Can I teach myself or am I even allowed?


Bird Droppings July 10, 2014
Can I teach myself or am I even allowed?

“There is then, nothing final about a logical rendering of experience. Its value is not contained in itself; its significance is that of standpoint, outlook, and method. It intervenes between the more casual, tentative, and roundabout experiences of the past, and more controlled and orderly experiences of the future.” John Dewey, The Child and Curriculum

I have been reading the past few days books by Sousa, Tomlinson, Creswell, Merriam, Gatto, Eisner and Dewey and one thing seems to continually pop up and that is the experience a child brings with them to the learning process is critical. All of the days before coming to school, family stuff, community stuff, cultural stuff and kid’s stuff that accumulate as a child grow. Far too often we expert teachers forget that is even there just in front of us. There is an entire world of experiences that each student has been through and could build upon and expand.

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” John W. Gardner

A variation on the ancient Chinese proverb “you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or you can teach a man to fish and feed him for life” John W. Gardner was the founder of Common Cause and instrumental in founding of Medicare and many educational and social reforms including the Civil Rights act. Interesting how today the political rhetoric is almost the opposite. In education today with mandated standardized testing driving the curriculum and corporate America taking over education we seem to be wanting to create a world of consumers and workers and fewer inventors and creators.

“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursing his own education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.” John W. Gardner

Working within the field of education I have seen what trying to legislate education can do, often I find myself saying the term “No child left behind” should read “how many can we leave behind”. We do this as we systematically push students into certain categories and then out the door in order to meet and exceed standards artificially imposed across the board. We should continuously be striving to “teach them to grow their own plants” as Gardner states and not be measuring cut flowers. But testing of such issues as to how well can a student grow a flower, well it takes a growing season and is not done in a two hour session. One of the most effect methods of measuring a child educational growth is a portfolio in which bits and pieces are gather across a span of time showing where they started and where they are. Amazingly enough there are a few schools using portfolios of students work to assess their students, probably because it takes a whole growing season of work.
“Considerable research has demonstrated the importance of making sure students are actively involved in designing their own learning, invited to play a role in formulating questions, creating projects, and so on.” Alfie Kohn

I was thinking how interesting as we move into a new world of education or is it an old world. During the past school year’s daily reflection time as my students did their journaling I asked them to write about what they would do different in educating themselves and no school was the number one answer. I asked for clarification since no school would put me out of a job. “How am I to learn how to work on Honda motors if I never see one” or “I want to work on my parents farm and raise cattle I do not need to know that 3X+3 = 9”. I was somewhat set back we design curriculum with what we as educators and as legislators decide students need to know. Seldom do we ever ask students. Last night on a late night talk show the discussion on education came up and what I found interesting was there are jobs three million unfilled jobs that people either do not want or feel they are too well qualified. There are large equipment operator jobs through Caterpillar Company that eventually after training can be six figures and no one is applying. An old logo from high schools in the 1970’s was shown “Work smart not hard”. No wonder we cannot get out of this all kids go to college mentality in state and federal legislators minds.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice number one, 2009

I was discussing equations the other day back during school with a student who was having a hard time in math, 10X – 3X = 20 + 1. I easily offered 7X = 21 and or X = 3. I was wrong I was told X = 1.9 and I was shown rules for this process and why and how. I talked to this student’s teacher later in the day actually to verify my own meager math skills. It seems that this student learned some simple algebraic rules but cannot always put them in the correct place. It was about cutting flowers versus growing flowers. (10X +3X) (-3x +3X) = (20-1) (+1 – 1) and or to the effect 13X = 19 and the confusion goes on. In effect the student had been taught to balance an equation and had rules but could not differentiate which equations needed balancing. It was sort of like growing flowers and continually pulling out the flowers and letting the weeds grow because you know flowers have leaves and weeds have stems. How do we reach students? How do we change from “no school” to truly getting input from students, faculty and parents about needs of the community, state and nation as to educating that student?

“Students need to be engaged in the process of learning in ways that connect with their experience. Students learn better when they know the teacher cares about them.” Robert Fried

Over the past couple years I have had the privilege to work with a young lady who graduated or nearly graduated eight years ago two credits shy of actual graduation. She has been working since to take the two courses she had failed twice each in high school, Algebra I and Physical Science. I had been proctoring her tests and helping set up computer learning for her. She owns an Ice cream franchise and really doesn’t need to graduate from high school, but she did.
Nearly 100 years ago John Dewey offered up students need to build from experience. Numerous scholars and researchers have shown the effectiveness of constructivism in education and the effectiveness of students knowing that their teachers care and or are passionate about what they do it is not just a job with a pay check.

“Schools were places where the students did what they were told to do. They answered questions–they did not ask them; their special (or their not so special) interests and curiosities were to be kept private; they were not to take time away from the predetermined curriculum. In short, the culture of the classroom lacked almost all of the hallmarks of productive learning. And each level of the educational hierarchy viewed the level below it as teachers viewed students.” Dr. Seymour Sarason

The possibility to teach growing flowers is there if we decide to do that. It is making the change from cutting flowers to growing flowers that has to occur within a community and within schools for it to succeed. Today let us all as parents and teachers try and begin to teach students how to grow flowers. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)
bird

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