Yesterday I posted a clip of students at Nashville Prep chanting the answers to questions. I should have mentioned that chanting the answers to questions was a common practice in mid-nineteenth century schools. Students would chant their geography lessons, for example, singing out the names of continents or mountains or oceans. They did not necessarily knew where to find them on a map, but they knew the words to the chant.

Peter Greene reports that this chanting is today called “whole brain teaching,” and is associated with someone named Chris Biffle.

Greene says that WBT has a website, and its goal is to put “organized fun” into the classroom.

But he takes a dim view of this chanting:

“Some of the groupiness aspects are recognizable to anyone who was ever in band, choir, or the armed forces. And I have to tell you– given the youtube and on-line testimonials, and WBT’s persistence over fifteen years, there are people out there who love this. I can see the appeal if you are in a school mired in endless chaos, or if you’ve always struggled with classroom management, or if you’re Dolores Umbridge.

“All that aside, it is creepy as hell. Set your individuality aside, become part of the group, do as you’re told, sit up, lie down, roll over , speak (but only as directed). Just imagine what this would look like with someone more stern, more authoritarian, more Hitlerish, in front of the classroom. If you can handle it, you can find sample lessons all the way down to Kindergartners.

“But in a funny twist, per Ravitch’s post this morning, it turns out that Biffle was a man ahead of his time, because what Nashville Prep and others have discovered is that WBT is great for test prep. It turns out that subsuming your individuality, spitting out dictated exact answers on demand, and generally being a good little all-fit-one-size widget is excellent training for taking standardized tests.

“So if you find this little mini-re-enactment of the Cultural Revolution unappealing, the bad news is that this is exactly what high stakes standardized testing call for.”