Keep Catching Apes And Silly Elephants: Don’t Forget Those Silly Elephants

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My husband is a professor at a seminary, teaching master’s degree students.  He holds a PhD in Religion from Temple University.  We were married the entire time he was getting his PhD, and we have spoken a lot about education since both of us are heavily involved in that field, though at very different levels.

I had an epiphany the other day that I’d like to share.  I realized that it’s not my fault.  I didn’t know any better.

In high school and college, given a research paper in nursing, history, music, or almost anything else, I could write a paper that would get an A.  However, there were a few professors whom I just couldn’t please.  These tended to be in literature  classes.  Looking back on it, and being married to a professor just like these frustrating people, I can totally see what I was doing wrong.  And little did I know that I was probably frustrating them as much as they were frustrating me.

You see, I thought a research paper was to exhibit what I had learned by doing research.  Silly me.  Well, they were to some extent, but now I know that to get that A, I needed to start making connections, drawing conclusions, and refuting ideas that I disagreed with.  And there should have been things I disagreed with.  I was supposed to not just answer questions, but to question answers.

This brings me to the title of my post: Keep Catching Apes And Silly Elephants.  No, that is not advice for your next African safari.  It is a mnemonic device to help remember this list of learning objectives: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation.  This is called Bloom’s Taxonomy, and I was taught this catchy little sentence in about the 3rd grade, when I was supposed to understand it, but in reality had no clue what it meant.  I am still by no means an expert, but I think I know enough to explain the basics.  (Since the time when I was in the third grade, they have changed the names of some of the categories, and I apologize for the outdated information, but even though the elephants and apes don’t fit the sentence any more, they will forever be in my mind as elephants and apes.)

Most of my schooling was focused on the left side of this sentence.  I was taught facts.  I was taught processes.  I was even taught catchy little sentences to help me remember a list of learning objectives.  But I wasn’t really taught to think.  Oh they tried.  Through the same program that taught me about apes and elephants, a few of us had a “Gifted And Talented” class for an hour once a week in which we did exercises in logic, creative thinking, critical thinking, with a little art and writing thrown in.  (I guess the majority of kids, who didn’t qualify for this program, were just up a creek.)  But since it was only an hour a week, taken instead of one of our other classes (so the other teacher’s weren’t very thrilled about this idea of us skipping their classes), focused on the right side of the sentence with the other 31.5 hours on the left.  No wonder my writing was shallow.

These teachers in the G/T program were trying their best to pull the rest of the educational system along with them so that all could be more enlightened, but they were just scooping water from the ocean with a leaky cup; the ideas were not given the resources or attention to really take effect.  To be fair, I’m still not sure how a teacher is supposed to get 25 or 30 students per class, with 5 classes a day, writing with not only correct grammar, sentence structure, and paragraph construction, but also get them to reach the next level and think critically instead of just spouting facts.

So when I got to college and had trouble even getting B’s in literature classes no matter whether I spent 3 hours or 3 weeks on a paper (so of course I eventually figured out I should lean toward the 3 hours), it was very frustrating.  But it wasn’t my fault.  I hadn’t been taught to write in a way that exhibited THINKING.  I had been taught to memorize, do research, write with proper grammar, and many other skills, but I must have missed the classes in how to THINK, draw my OWN conclusions and (gasp) ARGUE for them, and then write about THAT.  Now that would have gotten me an A.

So as I teach my children, I am teaching them facts.  They should be able to find England on a map.  They should know the steps of the scientific method.  They should know how to construct a proper sentence.  There are some things that we just need to know to be good citizens of the world.  However, I am just as concerned that they learn how to ask questions, how to come up with their own ideas, and how to argue for their validity.  They should know not only how to answer questions, but also be able to question answers.

So it wasn’t my fault.  Nobody taught me differently.  If somebody had just called me aside for 10 minutes and told me to take the next step, go to the next level, that 4.0 would have been mine.