Bird Droppings January 9, 2018
Decontextualizing – Learning is a journey strewn with boulders
“In a word, learning is decontextualized. We break ideas down into tiny pieces that bear no relation to the whole. We give students a brick of information, followed by another brick, followed by another brick, until they are graduated, at which point we assume they have a house. What they have is a pile of bricks, and they don’t have it for long.” Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’S, Praise and Other Bribes
For nearly a week it has been bitter cold in the mornings and today is first day in some time everything is not frozen solid. It has been interesting early in the morning clear or semi-clear and so far no precipitation including predicted snow storm, although we are having intermittent rain currently. My wife has to drive in the dark to work as does my oldest son each morning. Today we had a few clouds hiding the closing of the moon. It has been many years since I first brought up that we need context to complement the content in education. I have been a fan of Alfie Kohn’s work for nearly sixteen years since I first read a book in a book club meeting held by our then principal now a RESA director. As I read this earlier today and used as a status for my Facebook page the idea of decontextualizing interests me. Real learning involves context and if we constantly are decontextualizing essentially we are unlearning what we are trying to teach.
“Who, then, shall conduct education so that humanity may improve?” John Dewey
A very deep and broad question, I was thinking back to my own community and associations. We elect school board members who hire teachers and principals, they decide on schools to build and a place to build them and rules to govern schools. In Georgia recently several school systems have lost and or been put on probation due to school boards inappropriate behavior and the politics of those school boards that took away from education. The new kid on the bock charter schools is impacting public education and private schools still thrive here in the Bible belt. In any situation where elected officials are running the show and especially where there are few requirements for the job and it pays little if anything what should we expect? So I turn to my hero, what and how does Dewey the great educator answer his own question?
“We must depend upon the efforts of enlightened men in their private capacity. ’All culture begins with private men and spreads outward from them. Simply through the efforts of persons of enlarged inclinations, who are capable of grasping the ideal of a future better condition, is the gradual approximation of human nature to its end possible…. Rulers are simply interested in such training as will make their subjects better tools for their own intentions.’ Even the subsidy by rulers of privately conducted schools must be carefully safeguarded. For the rulers’ interest in the welfare of their own nation instead of in what is best for humanity, will make them, if they give money for the schools, wish to draw their plans.” John Dewey
We are manipulated and educated as pawns in a society for the societies own perpetuation and many top educators across the country believe this. There are times when I believe as well, watching new teachers come and teach in a manner that has been that way for a hundred years, as we develop curriculums that are what was and will always be and or design a program simply to sell books much like the integrated math program curriculum in Georgia that is after about three years being done away with because test scores were significantly dropping and over eighty thousand students failed end of course tests it is always about tests. Occasionally a bright note a light on the horizon, a student of education or two sees a different view a different point and follows a different path. Here I am thinking and routine keeps popping up.
Today as I do every day I let out Timber our Husky. It is funny back in the day we had Moose our yorkie, and Lil girl our westie and the two could not be in the same space together even though they were raised for several years together. We moved along the way and they could not decide who was boss after the move. Then I go to my computer and write trying to catch up on emails. What is of concern as I think is that this is a trivial item to be concerned about? We want things to be smooth to run efficiently and effectively and “OUR WAY”; the further up the chain of command the bigger the “OUR WAY” is.
“The new idea of the importance of education for human welfare and progress was captured by national interests and harnessed to do a work whose social aim was definitely narrow and exclusive. The social aim of education and its national aim were identified, and the result was a marked obscuring of the meaning of a social aim.” John Dewey
Teachers and administrators like routine, sameness I call it and easy to be canned and or bottled. Borrowing from Sydney J, Harris “easier to stuff a sausage than cultivate a pearl” The student effectively gets lost in the mandated and regulated manipulations of society.
“Is it possible for an educational system to be conducted by a national state and yet the full social ends of the educative process not be restricted, constrained, and corrupted?” John Dewey
I find irony in the concept of a democratic classroom which I do believe can be successful. I find paradox in our efforts to be so democratic in our own country and yet we tend to bow to where majority wants even at the expense of free thought. We say individualism on one hand yet want the seemed majority to rule and to dictate. As I was watching the election process in Iraq previously these concepts seemed to be exemplified. One faction has won and another literally did not vote in protest.
As I look at education and our own country how often do we do this and then when that which we did not elect nor even cared about happens we whine. We complain and we are faced with a journey that has provisions we do not want nor need. We can be often on that journey in a wrong direction for several years till another change, or pathway appears. Far too often we dictate direction in a top down scenario. On the path the one on the journey is being told go this way and go that and should be the one directing the effort. It is so easy to raise an issue; following through with ideas is the more difficult aspect. Where in should the direction be set for example in education? I approach students in a manner that may be contradictory to some and way wrong to others. I offer here is where we need to go and ok class how do we get there. At first that is a difficult proposition, many want a map, a guide, a compass at least. The teacher can be that, facilitating in a guiding manner. But for learning to happen students have to be engaged and interactive in the journey each day.
“To get where they’re going, navigators first need to know where in the world they are.” Dragonfly web site
If we substitute educators and or students for navigators an interesting situation occurs. Any journey needs a starting point and how we find where that is often is the hard part in education. A journey starts at the beginning, where it is going is wherever and whenever but it does start somewhere. As a teacher helps students find a starting point and then provides tools to navigate the journey. 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,
(We are all related)