Learning and teaching are inevitable – if we try

Bird Droppings June 29, 2016
Learning and teaching are inevitable – if we try

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but how many can get through to you.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

Dr. Adler founded the Center for the Study of Great Ideas and has been the Chairman of the Board of Editors for Encyclopedia Britannica; he focused on Philosophy and Liberal Education. One of my traditional writing assignments in class is I have students write an essay for one hundred twenty five words and you get a seventy percent, for two hundred fifty words you get an eighty percent, three hundred seventy five words for an ninety percent and five hundred words for one hundred percent and your choice of plain or peanut M&M’s. The title of the essay was “How should I be taught”. I work with students on using their research, finding and using quotes and citing authors so copy and paste was possible to bulk up a feeble attempt. In a class I did this with three did five hundred words, one fell asleep he didn’t feel good and two only made one hundred and twenty five words.
The funny thing is I deliberately do this by writing on the white board and not one time asking anyone to work. One of the first completed in one class was a student who doesn’t care, wants to quit school and uses the great word of words “whatever” more times a day than his entire balance of vocabulary.

“Our schools are not turning out young people prepared for the high office and the duties of citizenship in a democratic republic. Our political institutions cannot thrive; they may not even survive, if we do not produce a greater number of thinking citizens, from whom some statesmen of the type we had in the eighteenth century might eventually emerge. We are, indeed, a nation at risk, and nothing but radical reform of our schools can save us from impending disaster. Whatever the price we must pay in money and effort to do this, the price we will pay for not doing it will be much greater.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

So a student did an assignment for a pack of M&M’s is that really amazing I have over the years grown away from extrinsic motivation but still occasionally will, just to point things out to kids. In this case, I did not have to coerce, beg, ask, or even remind students I simply wrote on the board and stated the day’s assignment is on the board. Of all my students that one period the one finishing first is the only one who I have to push constantly. The rest knew my tricks basically. I did give him a pack of M&M’s and you know what his essay while not the greatest was complete a first. Since coming back into the teaching field I have found several key factors in teacher student involvement especially in high school, first the student has to want to be in that class, in that same light the student has to have a reason for what they are to do, relevance for that student. It has to be their reason not one imposed by a teacher and ideally that will become a self fulfilling purpose and or reason to acquire more information as to learn more and move on in life.

Initially it may be a pack of M&M’s but the point of that exercise was to see if this student given a motivator would try versus simply “I do not care I am not doing the work”. Interesting note later in the day I received an email questionnaire about his progress on goals in relationship to his IEP. I have had this student a total of five weeks and reviewed his goals many of which are based on motivation and at least trying. Options to answer are introduced (I) and Progressing and of course a P, and then mastered and a capital M. His case manager said I ruined his report; I said progressing on all counts and was actually optimistic while all others were saying the opposite. I have a major issue and problem, how can you be teaching if a student is not progressing at all.

“If, in some way, the generations to come would learn what a good life is and how to achieve it and could be given the discipline, not only of mind but of character, that would make them willingly responsive to the categorical ought’s of a teleological ethics, perhaps, then, the moral and educational revolution might begin and take hold. To hope for this is to hope for no more than that the restoration of a sound and practical moral philosophy will enable enlightened common sense to prevail in human affairs.” Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

The idea and organization Paideia, is an educational concept founded again by Dr. Adler. The principles of this organization are as follows:
1. That all children can learn;
2. that, therefore, they all deserve the same quality of schooling, not just the same quantity;
3. that the quality of schooling to which they are entitled is what the wisest parents would wish for their own children, the best education for the best being the best education for all;
4. that schooling at its best is preparation for becoming generally educated in the course of a whole lifetime and those schools should be judged on how well they provide such preparation;
5. that the three callings for which schooling should prepare all Americans are (a) to earn a decent livelihood, (b) to be a good citizen of the nation and the world, and (c) to make a good life for oneself;
6. that the primary cause of genuine learning is the activity of the learner’s own mind, sometimes with the help of a teacher functioning as a secondary and cooperative cause;
7. that the three kinds of teaching that should occur in our schools are didactic teaching of subject matter, coaching that produces the skills of learning, and Socratic questioning in seminar discussion;
8. that the results of these three kinds of teaching should be (a) the acquisition of organized knowledge, (b) the formation of habits of skill in the use of language and mathematics, and (c) the growth of the mind’s understanding of basic ideas and issues;
9. That the each student’s achievement of these results should be evaluated in terms of that student’s capacities and not solely related to the achievements of other students;
10. that the principal of a school should never be a mere administrator, but also a leading teacher who should cooperate with the faculty in planning, reforming, and reorganizing the school as an educational community;
11. That the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning; and
12. That the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching.
Copyright © 1991 by The Paideia Group, Inc. The Paideia Group, Inc. Board of Directors: John Clark, Rosa Blackwell, Vann Langston, Rita Kaplan, Cindy Rutz, John Van Doren, and Patricia Weiss. Honorary Chairman is Mortimer Adler
I read through these principles and was somewhat intrigued, especially in points eleven and twelve, “that the principal and faculty of a school should themselves be actively engaged in learning; and that the desire to continue their own learning should be the prime motivation of those who dedicate their lives to the profession of teaching. I have mentioned numerous times over the past years of Henry David Thoreau leaving the teaching field to become a learner. Thoreau felt in order to teach you have to be a learner first. Several years back in working on a paper for graduate school I used the word osmosis as a representation for teacher student feedback. That student I first mentioned who did not care about school was able to be motivated it was finding a re-enforcer.
Borrowing from the great behaviorist B.F. Skinner for every behavior there is an antecedent and then there is a consequence. We can change behavior by changing consequence and or the antecedent. Ideally we would like the antecedents and consequences to become intrinsic but to get the ball rolling sometimes an extrinsic means can and will work. But extrinsic means generally are only temporary solutions shy of electric shock which is illegal in most states.

“If acquisition of the liberal arts is an intrinsic part of human dignity, then the democratic ideal demands that we should strive to see to it that all have the opportunity to attain to the fullest measure of the liberal arts that is possible to each.” Robert M. Hutchison, The Great Conversation

“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

I have used over and over again this quote from Albert Einstein and it is perhaps one of my favorite. How can we make are teaching so potent? We as teachers as parents as friends need to strive to actively pursue learning in order that those children around us will see and model that behavior and want to learn for learning’s sake. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts namaste.

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

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