Reflection is a needed piece in our puzzle of humanity

Bird Droppings January 10-12, 2011
Reflection is a needed piece in our puzzle of humanity

“We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Ronald Reagan

Much of the news the past few days revolves around the brutal and senseless slayings in Arizona. Within all of the various ramblings someone left this note from Ronald Reagan. As I thought past the shootings my implications started to fall on education as they often do. The solutions and answers to the shootings are not to be found in the immediate but in looking at what evidence can be gathered and then reflecting and analyzing to formulate an answer. Slowly many of the media personalities are taking this view if only to cover their own previous words. Allow time to sort out and review what is all involved and not jump to conclusions. Begin to heal rather than continue to open the wounds.
I see very similar actions within education. In our educational system today we see a random piece of test data and then make assumptions without ever letting than material ferment and sit for a bit and truly reflect on it. The National Education Policy Center has released several articles about comparison testing of students worldwide. We teachers are told the students in the US are not testing as well as in other countries. The NEPC report points to several differences but one main one. Test scores in US are based on eighth graders in all other countries involved fifteen year olds. In the US the majority of eighth graders are not fifteen but thirteen or fourteen and one year age difference would make a significant difference on scores let alone two.
Far too often we jump at numbers and statistics and do not think about them and in a recent interview with Stephen Hawking, renowned theoretical physicist in Parade magazine he is asked, what can a goldfish tell us about reality?

“Because it lives in a round bowl of water, a goldfish sees a distorted picture of the outside world. It would have a different picture of reality than we do. But how do we know that we have the right picture? We also might be in some giant goldfish bowl. There is no unique picture of reality. The goldfish’s is as valid as ours. “Stephen Hawking

Perhaps an odd tie in but we all look at reality in a differing light. How we see an event can vary from one person to another. Too many times we quickly choose the easiest and simplest route and do not take time to reflect on what is really happening. Watching the various pundits play for media time bouncing one idea off another so often the reality gets lost in the midst of searching. It has been a few years since I came back to teaching and it was within a few months I started back to school myself. It took a few years to seep in that in order to truly be a good teacher you must also be a student as well.

“The School of Education’s mission is focused on mastering the Art of Teaching: Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of All Children. Supporting this mission, we strive to prepare reflective, scholarly, proactive educators. These practitioners effectively educate their students to become knowledgeable, inquisitive, and collaborative learners in diverse, democratic learning communities.” Piedmont College, Department of Education

I attended Piedmont College a few years back and completed my Masters of Art in Teaching and Specialist in Education degrees there. This simple mission statement and follow-up are engrained from day one. Reflective, scholarly and proactive educators are a key thought as I read again these words. In the process of finding my direction at Piedmont and getting a through understanding of the philosophy behind so many of our leading educators I was introduced too many new at least to me ideas and considerations in education. Elliot Eisner was one. Eisner’s books reflect his view on education in such titles as, The Educational Imagination, Arts and the Creation of Mind, and numerous other articles, essays and books.

“We have inadvertently designed a system in which being good at what you do as a teacher is not formally rewarded, while being poor at what you do is seldom corrected nor penalized.” Elliot Eisner

We as teachers are teaching in a vacuum so to say. No air goes in or out at least symbolically. It is Eisner and several others foremost among them John Dewey who consider the act of reflection as one of the most paramount of education and teaching.

“Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.” Foxfire Core Practice ten

The Foxfire Core Practices are developed around the teaching and thinking of John Dewey. Dewey based his educational view on the idea that it is through experience that we learn. This is a very common nonsensical sort of notion perhaps one that should not be even considered to be earth shattering. However if you look at education much like the news and immediate responses to the shooting over the weekend in Arizona we seem to get caught in the immediate. In education it is that test score and or how do we improve that test score. First we find out what is on the test and teach that. Teach to the test has become a national vocabulary word. Seldom is there reflection such as, does this material have relevance to the students? Can we show this material in context? Is this material at all familiar to the students? The questions and reflection can go on and on. In most situations it is not done and the questions are never considered. We focus on the immediate the test and test score.
A good friend took the approach of teaching class about what it was the subject is rather than simply to teach to the test questions. Years ago another friend would spend two weeks each semester teaching her second grade kids how to test and her grades on tests were always the highest. I over heard a discussion one time between teachers about how she is cheating teaching the test to the kids. Today it is hard to find a teacher not teaching to the test. Coming back to my contextual friend, when covering a subject he will try and have hands on experiences for his students. I had two students from his class come by to get some turtle tank water to look at under a microscope. At the end of last semester his students were some of highest test scores and one other point that context does. Students remember context far better than content alone. That is research based many times over.

“The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.” Foxfire Core Practice Two

So whether in education or in life reflection, sitting back and trying to get a real meaning of what has happened or is happening is paramount to truly understanding what is going on. Many people are content to never know they are in a fish bowl looking out. But those of us who do understand this tend to see the world differently and in a light that allows us to go beyond the narrow window that so many are limited to see through. I sat holding my infant grand daughter for about an hour and a half today. Her father and mother had a few errands and it was bitterly cold out so I conveniently volunteered to stay home and watch Charlie. They did not even have to pay me. As I sat watching her after singing several songs and discussing world news and views she fell asleep. She might have been bored with me. But she nestled into my arm and within about five minutes my Westie settled on my feet as I rocked in our rocking chair. I sat there thinking about this tiny person so limited yet so open to all around her. She is like a tiny sponge absorbing every word and vision. I was asked earlier today about my view on peace. I responded as I held my grand daughter. I think if we are seeking peace we find peace. If we are seeking violence it will find us. Not a profound thought but it stuck with me as I sat there pondering with my baby grand daughter asleep in my arms. I know there is a world removed from her room and from our house and even from our subdivision. There is a world where harm is being done to others is real. Can I change that perhaps not but I can offer as I do every day I write please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

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