Bird Droppings August 22, 2010
The Sixteen hour syndrome and
why we should embrace it
It has been nearly ten years since I wrote about the Sixteen Hour Syndrome in relationship to emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students. The idea developed from my own observations of a group of twenty eight students in a Georgia high school. At that time I was seeing the negative aspects that came to school in the form of students too tired to stay awake or too upset to even attend to any lesson presented. While unknowingly in my observing and understanding I was able to be successful with these students. As I read Dr. Alexander Sidorkin’s introduction to his book, Learning Relations I understood all too well what was going on in my first few weeks back in teaching in 2001. Much as he was referring to in own his teaching it could have been my own.
“I finally learned how to be a decent teacher, which involves a lot of improvising, paying attention to my own intuition, listening to kids, and trying to take it easy. Having learned to do something is not the same as understanding how it works.” Dr. Alexander Sidorkin
Ten years ago for me it was coming back to teaching after a twenty three year hiatus and finding very quickly that as a teacher I was in a paradox. We as teachers have the students for eight hours approximately a day during school sessions and are often expected to teach them everything they need according to some parents. However those same parents and society have those students for sixteen hours to undo and or add to the educational possibilities of the individual student. As I read various books for my graduate courses I seemed to find an under lying theme in each book, many teachers seemingly never consider this issue of what students bring with them to school.
“There is incumbent upon the teacher who links education and actual experience together a more serious and a harder business. He must be aware of the potentialities for leading students into new fields which belong to experiences already had, and must use this knowledge as his criterion for selection and arrangement of the conditions that influence their present experience.” John Dewey, 1938
The sixteen hour syndrome is that accumulated experiences of that student each day out of school and if acknowledged and used by teachers could be an asset and boon to a child’s learning and future. The sixteen hour syndrome is the family, community, culture, friends, society, and all other variants and possibilities that are actively involved in the student’s hours away from school. I believe and will address the need and importance of teachers attending to and understanding this concept and aspect of a student’s life, the sixteen hour syndrome.
On many mornings I begin the day walking into the local Quick-Trip and getting my customary bottle of Smart water and a Five hour energy shot, a shot of caffeine to keep me going through the day. Over the many times I have walked into QT I have found that of all the stores and retail facilities in the area that perhaps this one place is the most homogonous of all. Eastern Europe represented behind the counter by an assistant manager, Hispanics both in line earlier on as they head to work and a cashier, Afro-Americans in line and working at the store, local born and raised kids and it is almost a rainbow of humanity. As I watch interactions all seem to flow and work. There are foods stuffs and drinks to cover the range of cultures and personalities purchasing in that store, obviously a good marketing plan. Why then is it so hard in education to see and delineate that we have multiple cultures and peoples within our schools. When we look at AYP and discuss this group or that and test scores we seem to leave the realities on the table in the conference room.
Using as an analogy, the classroom is much like a jigsaw puzzle with numerous intricate pieces, that when placed on the table and worked with they all interconnect often in minute detail. I will often place a jig saw puzzle out and deliberately turn the pieces over so only the grey back is visible making all the pieces essentially neutral. While looking at the pieces in this color blind manor it is difficult to truly see where each piece can find its place. Teachers as they scan the room on day one often try and look at grey pieces and miss the fine detail that in reality is there. In many ways it is a racial starting point, but culture and socio-economics as well provide intricacies we so often overlook as teachers.
“While it is recognized that Afro- Americans make up a distinct racial group, the acknowledgement that this racial group has a distinct culture is still not recognized. It is presumed that Afro-American children are just like white children but they need a little extra help.” Gloria Ladson- Billings, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children
Referring back to my jigsaw puzzle analogy it is when we look at the pieces and investigate that we solve the puzzle. It is often when solving the puzzle like pieces are sorted to one pile often by color. I have watched children look for shapes and corners as they solve the puzzle. It is far too often that teachers in their classrooms feel constrained and or limited and often never get past sorting color or shapes. Dr. Delores Liston in Joy a Metaphor of Convergence offers a rational explanation of this societal impact on teachers and limitation that many feel is imposed.
“The Cartesian worldview presents us with the false security of objective truth, but if we accept this view, we also accept our powerlessness to enact change. …. This perspective leads us to say, ‘What can I do? That’s just the way it is.’” Dr. Delores Liston
Sadly many teachers succumb and for thirty years wait till retirement to rid themselves of their pieces to the puzzle without ever once seeing the real picture presented by those pieces.
