Could there be such a thing as Essential Education?


Bird Droppings August 21, 2014
Could there be such a thing as Essential Education?

It has been almost two years since I was discussing various educational philosophies and pedagogies with my son. One happened to be essential education which per his text is only a slight step from perennial education that is reading, writing and arithmetic period. There is little if any art or music what so ever. As I looked through my files, an author popped up who dabbled in or wrote the book on essential education, Ted Sizer.

“Pedagogy logically is a subject for which schools of education are – or should be – responsible. It all depends on; of course, on how those schools define pedagogical skill. Is pedagogy merely the training necessary to contribute to a penny-bank system of schooling? Is teaching more science than an art? Is sophisticated teaching the instruction of ideas and skills, matters of speaking and telling? That is, can we describe the steps a teacher must make, ultimately as a matter of habit, in enough detail to allow careful testing to determine whether the work has succeeded? To my eye, teaching – pedagogy – is an art … a demanding art. There is science to it (just as with painting), but also style, the quality of a person’s actions whether that person is fifteen or fifty. Getting others to learn, which includes helping them acquire skills, is a subtle, complex business… Pedagogy depends on a teacher’s character, his experience, his willingness to examine what is going on in his classes and to test his judgments against those of others. It requires self-confidence and a willingness to listen to the view of others. Those of us in education must accept this inevitable fuzziness and learn how to live with it as artists do.” Ted Sizer

A friend posted a link to a blog that happened to have this quote yesterday and attached to my Facebook page that is synchronistic. As I looked further in my various articles and readings this version of essential education is a bit more than what my son’s text from two years ago implied. There are several splendid ideas in terms of education and learning in the programming at the Tara Redwood School.

Essential Education Pedagogy
The pedagogy developed by Tara Redwood School and Essential Education includes the following:
• Knowledge of the inner world of thoughts, feelings and emotions is as important as knowledge of the outer world
• An integrated and interdisciplinary approach to learning is preferable to one that fragments and divides knowledge
• Individuals often have dramatically different learning styles; all learning styles are valid and must be both acknowledged and nurtured.
• Learning rooted in direct experience far surpasses in depth and endurance learning by indirect methods
• Generally accepted subject matter can be enhanced by integrating a Essential Education approach and accompanying methods and techniques
• The intuitive wisdom of the individual can be developed by dialectical discussion and debate exploring philosophical, spiritual and moral themes.
Tara Redwood School. 5810 Prescott Road. Soquel, CA

Sitting here thinking about a specific definitive pedagogy and I am one who seldom uses the word many thoughts. Over the past few years, I have been exploring my ideas of what is pedagogy and how I see my teaching and instructional methods. I have borrowed extensively from Carl Rogers, who was controversial in 1968 and his ideas still are considered perhaps utopian to borrow a few words from a friend. It is difficult to piece together I have found like so many aspects of how I view teaching are themselves controversial as well. I have borrowed over the last several days from John Dewey, Elliot Wiggington, Foxfire and today the Tara Redwood School. So much of our world view also reflects through our ideas and interactions each day and is directly influencing upon our pedagogical conceptualizations. Having for most of my life being involved directly or indirectly within working with and teaching exceptional children and adults I am always on the lookout for new and innovative ideas. I tend to stick with things that work well and always am tuning those ideas that I do use.

I mentioned my use of the Foxfire Core Practices and tools such as a trust scale I developed back in 2003. Numerous times I have brought up my use of animals in my classroom and addressed the impact that being involved with snakes, for example, has on attitudes and especially on developing trust with students. I do believe relationships are a key to teaching building and maintaining positive relationships with students can open doors to learning.

“Schools have been captured by the concept of accountability, which has been transformed from a notion that schools need to be responsive and responsible to community concerns to one in which numbers are used to demonstrate that schools have met their minimal requirement.” David Purpel, 1989, Department of Curriculum and Educational Foundations, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

In our world of accountability in education test scores rule. With the factory oriented mentality leading the way in teaching many, do not allow time for relationships and or care to have that as an aspect of who they are as a teacher. John Dewey over and again emphasizes community as a key in building an effective learning situation.

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

“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

“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 Practice three
Foxfire is based on working together and involving the community of the school it is about building and establishing relationships, and I have found in my research long lasting relationships between students and teachers. Part of my approach has been using Facebook as an extension of my classroom. Many photos from school events are posted as well as my daily journaling. Occasionally a former student will send a note thank you for the thoughts or just what I needed today. Recently one of those notes was from a student from eleven years ago when I first came back to teaching.

“Critical pedagogy considers how education can provide individuals with the tools to better themselves and strengthen democracy, to create a more egalitarian and just society, and thus to deploy education in a process of progressive social change. “ 21st Century Schools

As I was reading various articles and papers, this morning John Dewey again is continually through the pages of critical pedagogy, experiential learning and Foxfire. Much like in so many other theorists and practitioners works Dewey seems to crop up. When I read this short note from 21st Century Schools about Critical Pedagogy several key elements caught my attention. Education strengthening democracy and social change almost directly parallels John Dewey.

“Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” John Dewey

“The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” John Dewey

As I wonder about how should we be teaching children, I keep coming back to providing context for the content. With accelerated lesson plans and curriculum maps and everybody trying to attain one hundred percent pass rate on the various tests that we are mandated to give to students in Georgia and across the nation little time, is left for context. We are leaving the most valuable learning by the wayside in order to get a quick score on a test. I end each day with please us keep all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts. As I am pondering maybe, we should include children subjected to a battery of standardized tests that do little more than provide the numbers David Purpel writes about but within all of this still remember to give thanks namaste.

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

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