Digging for gold

Bird Droppings January 7, 2012

Digging for gold


“You have to drill through mud and water to get oil; you have to sift through sand and silt to get gold; you have to chop and hack through stone to get diamonds. So why do so many people feel that the treasure of ideas should come to them with little or no effort?” Sydney J. Harris


I recall a story my father told me of his experience in a South African gold mine many years ago. At this particular mine, which also is the deepest hard rock mine in the world, going down over fifteen thousand feet and extending nearly twice that in shafts horizontally another world existed below ground. At that depth the rock face could cook an egg from the heat. When miners are looking for diamonds and gold ore they only dig, drill and mine the vein of ore which could be a hundred feet thick or a few feet. At that depth all effort and time are crucial, if a section of reef (gold bearing ore) is only a few feet thick and mining will center on that vein. It can be more excruciating to hand-mine a few feet thick vein of reef than one where large mining equipment can be used.


“The common notion, particularly in our country, that education ought to be painless does not apply to any other area. The athlete sweats and strains, exercises and conditions himself to obtain mastery over his chosen field; the auto mechanic goes back to technical school to acquaint himself with the new electronic gadgetry; the business executive toils amid the increasing complexity of global competition.” Sydney J. Harris


 As the miners worked in spaces often simply crawling and removing only that ore surrounding the vein, and in hard rock mining that is very difficult and very dangerous. As it is spending too much time and effort digging more that was needed could result in a disaster either physically or financially. On a side note this particular mine broke all safety and production records for tunneling in a twenty four hour period and won the industries production, quality and safety awards all in one year.


“Why is education the only activity we are willing to spend so much on and resigned to getting so little in return from? No rigger, no miner, no farmer would be stupid enough to make such a bad bargain.” Sydney J. Harris


I have a coring a six inch long two inch wide cylinder, from that mine and from fifteen thousand feet down, it sits on my desk a reminder of the difficult task. As I look at education today after reading the AJC headline where the state education dept. knew the state middle school math tests would be a disaster I wonder seriously. Harris wrote this column over twenty years ago and the words seems applicable now. I was reading the AJC our main Atlanta paper this morning and the second section lead article is how charter schools are scoring higher than “regular” schools. My response is duhhh; I could have told you that just looking at students in charter schools. Often requirements to get in and you do have to fill in forms and applications to be accepted sort of like college. So here you have a select group of students not all students taking a standardized test and then comparing results. That is like let’s sort out the best students and then compare their scores to everyone else. Amazing what you can do with statistics. A true measure would be how they improved in that school not simply versus general population.


“Whatever else educating ourselves may be, it cannot be easy. It cannot be painless. It cannot be spoon-feeding. But it can be a delight, as any difficult challenge can be a delight if we look upon it as an adventure, not an inconvenience or a burden.” Sydney J. Harris


I was thinking yesterday about why students do not like school. Why do some students thoroughly enjoy the efforts and some do not? Learning it seems has been made tedious and cumbersome. I have found if students do not want to be in class teaching them can be minimal at best and they will expend less than more. So how do we get students to want to be there? This is an all-encompassing task. In an essay by Alfie Kohn entitled, What to look for in a classroom? Aflie Kohn gives a few tips. Some of those simple tips from his chart  are, on the walls; have good signs, have them covered with students’ projects, Have evidence of student collaboration and make sure that any work, signs, exhibits, or lists obviously has been created by students rather than by the teacher.

 This is the information about, and personal mementos of, the people who spend time together in this classroom that is what is crucial. Kohn also has a list of bad signs which starts with nothing on the walls. He states that students will want to be where they are wanted, where enthusiasm is shown, and where they are accepted not merely tolerated. As I look at this, really it is also about any aspect of life. It is just as critical be it as a friend, parent and or not just a teacher. We affect each other by how we interact. In life if we don’t want to be there we get up and leave.

I recall a student came to me about his class that he was upset with and did not want to be there, he left and was referred, and every day the same thing. I am always amazed at how a solution could be so simple. How do we get this student to want to be in class? It has to start with the attitude of the teacher and student. Once that student is in class then education can begin. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks.



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