Hey Ben, what about us?

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

So, I've always felt conflicted about the whole taxonomy situation, that one must begin at the bottom and rise to the top—very meritocratic, indeed.

According to Benjamin Bloom, we travel upwards in our capacity for thought, from retelling to restating and comprehension, through application, connection, and finally evaluation and judgement (metacognition to cap it off, if you're really the bees’ knees). 

For educators, this means we should begin with “restate” and “understand” to establish a foundation of comprehension, then, as students demonstrate mastery on the lower levels, continue to progress through “metacognition.” There’s some variation on the wording, but this is the gist of this canonical educational tool.

So, imagine a student enters the classroom and doesn't yet know their phonemes or letters (in English—because this is just a blog post, and I can't). The teacher should focus on those building blocks, right? And once the student’s foundation is strong enough, the teacher should have them connect sounds to something they know (perhaps animals). Then, they can identify phonemes in unfamiliar words, determine the right sounds and letters in purposefully misrepresented (even perhaps made up) words, and on and on until the student can reflect on the process and perform metacognition.

Makes sense...on the surface

However, what happens in practice is that students who don't travel linearly are punished. Before they are granted exposure/access to more complex—and often more engaging—means of exploring content, these students are forced to take up residence in the lowest levels of the taxonomy until they "master" it. 

Now, imagine student X is a latchkey kid who, on a daily basis, needs to make decisions, analyze, judge, reflect, and improve based on said reflection. Or, student X has a dangerous walk to school each day. Or they handle many adult responsibilities like translating legal documents or paying bills. The higher-order thinking required for student X to navigate everyday life would make complex thinking the natural entry-point for learning. 

Unfortunately, the teaching population does not culturally reflect many of these learners, and as a result students fall victim to the pervasive myth that because of their “home life” and the “lack of support” they are destined to struggle. This vicious cycle repeats itself, and students—trapped in boring and belittling environments—do what is natural. They look for a way out (mentally and physically). 

So, Ben, I see your taxonomy, and raise you a... well, a blog post. Let’s stop making students prove they are worthy of rigor and creativity, and let’s definitely stop depriving them of learning opportunities. I think enough children have been underserved over the past 63 years.

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