I Would Like to Disagree, I Think

  • I Would Like to Disagree, I Think

    By Levi Patrick, posted July 17, 2017 —

    My name is Levi, and I’m a “disagreer,” I think.

    Most people who know me would find that term a fitting description for me. With that in mind, I’m here to make a case for disagreement as a way of approaching teaching and learning that has guided my career and, I’d like to argue, might be a productive stance for you.

    I’ve got a few posts lined up over the next few months that explore some of the things I like to disagree about. It isn’t because I like to fight or that I think I’m right. What I do like is clarity. 

    Let’s start by exploring my reasons for disagreeing as an educator. I believe that it is with great effort that we come to beliefs about teaching and learning that drive us to be the very best versions of ourselves. To refine our beliefs, we must question where these beliefs come from and what purpose they serve. John Dewey, in How We Think (1910), suggested the following: “Thinking in its best sense is that which considers the basis and consequences of beliefs” (p. 4). That statement tugs on me a lot! If we haven’t considered the basis and consequences of our beliefs about teaching and learning, have we thought properly about what it is that we’ve devoted our careers to? It’s rhetorical, but I’ll go ahead and take a stab at this one: No!

    And, if we have not given ourselves to the ongoing criticism of our current beliefs, practices, and behaviors, perhaps not only have we not thought critically about our careers but we have not thought at all. 

    “To maintain the state of doubt and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry—these are the essentials of thinking” (Dewey 1910, p. 12).

    This stance on disagreeing is one that I take pretty seriously. Ask a colleague, a boss, a friend, a family member, or even my wife. I firmly believe that our greatest asset, the ability to think reflectively, should not be wasted but put to good use regularly.

    I disagree to be sharpened and to offer myself as a sharpening stone to others. Admittedly, the experience can be rather abrasive at times and has even led me to introduce myself to new collaborators as a “willing-to-be-convinced critic.” Although this stance may seem a little extreme, I am convinced that it is valuable to educators, for our job is not one that allows for complacency of curiosity. We cannot inspire learners to engage deeply in reflective thought about challenging mathematics if we cannot regularly inspect the basis and consequences of our own beliefs.

    I would like to explore with you a few arguments that challenge some notions about what happens in our classrooms. I’ll start with something that has been on my mind a lot lately—that the slope-intercept form should not be king. From there, I’ll explore a critique of the flipped classroom and the open education resources movement. I’ll wrap up my foray into dissent with a likely unpopular argument regarding the diminishing value of mathematics as a discipline.

    As we take this journey, my simple request of you, aside from responding to your peers and me critically and with respect, is to join me in inspecting your own beliefs critically. What is the basis of your beliefs? What are the consequences? Think deeply, and I assure you we will all be better for it.

    2017_7_17_Levi_AuPic Levi Patrick serves Oklahoma as the director of computer science and secondary mathematics education. He is the vice president of program for the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics and serves NCTM as chair of the Professional Development Services Committee. Patrick taught eighth grade, algebra 1, and geometry in Oklahoma City and in the Putnam City Public Schools, developed curriculum and mentoring programs as a mathematics specialist at the K20 Center for Education and Community Renewal at the University of Oklahoma, and has been involved in the development of the #OKMath community (http://OKMathTeachers.com) and the Oklahoma Mathematics Alliance for the past few years. He and his wife, Roslyn, also an educator, live in Oklahoma City with their Jack Russell “Terror,” Piper.