Driving up a mountain takes considerable effort.

Bird Droppings April 27, 2022
Driving up a mountain takes considerable effort.

I am looking forward to another trip to Black Rock Mountain in North Georgia, the site of the Foxfire Museum property. In the past, the site was used as a focus of Piedmont College’s teacher’s class in The Foxfire Approach to teaching. My oldest son took the course as a piece of Piedmont’s master’s degree program. But interestingly enough, several folks who graduated from Loganville High School, my son’s old HS, attended this course. As we went around the room doing introductions, one of the teachers commented on an interesting point for her the first time she had ever held a snake in my old classroom at Loganville High School, holding Stevie, my ball python. Sadly, Stevie passed at thirty-plus years of age after nineteen years of being around students. I’m sitting here thinking there is a picture of her 2003 State Champion Softball team in my files.

As I recall my past sessions sitting and listening to teachers and teachers be in the discussions that went around the room with the lead facilitators providing a framework, I was always amazed at how quickly others began to expound or expand the conversation, which was a starting point of a weeklong session. Depending on the facilitators, the initial start could take a few minutes for those gathered to realize it was a joint venture of teachers and students searching for answers.

I had hit on an idea for my dissertation topic, which has eluded me. I had been sitting in discussion with a former student, and he offered the idea that I had shown him or helped him find how he learned from me through my stories. As I pondered deeper into that morning, this idea stuck with me, a topic from it. I would use my passion for storytelling, which toed directly into the Art of Learning and using the Foxfire Core Practices as a palette. Only a few days ago, my idea evolved again and now is, Stirring up Foxfire: Rekindling Personal Passion for Teaching through Storytelling. I have come across the word improvisational through discussion on my teaching style. That combination of student and teacher thinking is just that improvisational.

When I left Mountain City on my last trip and drove back to the lower lands of Walton County, I felt excited about the possibilities and my epiphany that morning with the idea that learning is an art form. John Dewey’s book, Experience, and Education, sits to my left as I write, and the past few days, I have borrowed from it several times as I jotted ideas down. But within the community of fellow learners and teachers, we find answers and more questions to ask. I thrive on learning, even though I am sure many of my high school teachers and some college professors would argue. Amazing things can be accomplished when students want to learn and desire to learn. Core practice one sums it up.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuse the work teachers and learners do together.” Core Practice One from The Foxfire Core Practices

John Dewey and his thoughts run through the Foxfire Approach to Teaching, emphasizing a democratic classroom, experience as a means of learning, and student input into learning. I find that this is a relatively simple statement. This initial core practice and the other nine have evolved over nearly fifty years of teacher interactions and discussions worldwide. But so often, a key attribute is missed: students and teachers do this undertaking together. In my last course attended, listening to sixteen nearly teachers and active teachers respond to why they were involved in this class gave me a sense that maybe a few get it in the world.

We talk about test scores in education, which are also used to measure federal and state guidelines in most schools. Standardized tests are given to all students at the end or near the end of a school term on specific subjects to measure what students have learned. Sadly, many students could take the same test at the beginning of the term and score the same, so is that a valid measure of what is learned? Probably not. Far too many teachers avoid discussing the concept of learning; they are engrossed in standards, curriculum, forms, and teacher manuals on the subject. So, I am offering to learn a stream to cross or an art form. Both of these ideas are fluid, moving, and ever-changing.

“Measuring tools lead to quantification; the tools in the arts lead to qualification.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

Do we ever truly measure learning? I have been wondering this since I started back into teaching, although in different words and meanings. A simple measure would be given a pre-test and post-test, showing where a student started and where they ended. A far more involved scenario would be using portfolios to gather the evidence as the student progresses through the material. They are effectively used in some schools to measure learning and student growth. These would consist of gathering artifacts along the way from the student. Essays, reports, assignments, and any piece of material involved in the student’s academic life could be considered an artifact.

“With respect to art and its meaning I share Dewey’s view that art is a mode of human experience that in principle can be secured whenever an individual interacts with any aspect of the world.” Elliot Eisner, The Arts and the Creation of Mind

So, I am wandering as I sit here this almost summer-like morning pondering an article to write on critical pedagogy. I sat down yesterday trying to write, but my energy level has deteriorated even after two five-hour energy shots, and I did little more than ponder a moment. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


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