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Betty was impatient. It was 2:15 p.m., the end of a long day of classes before another long day, and she didn't have time for another committee meeting, especially one that asked her to rethink school. "More pie-in-the-sky," she whispered to a colleague. She had rethought school countless times before, imagining all sorts of improvements based on some new revolutionary theory, and had watched the ideas vanish in a fog of excuses—lack of funding, not enough teachers, no follow-through, and resistance from parents or the college office. Even when some new approach was actually implemented, it seemed to last only long enough to collide with "new findings" a few years later, and this rhythm had become depressingly regular over the past two decades of brain research. "Today's new theory about some aspect of brain function is tomorrow's baloney."
The frustration and cynicism that characterize the conversations of many veteran teachers reflect years of dashed hopes that some (top)
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new theory will transform their students into eager learners. In a system built on answers, teachers want answers, too. So, it's easy to understand how some research can be popularized, morph into a panacea, and raise expectations that can't be met. Each new panacea fails. After a while, you feel as though you are in a pinball machine with ideas whizzing about like steel balls—new math, open classrooms, phonics, whole language, interdisciplinary studies, multiple intelligences, and lateral thinking. Lights flashing, bells ringing, and scores clunking up and down, until finally, you just come to dread the rattle of another idea hitting the chute. Yet this disappointment in research's failure to provide "The Answer," a method of teaching that will work for all, reveals the different perspectives from which teachers and researchers approach learning. Teachers want answers to questions about how to teach. Researchers want answers to questions about how to learn. One aim of this course is to explore how these two groups might help each other tackle these questions.