Bird Droppings February 8, 2010
Is it about content or context?
“The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.” John Dewey
As I look around the world few world powers exist without good educational systems. In countries where dictators rule education is at its lowest level for it is through lack of education dictators stay in power. Another aspect is where religion is directly involved in education since fundamentalist religion of any sort often can maintain a strangle hold on education as well. I am always amazed at Dewey he wrote many of his thoughts in the early 1900’s and they are more pertinent today than even when he wrote.
“Traditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.” William Commanda, Mamiwinini, Canada, 1991
When I walk into a school building and wander midst the throngs of humanity all the varying aspects of human kind can be found. One group that can be found in our school is in all black clothing and has as many piercings showing as the school will permit or they can get away with. Another current popular trend among our teenagers is wearing large rubber bands or plastic bracelets in quantities of fifty or so sort of a primitive thing. Always in most high schools the letter jackets and popular name brand clothes stick out among a certain crowd. Being a former rural county another genre is jeans and various asundery attempts at showing off Confederate flags be it belt buckles, necklaces, and or t-shirts. Are these teenagers’ different species perhaps or just differing views?
Just a few days ago as I walked around the school I wondered what if all were in red polo shirts and khaki pants as was one time recommended? I jokingly offered my thought to a nearby assistant principal and the response was within two or three days shirts would be short and pants would be baggie and studs would be in khakis and we would be right back to where we were.
We are a nation build on democracy that is on choice. But as I look at William Commanda’s statement I think I too would choose the slower path if I could choose again. I went to my class room after a teacher training recently ready to not be teaching frustrated by the lack of vision in education and focus on what will be remembered in ten years not what will be known but remembered.
“When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don’t ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don’t chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. … The White people pay no attention. …How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? … Everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore.” Wintu Woman, 19th Century
I drove by several construction sites yesterday entire forests were removed to put up houses – it is easier to build with trees gone. An ancient oak tree was being sawed up into fire wood out of pieces of log three to four feet thick. They were being split as I thought about the time that tree took to grow and how easily it was destroyed. Piles of dirt and rock pushed around and relocated where it was needed to grade and level lots. As I thought I was pondering our approach to education. So often it is trying to get five gallons into a liter bottle an idea I had several years ago in a symbolic way. That idea keeps coming up as I think of NCLB legislation that states all children will be at grade level by 2014 and that thought of what will be remembered in ten years.
It has been nearly forty years since I left high school and what do I remember from then? A few teachers names, a few bits and pieces and as I look back no one aspect really comes to mind I see that process as a stepping stone. Those pieces led to new pieces and in that process literally the pieces are lost that were the basis for the direction I went. It isn’t about what we remember in ten years from high school but that a foundation was laid that can be built on. Ideally it will be a base that balances the technical and the spiritual. It will be a base that guides us to dig smaller holes when we can. It should be a base that helps us shift through five gallons of material and find that liter of essentials.
After thinking this morning it is about the example we set as teachers and as parents that is far more remembered and modeled than any amount of content and material handed out. So today set an example, try and model what it should be like and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.