While many parents and even society look to teachers to provide during school all the needs of a child which for some includes teaching morality and ethics. These same parents and society overlook the impact and consequences of that period of time a student is at home and out in society which is approximately sixteen hours during a school day. John Dewey is very well represented with our readings and is touted by some of the authors as one of the premier educators of all time.
“The development within the young of the attitudes and dispositions necessary to the continuous and progressive life of a society cannot take place by direct conveyance of beliefs, emotions and knowledge. It takes place through the intermediary of the environment. The environment consists of the sum total of conditions which are concerned in the execution of the activity characteristic of a living being” John Dewey
It is the sum total of our experiences that makes us who we are and these are not bits and pieces we learn and acquire totally within school and the educative process. These are pieces and bits we bring to school from outside.
Somewhere along the line many of the pieces formerly learned and understood at home were transferred or assumed to be transferred to the school as the supplier of and provider of implementation of various human attributes. Jane Roland Martin views the industrial revolution as an integral part in altering the delineation of various aspects of humanity in her book Cultural Miseducation: In search of a Democratic Solution, (John Dewey lecture 8). Martin views the home and school as separate entities and that students in school “cast off the attitudes and values” from home. I would offer perhaps teachers unknowingly disenfranchise those attitudes and values in light of education and even neutrality going back to my grey backed puzzle pieces and political correctness. There is in effect a lack of understanding in general within education as a whole, and far too often what students could be bringing to the classroom is ignored and or overlooked.
“No one asks if the wealth that is not in the schools keep is elsewhere being transmitted to our young. No one dares talk about cultural liabilities are being passed down to the next generation, let alone calculate the intergenerational injustice the older generation is doing by passing them along.” Jane Roland Martin
How much is being lost by not seeing the wealth of experiences that students bring to the classroom? So many teachers argue there is not enough time to even consider anything beyond the curriculum. Dr. Delores Liston reviews the commonly held view of curriculum as that of an assembly line in industry and follows with; “This the belief persists that if we can just find the right formula, and clear away all the unnecessary steps in the education process, we will educate more as well as more efficiently. So many teachers view the curriculum, and the teacher’s package of books, manuals, and transparencies as the key to their success in the classroom. Sadly we are no better off than we were years ago.
How do we attempt to see beyond the façade presented in education? Can we even attempt to do anything different and would that even help at this time? Dr. William Glasser looks to a more recent event that of World War II.
“What is true in our schools, and has been true since the end of World War II when we first began to make a real effort to pursue universal education through high school graduation, is that many students (my conservative estimate is at least fifty percent by the eighth grade) who are intelligent enough to do well, many even brilliantly, do poorly.” Dr. William Glasser
Dr. Glasser of course sees this as a choice in his writings. However in the pursuit of universal education, in 1974 the inclusion of students with disabilities of all natures placed into the public schools literally all children. As this universal education developed could we have overlooked and perhaps passed by crucial elements of whom and what we are as human beings in terms of those students. Have we attempted to provide for and truly recognize the differences in students? I think back to the assembly line mentioned by Dr. Delores Liston in Joy is a Metaphor of Convergence, which is so often echoed through other authors, as how so many administrators and even teachers see education. It has been a few years since I was introduced to the author and educator, Ivan Illich. He was a radical thinker in terms of education and in religion and offers a rather grim view of schooling in his book Deschooling Society.
“A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.” Ivan Illich
Illich may be a bit extreme but within schools are we missing those experiences that students bring to the classroom that could be integral pieces to the puzzle, the sixteen hour syndrome as I call it. In Paula M. L. Moya and Michael R. Hames-Garcia’s book Reclaiming Identity; Hames-Garcia addresses the idea of restriction in terms of various groups within society. Hames-Garcia states: “I call the process by which such individuals come to be misrepresented and misunderstood ‘restriction.’” Is it that we as teachers restrict students by seeing only grey instead of what is actually there? I look back to John Dewey and possible solutions.
“It is the function of formal schooling to extend, broaden, and improve cultural construction of emerging minds begun at home and in the community.” John Dewey
Dewey continues suggesting that humankind reproduces itself in two ways: first biological and the second cultural. In our efforts should we not be addressing what children bring with them in their experiences, which includes culture, race, and socio economics? Can we adequately address the need for understanding and trying to develop in students that knowledge of their own life experiences? Can teachers learn to look beyond the curriculum and reach for a student centered understanding caring classroom? In her book The Dreamkeepers, Gloria Ladson-Billings addresses issues concerning African-American students and the teachers who have been successful with predominantly African-American classrooms. She writes “this book is about teaching practice not curriculum”. How does this author view a successful teacher?
