Observation is experience and learning Part 2

Bird Droppings December 1, 2010
Observation is experience and learning Part 2

“The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.” John Dewey

As I look at observation as a means of learning since it is through observation that we experience I find we all observe in differing ways. It is then a matter of interpretation of that experience which often entails the stories, lessons, culture, history and all the information from our elders. I was talking yesterday about how did mountain folk learn to use common plantain and by boiling in moon shine to get acetylsalicylic acid which is Aspirin. It was by observing and experiencing and through handed down experiences we learned this bit of medicine. Experience is a cumulative exercise.

Not only the present, but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness. Both these processes are profoundly and mysteriously interdependent and doomed to failure without a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation.” Laurens Van der Post

As a rule within most educational institutions we tend to limit the ability to observe, to experience and in effect to truly learn. Rather than get an independent observation we are told what we are seeing. Rather than experience an event or problem we are told to read about it and that is it. Research continues to show when children experience as they learn and have relevance to the learning it is retained and can be generalized to other experiences and events. I will often refer to my working with our ECE program of high school students who are interested in teaching, in their working with four year olds in a learning environment. Having snakes, lizards, turtles and various other creatures in my class room it becomes a field trip for the ECE kids.

“We all start out in life as great observers of Nature, but in the process of indoctrination into the Dominant Society, some of us seem to lose that childlike wonder and awe.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

Listening to the questions from little kids there is an innocent quest for information that somehow gets lost as they are intimidated as Ed McGaa says by the Dominate Society. In the case of these four year old it is actually innocently done by their high school teachers. When a question is asked that is considered silly someone might say that’s a stupid question or don’t ask that. It only takes a few of those maybe even one for a four year old to stop asking questions.

“When all the myriad streams that flow in different places, each with its own color and taste, enter the great ocean, they blend and become just one taste, with one name. In the same way, stupidity and wisdom both become one in the awakened mind. When one first starts along the path, there seems to be a distinction that this is stupidity and that is wisdom. But later, when one penetrates more deeply, one finds there is no difference between stupidity and wisdom.” Visuddhi Magga

I use the four year being told they are asking a stupid question as an example and yet in my perspective that little child is far wiser than many adults. Observing something and wanting to know what it is they see. This is true learning.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Back in the day as my sons would play at a small spot of rock on the family farm appropriately called paradise by them I would be amazed at the hours that would go by as they built forts and castles out of small rocks and sticks. Imagination running wild and yet in a child’s view of the world each rock had life and had definitive significance to them.

What is in life? Is it the flash of the firefly in the night? Is it the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime? Is it the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset?” Crowfoot, Blackfoot orator and warrior

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” Henry David Thoreau

Listening to children might be one of the greatest tools we adults could ever have. Allow them to question to search for answers rather than just tell them this is so. In the article Learning from Experience, author Marcia Connors points out:

“We take in information through our senses, yet we ultimately learn by doing. First, we watch and listen to others. Then we try doing things on our own. This sparks our interest and generates our motivation to self-discover.” MC

“Think back on learning to ride a bicycle, use a computer, dance, or sing. We took an action, saw the consequences of that action, and chose either to continue, or to take a new and different action. What allowed us to master the new skill was our active participation in the event and our reflection on what we attained. Experience and reflection taught more than any manual or lecture ever could.” MC

I look back on various programs of learning and on how I have found children and adults learn and it is this combination of observation, seeing, then doing, experiencing and finally reviewing or borrowing from John Dewey reflecting that provide a learning experience. My own reflections fall back on Foxfire teachings and Core Practices as an example. The concept of a democratic classroom is where teachers act more as a catalyst than a lecturer in that the teacher is a facilitator or guide as children explore ideas and problems. I Have over the years posted the Core practices many times as a frame work for teachers to use as a tool in the process of learning and teaching their students.

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.” John Updike

Few will offer sacredness as an aspect of learning but in my readings and my own reflections the past view years I see teaching as a sacred process as one of a more required reverence than perhaps most see.

“Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.” Laurens van der Post reflecting on Carl Jung’s work

“I imagine a school system that recognizes learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal, and that real learning is passionate learning. A school curriculum that values questions above answers…creativity above fact regurgitation…individuality above conformity… and excellence above standardized performance….. And we must reject all notions of ‘reform’ that serve up more of the same: more testing, more ‘standards’, more uniformity, more conformity, and more bureaucracy.” Tom Peters

Is there an idealistic concept of school or of learning that perhaps could be modeled and reproduced so others might take it and achieve success as well. This is one of the fundamental issues in education there is no one perfect way for every given situation. Schools cultures are different and teachers and most of all students. However there are frameworks that could serve as a basis for a teacher to build upon. Being a fan of Foxfire I would say the Foxfire Core Practices provide a relatively easy framework to build on even though more work is involved from the teacher. I was involved in a little exercise in a literature class earlier today and we produced fourteen line poems that were rather interesting. The students actually really got into the idea some more than others but once creative juices started to flow it is amazing what happens.

“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man’s nature.” Ayn Rand

I have several books in process usually most of the time. One right now is A Handbook for the Art and Science of Teaching by Robert J. Marzano and John L. Brown. It is more of a work book and lesson than sit down and read book but I have found it interesting. The concept that teaching is an art, and a science as well has always intrigued me. I have found there has been a constant act of balancing in teaching to put the researched based pieces over here and the art aspect over here and meld them together in my own style of teaching. As teachers we are expected to be sort of a little of this and a little of that and hopefully it all comes together.
“So, you want us to stop being professors and become therapists.” No, that is not what I want. What I want is a richer, more paradoxical model of teaching and learning than binary thought allows, a model that reveals how the paradox of thinking and feeling are joined—whether we are comfortable with paradox or not. Behind the critic’s comment is a trained incapacity to see that heart and mind work as one in our students and in ourselves. They cannot be treated separately, one by the professor, the other by the therapist. When a person is healthy and whole, the head and the heart are both-and, not either-or, and teaching that honors that paradox can help make us all more whole.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Of the several authors who addressed the art of teaching Parker Palmer is one who truly engages the need for us as teachers to look at the heart and soul of what we do. I recommend the Courage to Teach it is worth the time. Palmer discusses the need for seeking the individual in both us as teachers and in our students. Sometimes this takes some effort.

“To avoid a live encounter with teachers, students can hide behind their notebooks and their silence. To avoid a live encounter with students, teachers can hide behind their podiums, their credentials, and their power.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have seen the word calling used to many times to describe why someone goes into teaching. Most teachers are in this field because they enjoy it. There are teachers who do hide away because of power because of various other reasons in education. I enjoy this life and the wonder of teaching. For me it is equally as important for me to be learner as well and as I recall Thoreau left teaching to become a learner and in order to be a better teacher.

“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. “ T.S. Eliot

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through chinks of his cavern.” William Blake

I went around a bit but come back to observation. It is through our observations that we define and perceive our world around us.

“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed. An artist is making something exist by observing it. And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it. I call it creative observation or creative viewing.” William S. Burroughs

An artist so often views the world differently seeing minute segments within the whole. I have gone into my mother in laws back yard a thousand times and have never taken a picture of an old bluebird house till this past Thanksgiving Day. The color texture and shadows were right for me that day and at that time. I posted that picture and several have commented on a simple old blue bird house that had the moment not been right they would have never seen. So another day and a bit later than I would like but as always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

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