Bird Droppings November 13, 2015
Determining what it is we need to learn and teach
I often wander in my morning writing. Traditionally I do try and focus on a point or two as I ramble. I have folks complain about spelling and punctuation every now and again but then I think back to my very early morning writing. I had a eight hundred or so email list and I would write as I thought and read often running many sentences into a page or two. But a letter almost on a daily basis of thank you for your words kept me rambling. I had a comment yesterday about punctuation and I appreciate it seriously I am not a language teacher and will not claim that. But it gave me some room for thought we so often are told what we need to teach. The famous standards such and such on page two thousand of unpacked standards. Now comes the separation of content and real teaching. It is how we deliver and how we engage students. It is showing our passion for the subject matter.
“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know — and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know — even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction — than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.” Isaac Asimov
It amazes me to listen to students say I am passing I have a seventy percent and that’s good enough. I sometimes wonder if students really learn anything from day one till day seven hundred twenty one or do they simply regurgitate data and information to pass tests. My son commenting as he took SAT’s several times the more he took math classes the better his scores and conversely one semester he did not have an English class and on his SAT score dropped a few points. So even for a good student is school simply a memorizing forum.
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” Basho
“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton
I found when I began looking for answers learning became easier. When answers were being given to me in a mandatory sort of way such as in going to high school I learned less. Even in college for many years learning was considered mandatory and it seemed a dulling experience. I have observed many students and what they learn if they want to learn a topic the read about it the look up information about it the desire to learn.
“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
For some time I had tacked this quote on the end of my morning Droppings and have it posted on my room wall. How can we make our teaching so potent? How do we get information we teach to be what students want to learn?
“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers. It may not be difficult to store up in the mind a vast quantity of face within a comparatively short time, but the ability to form judgments requires the severe discipline of hard work and the tempering heat of experience and maturity” Calvin Coolidge
“Wisdom is like electricity. There is no permanently wise man, but men capable of wisdom, who, being put into certain company, or other favorable conditions, become wise for a short time, as glasses rubbed acquire electric power for a while.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I think back a few days to the concept of a democratic school where students pick and choose topics for discussion and learning each week I have been amazed as I talk with teachers around the country who use this method and are having success. It would be difficult to plan for a standardized test perhaps in that style of democratic class room. In Ashville North Carolina there is an elementary school using The Foxfire Approach to Teaching and they are scoring twenty to thirty points higher on State mandated tests than other schools in their district and even significantly higher compared to state averages.
In Georgia did I mention for example (we had the Quality Core Curriculum which has evolved to Georgia Performance Standards and now evolves to Common Core) where very specific determined material is taught in specific determined ways. For example item number 123 might be the classification of segmented worms and item 123.1 may be differentiation of segmented worms. Somewhere someone determined in Biology that that item was crucial.
It may be a history item about George Washington’s false teeth made from wood or which landing craft was first on Iwo Jima but someone determined it was critical to know in high school and must be taught. Talk about teaching to the test. Combine this with testing companies are textbook publishing companies and the drama and sage is never ending.
“Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” St. Francis of Assisi
“Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness.” Sophocles
How would we know what it is we need to know and how would teachers know what it is we need to know in order to teach us?
Using standardized tests provides a vehicle to measure but then we teach to that particular test or do not teach to it. If I know what students need to know before I start the class then I will gear the class to learning what they need to know and even possibly understanding before the test. So in effect we teach to the test. We teach what someone somewhere has deemed necessary for a student in that grade and time and that may or may not be what that teacher or student wants to learn. This is where the issue is. Which then brings back to students tend to learn best when it is something that they want to know and realistically teachers teach far better something they want to teach.
It would be a sad world if parents were told they had to teach their kids so and so today and tomorrow it would be this and that. Now that I think about it maybe that is not so bad. Except that then someone somewhere will be saying what children will be taught and when and how. That system just closed down in Russia a few years back so if our goal is to train social animatrons to fill the factories as Karl Marx once indicated the goal of education was well guess what we are doing that again. Somehow we need to bring back creativity and critical thought and get away from this mass effort of everyone needs to know the same thing.
“If you wish to know the road up the mountain, ask the man who goes back and forth on it.”Zenrim
Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and be sure to always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)