care”.

Getting responses was difficult. Most reviewers did not even submit a comment by phone, Tweet, or email. Nothing. No acknowledgment of receipt of the draft, excuse, or put-off for not responding. As Mark Hemingway said about another topic, “this is a hemlock cocktail” for an enlightened discussion.

But, to the point of the boring, Social Oxygen is intended to be an unadorned classic academic and scientific description of teaching-learning. It’s like reading a description of the Periodic Table of Elements. Social Oxygen describes the parts and their relationships that teachers use just as the Periodic Table of Elements describes the parts and their relationships chemists use. Scientists used social processes to describe both their operations and the findings of their studies. Social Oxygen describes these processes instead of the content of those studies, such as cognition, motivation, emotions, etc. I tried to say as much in these drafts.

I used as a model for unadorned writing, among others, Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and several medical texts used in higher education to prepare nurses and physicians. After all, I reasoned, scientific descriptions of teaching-learning are to education what human physiology and human anatomy are to medical practice.

This reasoning seems to have challenged the ubiquitous references by professionals and others to teaching-learning being related to cognition, etc.

Social Oxygen is intended to show an easier way to teach, to describe a more efficient and effective alternative to each educator relying on their own vulnerable daily guesses, inferences, and assumptions about teaching and learning during the lack of clarity of the so called information and electronic communication revolutions in and out of schools.

It is written with few adjectives and adverbs, limited explanations, a sprinkling of metaphors and similes, and no pictures in order not to detract from the challenge. That makes it a dense statement. Each word has a meaning chosen for its place in its sentence, just as Mrs. Spurr, my seventh grade English teacher and one of my mentors, Samuel A. Kirk, insisted.

It describes the craft, not the art, of teaching. This craft consists of observable, manageable, and measurable social processes that lead to all students learning all lessons as do the most accomplished people in society. This possibility sets an empirical academic performance standard for educators. It also opens ethical questions about teachers spending student time and other nonrenewable resources when learning does not occur. It sets aside conventional inferences about unseen, assumed independent, and not directly measurable mental and emotional personal states.

At the same time, reading Social Oxygen requires attention as does learning a teacher’s lesson requires attention by learners in schools. I assume that readers have the obligation to read, not skim, cherry-pick words, or in other ways miss how they can each teach lessons that learners will likely learn. This obligation includes shifting from casual to formal vocabulary and logic of teaching-learning.

One teacher, a local education union leader, told me that his contract did not require him to teach so that all students in his classes learn his lessons. He was only obligated to teach. This union leader’s assertion raises the question, “What is teaching when learning does not occur?”

Social Oxygen describes teaching as what teachers and learners (i.e., people as they learn something) do as people learn lessons. It summarizes the body of peer reviewed descriptions of what teachers and students do when students learn lessons in and out of schools. These summaries refer to the constantly expanding body of publications by experimental behavioral and social scientists available in research journals and reports for over a century. Their studies range from the largest experiments in classrooms with over a million students and a thousand teachers to laboratory and single subject case studies.

Both teachers and learners use predictable social processes during lessons in research studies and in regular classroom practices. These processes occur in clusters referred to as codes, principles, and other vocabulary that symbolize these social processes and their relationships to each other.

Why then do educators consider Social Oxygen boring? What is the problem they have not told me? Your suggestions are welcome. In the mean time, I’ll continue drafting Social Oxygen for more reviews and for publication.

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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in [I]The Encyclopedia of Education [/I](1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for [I]TuxReports[/I].com.