Bird Droppings March 11, 2023
Are we going in the right direction?
I reviewed my student’s online work status three years ago. A couple of surprises and some that were not. I thought that when the virus finally moved on and the smoke cleared, some grades would go up, and some would drop. We were told we needed to allow time for makeup work. I found it interesting that dividing students into two groups was easy. Students engaged in class before the pandemic, and students who did virtually nothing. As I thought more, I realized that schooling, as we tend to do, is socialized education. Students who engage in their education took the pandemic in stride, while most students without those students to copy, sit next to and or borrow work floundered. The second group came to school to socialize. There is so much floating around, some pro-education and some criticizing and demeaning teachers as the culprits.
“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 he carries on in the home, neighborhood, or 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.” John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed, 1897
I recall many years ago taking a test that would indicate what we were suitable for and then getting called into the “guidance” counselors who were wives of the football coaches in my day. I never quite figured that out. In 1965 at our high school, I was told I should look at technical training because of my abysmal grades. I was not a very good student in high school, 597th 0f 795 students. It seems I was sidetracked somewhere in elementary school about education, and periodically I would have a few flare-ups of wisdom. The minor flare-ups during standardized tests were enough for me to remain in college prep and high-functioning classes throughout high school.
So, I was amused by the guidance recommendations. I was recently reminded of my turmoil in high school of trying to find a job before I knew what life was about and what was out there. I was thinking about Special Education, and in our IEP’s we do a transitional plan at age fourteen. What do you want to do is asked, and I have had quite a few who want to be rappers, pro football players, or basketball players on transitional plans over the years.
“I am entirely certain that twenty years from now, we will look back at education as it is practiced in most schools today and wonder that we could have tolerated anything so primitive.” John W. Gardner
“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often, we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their plants.” John W. Gardner
I have had a Chinese proverb hanging on my wall for nearly thirty years.
“You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day: You can teach a man to fish and feed him for life.”
Having been to teenagers’ funerals far too often and thinking about all the kids I talked to within that setting and on emails, I wondered, as I sat thinking this morning, about trying to figure out what these students will be doing in twenty years. It made me think of my own life and what we need to teach. With the advent of federal and state legislation demanding specific standards be met, teachers and parents get left out of the loop, and legislators decide.
As I look at John Dewey and John Gardner’s comments while differing in philosophies, a point of interest. Dewey mentions a process of living gives your teaching context making it meaningful. Gardner says not just to cut flowers but also to teach them how to grow the flower, not simply facts. What does this mean to me as a teacher?
“The ultimate goal of the educational system is to shift to the individual the burden of pursuing his education. This will not be a widely shared pursuit until we get over our odd conviction that education is what goes on in school buildings and nowhere else.” John W. Gardner
“WHEN most people think of the word ‘education,’ they think of a pupil as an animate sausage casing. Into this empty casing, the teachers are supposed to stuff ‘education.’ But genuine education, as Socrates knew more than two thousand years ago, is not inserting the stuffing of information into a person, but rather eliciting knowledge from him; it is the drawing out of what is in mind.” Sydney J. Harris, Strictly Speaking, What proper education should do?
It has been a few years since I took this lesson, and it was quite an experience. Years ago, I had two students in my classroom, and several were out during the second period suspended or in School Suspension (ISS); this was a rough group of kids. I had decided to do a class project that the class wanted to do. I set parameters that were relatively simply borrowing from my Foxfire teachings and setting up a democratic classroom.
1. The project had to be of interest to all students
2. The project had to be school appropriate
3. Students had to be able to learn academics in the context of the project
4. As the teacher, I had to be able to measure learning
5. There had to be a culminating project and endpoint during the semester
So, a day or two later, when everyone was in school, we started by brainstorming ideas for the project. The class came up with wrestling, girls, cars, animation, photography, building, and several very inappropriate for school if not violating state and federal laws.
However, one continued to pique my interest and has been an integral part of my class as I use digital photography daily. Every student has taken a camera home and taken thousands of pictures literally. As the discussion progressed, photography seemed to be the choice, and eventually, the project became a photography contest within the school sponsored by my second-period class.
While tedious at the beginning as ideas, it all started and soon took on a life of eliciting thinking from these kids. Naturally, the thinking was the big word and the main task; for a few of them, it was tiring but then on to the next step. How do we get permission? After the class decided, I got permission, but students would have to proceed if they did not have it and formally get permission.
They watched the thought process evolve from students who often do worksheets or get in trouble. It was an excellent discussion for students who read several grades below their actual level throwing ideas around about having a voting process and different categories and digital versus film. I argue daily about having context for a lesson; when a student has context for the content, it has life and meaning.
“I believe that education, therefore, it is a process of living” John Dewey
“If we are succeeding in our efforts to establish an excellent quality of present experience, people, teachers, students, administrators, parents should enjoy being in school; there should be fewer incidents of violence and nastiness; there should be more acts of kindness, more expressions of concern for others; more open conversation and fewer acts of control on the part of adults.” Nel Noddings
As a teacher, I get frustrated knowing that information, understanding, and knowledge of education and learning are out there in the nebulous but get rejected by a cookie-cutter mentality that requires easy, quick fixes and various publishers’ approval. I found this article from Nel Noddings and was amazed at her suggestions that follow many European and Asian approaches to schooling. First, excellence in schooling is not that everyone meets a collegiate curriculum and succeeds in it but that individually we are providing and excelling in directions that we are suited for that individual student to be that art, music, technology, industry, or academics. This was written several years ago, and if you get serious, John Dewey was writing about this in 1897, over one hundred years ago, and why do we never pay attention? The article is Excellence as a guide to Educational Conversation by Nel Noddings, Stanford University, 2004.
As teachers, we have to go beyond, in many cases, what we have been taught in education classes, which has been to do what is reasonable versus actual. It has been to try and not just teach “stuff,” as Harris indicates. We have to bring life to education to make it alive. This comes home as a parent and now grandparent, and parents must be involved. We must wake parents instead of letting them sleep through their child’s school experience. This is a community effort, not simply one teacher and one student. Even though that is where it starts. Sydney J. Harris uses an illustration of an oyster and a pearl.
“Pupils are more like oysters than sausages. The job of teaching is not to stuff them and seal them up but to help them open and reveal the riches within. There are pearls in each of us if only we knew how to cultivate them with ardor and persistence.” Sydney J. Harris
“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 got a bit carried away today. But as I read this last quote by Einstein, who was left behind more than once in his educational experience at an early age, can we as a society begin to look at each other as potential pearls instead of just sausages? I wonder as this school year is winding down and a new school year approaches too soon. Keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your heart’s namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)