“Teachers who practice culturally relevant methods can be identified by the way they see themselves and others. They see their teaching as an art rather than a technical skill. They believe all their students can succeed rather than failure is inevitable for some. They see themselves as part of the community and they see teaching as giving back to the community. They help students make connections between their local, national, racial, cultural, and global identities.” Gloria Ladson-Billings
Making lessons culturally relevant to the students as a key for successful teaching is not only restricted to those teachers working with African-American students, but logically the more we involve the culture of our students the more interested they will be and perhaps Dr. Glasser’s observation will be a thing of the past and students will want to learn.
Looking to at a critical aspect of teaching and getting more actively involved with students is that of caring. In the mid 1980’s two developmental oriented psychologists came at the development of morality in differing ways. Lawrence Kohlberg viewed morality as an ethic of justice, impartiality and fairness and in developing his theory used only white males as models. Carol Gilligan’s approach was one from a point of view of caring and viewed through a female perspective.
“A care orientation, according to developmental and educational psychologist Carol Gilligan (1982), reflects the presence of benevolence and compassion. A caring person treats another person with sensitive discernment of, response to, his or her contextually embedded nee. Care means liberating others from their state of need and actively promoting their welfare; care additionally means being oriented towards ethics grounded in empathy rather than in dispassionate abstract ethical principles.”
Should we be approaching teaching in a caring compassionate manner? Most teachers would answer yes but few actually attempt it. Perhaps it is difficult for some but as I read and researched is not much of what we see as compassion and caring a learned by example part of who we are?
I first read of Gilligan and Kohlberg in a book by Dr. James Fowler, Head of the Center for Ethics in Public Policy and professor at Emory Universities Candler School of Theology. Dr. Fowler wrote about the development of faith in his book Stages of Faith. In my own studies and in using Dr. Fowler’s thoughts I viewed the concept of trust as a synonym of faith. Trust has significant application and understanding within the classroom. Fowler in developing his ideas uses some thoughts from Richard Niebuhr a 1950’s theologian.
“He sees faith taking form in our earliest relationships with those who provide care for us in infancy. He sees faith growing through our experience of trust and fidelity – of mistrust and betrayal – with those closest to us. He sees faith in the shared visions and values that held human groups together. And he sees faith at all those levels, in the search for an overreaching, integrating and grounding trust in a center of value and power sufficiently worthy to give our lives unity and meaning.” Dr. James Fowler, The Development of Faith
We can superimpose trust in place of faith and soon as I look at students coming to my class I see that they either learned trust in the process of growing up and or they perhaps learned betrayal. Just how significant is that piece of information as a child walks in a classroom? In order to be successful in teaching students need to trust their teachers and in return be trusted for a community to develop and hold together.
What should education be about? Should it be as John Dewey discusses a basis for our democratic society and community? Should education be about caring and compassion? An aspect that Dewey is well written on and numerous others have addressed is community.
“For Dewey, the quality of life mirrors its aesthetic depth, understood as the extent to which embodies grace, artfulness, and appreciation, whether in maintaining a home, a classroom, a business, or a government. The quality of life reflects its emotional maturity and attentiveness, which Dewey contrasts with sentimentality and superficiality. Moreover, the quality of life displays its moral depth, which encompasses considerations of freedom, justice, compassion, humility and personal as well as social responsibility.” David Hansen, Ethical Visions of Education: Philosophies in Practice
It is about community, belonging and relationships that could be a driving force in education.
“My hope is that students will be attracted to schools because of the quality of human relationship, the quality of communal experiences there. In other words, students will want to go to school not because of what they will do but because of whom they will meet” Dr. Alexander Sidorkin
As I looked at how we can piece together all of the information that could come into a room with students my first thought was teachers need to ask questions of students. There needs to be a learning period where teacher becomes learner and tries to understand all the bits and pieces that their students bring with them.
“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem solving, and creative chaos. The connections held by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts – meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect, and emotion, and spirit, and will converge in the human self.” Parker Palmer
Perhaps if we try and learn about our students, and try and understand the experiences that they bring if only a few moments is taken from the day, be it in reflections, journals, discussion and a learning community is developed education could be changed. We should be looking to embrace what I once considered a negative, the sixteen hour syndrome, and weave it within our classroom tapestry. Again as I have for over ten years now ended please keep those in harms way in your heart and on your minds.