I Would Like to Disagree, I Think
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,
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
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
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.
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.
I had a disagreement with a college professor the other day in one of my mathematic courses. I had read a question and interpreted it in my own way; I was told my thinking and reasoning were wrong. This lead to a disagreement inside the classroom between my whole class. In the end I understood why my answer to the question was incorrect, but I agree with you that disagreeing is a healthy thing to do. We are all different and there is not one person I know that agrees with everything they hear. I would also agree that growth is a sign of life and if we stop growing as teachers there will be no hope for students to grow inside our classrooms or out in the world.
There is no stupid question. If I have told one student I have told one hundred. Questioning, disagreeing, leads to more revelations and exploration than any one educator can plan for. I hope to embrace the philosophy of disagreeing to better emcompass a growth mindset. Students, myself still being one, need to find encouragement to disagree and question the world they live in.
I applaud Levi's efforts at disagreeing! Even though, confessing as one of his favorite targets, I find his questions challenging and at times unsettling, they certainly lead me to grow. Growth is a sign of life. If we stop growing as teachers, how can we hope for our students to continue to learn from us? I look forward to this worthy banter, Levi. I look forward to growing even more!