Bird Droppings June 27, 2012
Should we be trying to fill a liter bottle?
The current educational trends are analogous to trying to pour five gallons of material into a liter bottle using a funnel. As you try obliviously a large portion of material spills out and is discarded or lost. I use a liter bottle as my analogy’s container, as a liter is recognized as the standard metric unit of volume, a universal standard. This symbolism appears to be what is happening in education, an attempt to find that liter bottle in terms of a student’s capabilities, a universal student standard.
In our many of our current public school settings, teachers have been stripped of their individuality and creativity, forced often through coercion to teach specifically to the standardized test and to be sure their students pass the test or face consequences. In an effort to meet federal No Child Left Behind, (NCLB) mandates, curriculum and lesson guidelines are in place in many school settings that are creating a more uniform and categorized package of material that students learn and retain and through this we are losing aspects of children’s identities and individuality as well as the teacher’s creativity, imagination and individuality. My concern is what is it that we are leaving behind in this rush and push for test results and standardization as we fill that student, that liter bottle.
As I began writing the idea of soul which is for me is a crucial aspect of our individuality is being stripped away from children literally through more and more organized and orchestrated emphasis on the test. Most people at first will attribute a religious connotation in when mentioning the idea of soul. I began to review ideas and research from various authors using the concept of soul as the heart of our individuality which provided a point of reference that felt good. I went looking back historically trying to find where the emphasis directed toward improving our scores in standardized tests began and it was during the period of the Cold War, when our attention was turned to beating the Russians that the federal government officially started taking a hand in legislating and pushing for standardized test scores.
The Vietnam War and the social awareness of the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies created a bump in the road for standardized testing and the legislated learning processes however briefly. For a short period of time individuality was the norm again. Unfortunately this backlash only lasted briefly, due in part to the shift in scientific technology’s promoting and pushing of standardized testing, the days of independence were short lived. Today’s students and parents may take up the gauntlet again. The activism of the late sixties and early seventies was short lived as pressure for standardization ensued and the effort to teach innovatively became obsolete in many schools. The takeover of education by government state and federal was fully under way and innovation, individuality and the progressivism of John Dewey, a major proponent of individuality in education was being pushed aside.
The individual’s experience and involvement was the key to Dewey’s thought and to the educational premises of progressivism. It was tying these experiences to education giving context to the content that Dewey promoted. Dewey was adamant about society and democratic interaction in his pursuits of education. Dewey foresaw the direction our industrial society was headed as legislated and packaged learning began stripping away individuality for the corporate good. The goal of society to prepare needed workers and consumers was at a cost and that was losing a part of them as they fall prey to the standardized demands.
Sadly there are alternatives; in a community strength is in the interactions, relationships and implications. Within a school this can be powerful tool. This could be applied in a learning setting borrowing from Foxfire Core Practice three.
“The work teachers and students do together enable learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.” Foxfire Core Practices, 2009
Real education is about learning through and of experience. It is learning by doing. It is an environment where each person has input and interaction. This is a democratic classroom and this was developed in the early 1900’s by Dewey and was there as legislation pushed for standardization and simplicity in measuring using tests. There is a paradox in this type of education versus the standardized regime that is being imposed through NCLB and other legislated efforts.
“As nobody can become aware of his individuality unless he is closely and responsibly related to his fellow beings, he is not withdrawing to an egoistic desert when he tries to find himself. He can only discover himself when he is deeply and unconditionally related to some, and generally related to a great many, with whom he has a chance to compare, and from whom he is able to discriminate himself.“ William Pinar
We as individuals require others in our existence for triangulation as bearings or focal points of who we are. It takes the input of other people for community and democracy to truly work and to develop. I had a professor in 1969 at Eastern College in St. David’s Pennsylvania, Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor of sociology, who has made more of an impact on me in the years since as I read his books and contemplated his thoughts. Dr. Campolo points to a growing issue in our culture.
“While the would be spiritual oracles fail to understand about our “advanced” capitalist social system is that the means have been devised to make spiritual realities somewhat unreal to us. More accurately, ways have been found in our consumer-oriented society to reduce spiritual hungers to emotions that can be gratified by purchasing the things being sold to us through the mass media.” Dr. Tony Campolo
It is not just church related spiritual realities Dr. Campolo is talking about here. It is the gist of who we are, that inner aspect I will later refer to as soul, getting to know where we are in the world and why. The development and implementation of standardize testing has driven society to using such words as human capital in our viewing of students. Human capital verses human needs I can see why a mother would pull a second grader out of school because of testing.
Education should be an interdisciplinary event. It should be all encompassing, a lived in, a total undertaking. It is not the linear understanding of a school room and class XYZ that many traditional teachers and administrators adhere too and legislators want. It is in dealing with more than just us but involving the world and community.
“It is through a concern with problems as they relate to mankind at large that it may be possible to create the type of understanding that will enable man to use with wisdom, those tools which have made this century the most promising and the most perilous he has ever known.” Elliott Eisner
Looking at our world view and how we communicate that to others and even to ourselves is important. How we go about educating and teaching our children should be a major concern. What they take from a lesson and how they use it in their own lives can be significant if we will provide the capabilities and allow this to happen. Sadly through a concerted effort schools have been stripping away the children’s individuality for the sake of standardization.
For many years now I have embraced within myself a different sort of understanding of the world. In Native American culture all is sacred, every leaf, twig, rock, animal and human being. The idea of spiritual can be simply walking out the door to a brilliant sunrise or full moon as it inspires and fulfills that within. I see education and curriculum in a similar manner, one of sacredness of spiritual fulfillment, more so than a curriculum map on a wall next to the essential question of the day, for those in learning focused schools. It is not a static fixed commodity some legislators want for ease of operation and it can change with the group and community that it is operating within.
As I researched and read curriculum theorists, many are bringing back the sacredness of learning of understanding and perhaps returning a culture lost in the midst of being found.
“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, the ‘secret’ that ‘sits in the middle and knows’ – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real. Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points. But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, 1998
Perhaps it is in our end of course test and graduation test mentality we are setting limits and parameters on our educative process. We have become so normalized through standardization and traditional molds we have become limited in perceiving anything different. Throughout history it has taken holy men and women, sages, and esoteric’ s to bring back pieces of what is truly there. It may be that curriculum theory is doing this with education. Bringing back what could be. Trying to keep from children their inner self their individuality is hindering learning and development as a human.
Education and curriculum are alive ongoing and pervasive. It is not a limiting plan of strategies as so many teachers and school systems presume. Can we look at curriculum and education in such a broad manner encompassing everything about us, our lived experiences, and our curricula vita? It becomes so difficult to be outside the box when everyone else is inside. But for learning to be real and to progress, we as educators have to ruminate and see the more ultimate issues in life. We need to go beyond the content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine and put back that idea of democracy and experience that living and life provides, suggested so long ago by Dewey. There is so much more to education and curriculum for teachers to consider than what is written down on paper.
“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block
It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books. My first principal who by chance was a recent principal of the year in Georgia had a book club for teachers.
“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher
It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on to the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”. There should not be a limiting to curriculum or to education as so often currently imposed. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching, he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher. We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students.
“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one, 2009
The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces of the individual human being left behind. I would like to be optimistic and say borrowing from the great civil rights leader that as teachers, real teachers, “we shall overcome” and we shall put soul back into the bottle of our children. I got a bit carried away today but continue to keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.