Bird Droppings December 29, 2022
Should children be left behind?
“I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained, and he only holds the key to his own secret. By your tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his end and kept out of his own. Respect the child. Wait and see the new product of nature. Nature loves analogies but not repetitions. Respect the child. Be not too much his parent. Trespass not on his solitude. But I hear the outcry which replies to this suggestion: – Would you verily throw up the reins of public and private discipline; would you leave the young child to the mad career of his own passions and whimsies and call this anarchy a respect for the child’s nature? I answer, – Respect the child, and respect him to the end, but also respect yourself. Be the companion of his thought, the friend of his friendship, the lover of his virtue – but no kinsman of his sin. Let him find you so true to yourself that you are the irreconcilable hater of his vice and the imperturbable slighter of his trifling.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago, my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke about his idea of education; fortunately for me, he wrote it down. Over the last ten years, I have been directly involved in an educational program, Foxfire, based on John Dewey’s ideas on education. I was talking last Friday just before lunch with a fellow teacher and a local representative from PAGE, Professional Association of Georgia Educators, about education of all things. We discussed the idea of teaching top-down as we in Georgia are being directed to do with new national common core standards. Here is where we are going, and how do we get there? That is more of the fundamental question than why you did not get where you are supposed to be.
Interestingly, this first statement is what Emerson and Dewey were talking about. As we talked, I mentioned Foxfire and how it affected how good teachers teach without even knowing. It is not something new and outlandish it is just putting a name on good teaching habits and providing a framework of ten core practices to work with.
Coincidently, my friend involved in the discussion had retrieved some old Foxfire books from the discarded book cart. Periodically our media center discards old or tattered books for teachers to get the first crack at before throwing them out. It seems that I have built a library of discarded books. My friend had salvaged four old Foxfire books from the cart earlier in the day.
“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living. I believe that the school must represent present life-life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground. I believe that education which does not occur through forms of life or that are worth living for their own sake is always a poor substitute for the genuine reality and tends to cramp and to deaden. I believe that the school, as an institution, should simplify existing social life; should reduce it, as it were, to an embryonic form. Existing life is so complex that the child cannot be brought into contact with it without either confusion or distraction; he is either overwhelmed by the multiplicity of activities which are going on so that he loses his own power of orderly reaction, or he is so stimulated by these various activities that his powers are prematurely called into play, and he becomes either unduly specialized or else disintegrated.” John Dewey
Learning is not a time-limited, space-limited, or school-building-limited activity, as many teachers think, and it is not tied to a specific curriculum and text. Real learning is alive, ongoing, continuous, actively participatory, and integral to societal involvement. As I looked at the Foxfire core practices, it became apparent these are good teacher practices, these are good life practices, and this is where learning can indeed occur.
1 • From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuses the work teachers, and learners do together.
2 • The work teachers and learners do together clearly manifests the attributes of the academic disciplines involved, so those attributes become habits of mind.
3 • The work teachers and students do together enables learners to make connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond their communities.
4 • The teacher serves as facilitator and collaborator.
5 • Active learning characterizes classroom activities.
6 • The learning process entails imagination and creativity.
7 • Classroom work includes peer teaching, small group work, and teamwork.
8 • The work of the classroom serves audiences beyond the teacher, thereby evoking the best efforts by the learners and providing feedback for improving subsequent performances.
9 • The work teachers and learners do together includes rigorous, ongoing assessment and evaluation.
10 • Reflection, an essential activity, takes place at key points throughout the work.
Foxfire fund Inc.
What intrigued me from my first involvement with Foxfire was how even the approach to learning our school system is using, called Learning Focused Schools, is within these eleven principles. This past summer, in my research, I found most excellent educational ideas incorporate or parallel these simple practices. Hundreds of good teachers in actual practice helped develop this concept over a long period. Emerson and Dewey were thinking along the same lines long before most of us were born. This is not a new fad. It is simply good teaching. It is interesting; I recall long before I read Dewey or Emerson or anything about Foxfire which was little more than a mountain word for a glowing fungus on a hillside. I have been in graduate education classes learning from teachers who taught in this manner, and I have watched students learn as they were involved in this approach to education. So why is it so hard to get across to teachers of today? Could it be because it takes more work from the teachers to implement? You will see the word rigorous in Foxfire quite a bit, and it is. But good teaching is rigorous. It is dynamic, not static.
As I am working on my dissertation and researching The Foxfire Approach to teaching, I find teachers telling me they prefer to teach in this manner but often are criticized by peers and administration for not following curriculum maps and guides. An article in NEA’s weekly newsletter pointed to how so many new teachers are coming into the ranks with little or no proper training in education, and often a point-and-click mentality is all they have. They are bodies filling space and pushing kids through. I have met several great teachers who have come through alternative approaches to teacher training; However, I did have a minor and major in education along the way, never student-taught. I switched my major to psychology along the way at the last minute to avoid taking a foreign language which was required for education majors at Mercer University in 1974.
Instead of more new curriculums, I would suggest we need to instill more adrenaline in teachers. Perhaps we could install a super energy drink machine outside each teacher’s classroom and, just before starting class, require every teacher to get a caffeine jolt. Energy can be compelling in many ways, especially when it involves the passion for teaching. I have wandered and pondered enough for one day and will get off my soap box for today, but please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart and always give thanks, namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)