“The overwhelming majority of teachers …are unable to name or describe a theory of learning that underlies what they do in the classroom.”
—Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards, p. 10
This quote challenges me to evaluate why I am doing what I am doing as I plan and teach. Am I making it up as I go along or can I describe how each of my lessons relates to theories of learning? Certainly teaching is both art and science, but according to Kohn, far too often we fall short in the theory realm. There are tested theories of learning that apply to what we do. Are we aware of them? Do we strive to make our teaching synchronize with them? When I think about Kohn’s quote I can’t help thinking of the famous clip from the Humphrey Bogart movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
You know the clip. It’s the one where the leader of a group of bandits is trying to trick Bogart by claiming to be a legitimate authority. But when Bogart questions him on it he quickly gives up the ruse and admits that has no authority at all:
“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges!”
Here’s that classic confrontation as I imagine it coming from one of Kohn’s “overwhelming majority”:
Overwhelming Majority: “We are the teachers, you know, the professional educators.”
Legitimate Questioner: “If you’re teachers, where are your theories of learning?”
Overwhelming Majority: “Theories? We ain’t got no theories. We don’t need no theories. I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ theories!”
As a profession, we’ve had low credibility because for too long we have operated without reference to shared, well thought out principles of learning. Asking us about the theories of learning that under-gird our practice is fair. It’s time to go legit. It’s time to have solid theories of learning backing up what we do in the classroom.
What’s in your lesson plan?
Here is the original clip from the movie: