Wagner and the Wisdom of Tevye

Townsperson: Why should I break my head about the outside world?  Let the outside world break its own head….

Tevye: He is right…

Perchik: Nonsense. You can’t close your eyes to what’s happening in the world.

Tevye: He’s right.

Rabbi’s pupil: He’s right, and he’s right.  They can’t both be right!

Tevye:  (Pause). You know, you are also right.


Fiddler on the Roof is coming to Fayetteville (the Ozark center of Yiddishkeit) in May.  But it felt like Fiddler arrived early with Tony Wagner’s visit yesterday to promote his 21st Century Skills (TM) concept.  People asked him a variety of questions and as it turns out, they were all right.


My colleague Gary Ritter commented that Wagner’s anecdotes sounded more like examples of bad teaching than of a bad curriculum.  You’re right, Wagner replied.  There is also bad teaching out there.


A student questioned his lack of empirical evidence to support his claims.  You’re right, Wagner replied.  He admitted to lacking quantitative evidence but said he was a qualitative researcher.


Stuart Buck noted that in the book Wagner profiled 3 schools that ignored the state tests, taught in a way they believed best, and still did very well on those exams.  So is the problem really with accountability testing?  You’re right, Wagner replied.  The problem is in the unnecessary over-reaction of risk-averse educators.


A math professor asked about whether too much content was really the problem.  You’re right, Wagner replied.  He’s not against content and agrees that content is essential for developing his 7 essential skills (TM).


It didn’t really seem to matter if his answers contradicted claims he made in the book or even ten minutes earlier in his presentation.  In the end, everyone was right and he was for everything people suggested.  He was for accountability testing (as long as it was done right).  He was for academic content (as long as it was the right amount and on the right stuff).  He was for teaching to the test (if the test was a good one). 


The quick, confident answers and the futuristic jargon may have wowed some, but it left me and many others a bit bewildered.  He can’t be for all these things.


Happily there is a video record of his lecture.  It’s actually from his web site, but it is almost identical to the lecture that he gave at least three times yesterday to different audiences.  Notice that in minute 20 he clearly says that our kids don’t need content; they need “competencies.”  And the best part of watching this video on the web is that it is free as opposed to the $20,000-$25,000 consulting fee that Fayetteville schools paid him for more or less the same thing.

See: http://www.schoolchange.org/videos/the_global_achievement_gap_video.html 

7 Responses to Wagner and the Wisdom of Tevye

  1. Greg Forster says:

    When he says he’s against these things, he means he’s against them when they’re done “badly.” He’s in favor of them as long as they’re done “right” – or perhaps I should say smart.

  2. You know, you’re right Greg.

  3. Brian says:

    You know Jay, you’re right about Greg being right.

  4. Patrick says:

    I think qualitative research has given way to some of the greatest junk science known to man (and woman). I’m in favor of it, if it is done right.

  5. Patrick says:

    I think qualitative research has given way to some of the greatest junk science known to man (and woman). I’m in favor of it, if it is done right.

  6. […] My take on it is, he’s right (cf Tevye). […]

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