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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Moving Goalposts and Other Pedagogical Crimes

I saw this article when it was first published, thanks to a schoolteacher friend of mine. I've just been really slow in writing about it.

It is the kind of article that should raise your blood pressure if you give even the smallest damn about education. The behavior that this article describes is outrageous. And while the article is about classroom education, there's plenty here to learn for coaching martial arts and self-defense.

Lesson One: You can always create more failures.

It's difficult for me to decide which part of this article drives me the most insane, but this might be it:

"None of the above. The state Board of Regents, having decided that the old tests were too easy, changed the tests and raised the passing mark."

In other words, the Board of Regents decided to move the goalposts. Students doing too well (and seriously, when did students doing well become a problem)? Just change the passing requirements.

It's easy to do this in the martial arts as well. Want to make it harder to earn rank? Just start making it harder. Decide to find more flaws in a student's technique. Spring surprise testing requirements on test day: some extra pushups, or a mile run that the student never knew they had to do, or whatever your vile heart desires.  Let's face it...whether a student passes or fails is entirely up to the instructor. If you feel like too many of your students are passing, just tell some of them that some aspect of their performance wasn't up to par.

It's easy to do, but it's totally pointless too. You aren't proving anything except that you can make something impossible by moving the goalposts.

Lesson Two: There's a Different Between Being Strict and Punishing People Arbitrarily

Why the eagerness to inflict harsh punishment on students? What about the kids who can’t swim — should they jump into the deep end, too? Why “rip the Band-Aid off” the children who can’t read English, the children who are struggling to read and the children with disabilities? They need support, encouragement and true education — not shock treatment.

Portions of our culture seem to have gotten this weird idea that good teaching or training is meant to be painful or punishing to the point of being degrading. That it humiliate or crush people, we're somehow being more "real" than if we just help them get better. It's a childish, bullshit way to coach.

(I'm not arguing against hard work, or even harsh words when they are needed. But there is a big difference between pushing someone and just outright abusing them.)

The goal of a coach should be to raise people up, not keep them down. Any idiot can create a crucible that only a few will survive. A good coach will raise up the ones who wouldn't survive so that they can.

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