WILLSBORO — Retired professor Robert Arnold tries to apply his 60-plus years in the education field to offers insight into teaching and learning.
During his long career, Arnold taught social studies and science to grades three through 11 and also was an instructor at SUNY Plattsburgh, SUNY Potsdam and Jersey City State College.
At SUNY Plattsburgh, he was instrumental in developing an “open curriculum” and the block program for student teachers.
Now 85 and living in Willsboro, Arnold still advocates for education progress through his website, Letters to the Editor and his new book, “Remaking our Schools for the Twenty-First Century: A Blueprint for Change/Improvement in our Educational Systems.”
Among the key concepts of “Remaking our Schools” are the individual styles of learning, group dynamics in the educational process and the “whole village” approach, in which the community has to become involved in education.
“I was terrible as a middle-school history teacher,” Arnold confessed of his beginning experience as an educator.
But he immediately sought ways to remedy that.
Reflecting on his experiences growing up on a farm, he came to see that pupils learn best when they are engaged in doing, rather than just reading and listening.
“Make it as clear as you possibly can,” he advises. “I was amazed how little is known about this country and that there is a need to look at primary-source documents and environmental relationships.”
To promote these ideas, he had his seventh-grade students build a scale model of St. Lawrence County based on information they obtained concerning animal and plant life and historical aspects, such as the gristmills and sawmills of the pioneers.
“Synthesizing information was the most important thing. What we usually get are bits and pieces of information,” Arnold said.
“To me, the creative process is what’s missing. We have taken the conclusions and teach them to the kids, but there is no continuity.”
“There are so many things that need to be examined,” Arnold said of education today. “Currently, education is often made up of a bunch of parts. It needs to be put together in an integrated system. This could take the place of standardized tests.”
However, Arnold realizes, “keeping track of knowledge is a problem. We need to recognize the answers will always be unique in some aspects. We need to get over the concept that if you can’t see it or measure it, it doesn’t exist.
“We should still have testing but with a systems orientation. The students are not only over-tested, but, in reality, they are not really tested.
“Tests are driving the curriculum, but this is due to the Common Core (standards).”
As far as the New York State Regents exams, Arnold said, “there are legitimate tests and scores. The math standards are legitimate.”
“The ability to think logically is so fundamental.” Arnold said.
“We do not have an adequate background as to what’s happening. There are too many generalizations. The reasons kids (younger students) have failed is they are not biologically ready to do the work.
“Kids need direct and concrete experiences.”
In summarizing his philosophies, Arnold feels there is a need to:
▶ Examine what we can validate about human development and behavior.
▶ Better understand team or group development. Groups of students, unfortunately, function at their lowest level, he said.
▶ Understand the notion of knowledge and what it takes to create the academic discipline.
▶ Use systems concepts — how you would organize and enable people to understand the relationship of one set of ideas to another/ Too often this is left to chance, Arnold said.
He lamented the number of worksheets his grandchildren have been given as homework.
“Kids should be left free to experience and react,” he said.
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"Remaking our Schools for the Twenty-First Century: A Blueprint for Change/Improvement in our Educational Systems" may be obtained at amazon.com.