Case Study Number 1: A System Based on Biases

Becky was always really good at doing school. Two skills were especially helpful.

  • Memorization was almost effortless. If she could hear and see something, it was basically memorized.
  • Visual processing and abstract thinking was super fun for her. Symbols on a page were like pieces of a puzzle that could be moved around in limited ways. Figuring out those rules and learning to work within them was a lot like life was. Figure out what’s expected and do it.

Everything outside of school was gritty and hard and real and tough. But in school, she got to live in her head, where everything was clean and fluffy and imaginary and easy.

She made it look like her teachers were doing a really good job. She reinforced their whole belief system of how to learn:

  1. Show up
  2. Pay attention
  3. Do your homework

Nothing could be clearer. Wasn’t it obvious to everyone? Why didn’t everyone just do those three things?

Becky did so well and was made to feel so special that she became a teacher herself. And because she cared about her students’ success, she made sure she shared those 3 secrets to learning. Over the years, she sometimes got an uncomfortable feeling about her teaching, but she couldn’t really put her finger on what it was. And then one day, a thought occurred to her. For years, society had been telling young people that the only path to success was a college education. And boy! Had enrollments grown over the years! To encourage and accommodate all of that growth, the college had switched to block scheduling, had put in a one-way road, and had started offering online classes. The problem was, those new students were being directed to college even though they hadn’t necessarily thrived in school like she had. There was talk of educating “The top 100%.” She felt discouraged because her success rates were down around 60%. Then program review sheets came out and she saw that department-wide the numbers were even worse! She thought to herself, “I cannot live and work in a system that considers this acceptable.” She considered walking away. She thought about it a lot. She felt very alone. Then she heard that there was a nationwide movement among math educators to rethink the curriculum and pedagogy available to college students. What an opportunity! When she joined that movement, she met other people who felt as upset by the churn in the current system as she did. She learned about modern learning science, influenced by brain research, psychology, and sociology. And she started the work of learning how to use that in her teaching. And as she worked, she learned a lot from her students. And she learned that many other faculty in her department and across campus were very supportive and also interested in changing the system to better serve students, the local community, the state, and the nation. She learned that she wasn’t alone at all!

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