Bird Droppings January 22, 2013
Can passion be acquired?
“To speak so listeners long to hear more and to listen so others’ meaning is grasped are the ideals of the impeccably great.” Tirukkural 65:646
When I first read the passage from the Tirukkural I thought of a few words from Albert Einstein that I have used in my daily meanderings many times for several years. I first used this quote in a presentation for my Capstone in my master’s degree program at Piedmont College nearly ten years ago. For me real teaching is making such an impact. I have used passages over the years from the Tirukkural always considering it to be simply Hindu literature, by chance I looked it up further and over 2000 years old its original religious significance is questioned by scholars yet both the writer and words are considered holy.
“The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how can we make our teaching so potent in the motional life of man, that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual?” Albert Einstein
As I read about the Tirrukkural, while in translation the flow and pattern that the text was written in are changed slightly from a very specific number of words per line and per couplet to what words can work in English without losing too much meaning it is still a significant piece of literature. I was thinking back to my own classes and could they sit while I read 1330 couplets of seven words, four on the first and three on the second lines. Probably not paper balls would be winging it at my head. But then how do we make our teaching as potent as Einstein says that maybe just maybe that class would sit through all 1330 couplets. Candy always works, but M&M extrinsic bribery aside what do we do as teachers to bring relevance to our words?
“All preschool children are passionate, curious learners. Somewhere along the way in school many, many kids become alienated from the joy of learning.” Robert L. Fried
Last night I sat talking to my son and daughter in law about watching my granddaughter learning. At two years old you can see literally earning occurring. When I leave in the morning and by afternoon a new word or sentence is being used. Granted she is growing up in a house where reading, language and writing is cherished as well as music and art. Daily she is drawing, listening and trying to read her various books. Looking back at Fried’s thought perhaps not all kids lose that desire but many lose their drive and passion for learning. I want to know why.
I had a “student” back in the day whose discipline records went back to preschool and his referrals were so numerous that he was transferred to a psycho-educational program in kindergarten. I am still trying to figure out how you get in that much trouble behaviorally in pre-K, maybe crumbling a cookie the wrong way. Children are insatiably curious, we as teachers along the way train that out of them. We work towards nice straight lines and being quiet and saying yes mame or no sir and really straight lines and red flowers with green leaves when drawing only. I recall that Harry Chapin song often as I work with children of any age and see creativity being lost to uniformity, standardized testing, memorization and teachers being lazy.
Not that long ago we made cookie dough from scratch, even in my youth which is a life time ago you could buy cookie dough in plastic tubes. You could take it out and make big cookies if you didn’t cut in quarters like the directions tell you to. Now days you can buy the cookie dough already made into cookies, we like uniformity.
”That so few children seem to take pleasure from what they’re doing on a given weekday morning, that the default emotional state in classrooms seems to alternate between anxiety and boredom, doesn’t even alarm us. Worse: Happiness in schools is something for which educators may feel obliged to apologize when it does make an appearance. After all, they wouldn’t want to be accused of offering a “feel-good” education.” Alfie Kohn
I started my Master degree capstone presentation at Piedmont College with some research based on when students want to be in class they do far better. If a student does not want to be in school we go back to motivating through bribery and extrinsic methods. I had a student when I asked what would make him want to be in school say, “pay me to come, you get paid to be here”, and it made me think. I still occasionally use bribery but I seriously do try and focus on building intrinsic desire. I read that recently an Atlanta school started a pilot program of paying students to attend after school tutoring. Amazingly some people were against it without seeing if the program had merit. In response to my students wanting to be paid, I pulled out my pay stub looked at the numbers and with a smile showed my students my pay check. Amazing the shock when he saw I get paid nothing for being here. I did not tell him I have electronic deposit and my pay check has zero listed on the amount line. But I really got mileage out of that.
I said I enjoy being here I explained and I actually I do, he knew that, but the zero pay check really hit hard. I thought about the intrinsic reasons I teach. How do you convey that to students?
”Students tend to be regarded not as subjects but as objects, not as learners but as workers. By repeating words like “accountability” and “results” often enough, the people who devise and impose this approach to schooling evidently succeed in rationalizing what amounts to a policy of feel-bad education.” Alfie Kohn
I have been borrowing these notes from Alfie Kohn; I saved an article a few years back on Feel-Bad Education in Education Week available on line at Alfie Kohn’s website in its entirety for those who would like to read more. Over the years in numerous articles on teaching emotionally and behaviorally disturbed students the sterile classroom has been the norm, no distractions. I found in a trial and error sort of way the opposite; a room filled with distractions provides endless teachable moments and places where a student who needs a different attitude and look from the teacher can find a space. So what for some is clutter can be comfortable for another. But the student needs to want to be there. When this inquisitiveness occurs learning can easily happen.
Of course you will still have that child who started in pre-K; I remember the day a few years back when I asked him, why do you not want to learn to read. This was a tenth grade student who through all of his school life had been a serious and often dangerous behavior problem; he spent eight of ten years in Psycho-ed centers. I was complimenting him on his reading, he has been in a reading tutorial for three semesters and we were working on writing letters for a school project and he was able to read back all he wrote on the computer. He commented “no one ever took the time to show me cause I was so bad”, a side note spell check works great if you can read, when you can’t it does not always help. Well he still is obnoxious but slowly the idea there are teachers who do care about him and want to help him is sinking in I think back to Robert Fried’s title for a book “The Passionate Teacher” that is what it is all about. We teachers and parents need to look at our intrinsic versus extrinsic and see why are we teaching, is it purely for M&M’s, are we simply being bribed or is there underneath the passion an intrinsic rational. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and to always give thanks namaste.
Wa de (Skee)