Education without learning is like a barn without walls

Bird Droppings June 1, 2011
Education without learning is like a barn without walls.

“A truly educational community that embodies both rigor and involvement will elude us until we establish a plumb line that measures teachers and students alike as great things can do.” Parker Palmer

It has been many years since we as a family lived on Fisherville Road in Caln Township, in Chester County, Pennsylvania and had as a pet Jenny the burro. Needless to say as in many relationships a wandering jack burro named Roscoe showed up one day from across the hill and much to our surprise Roscoe Jr. was born June 1, 1963 or so maybe 1964 which seems such a long time ago as I sit here today babysitting my grand daughter. Funny how I remember June the first as one of my best friends growing up through elementary school has his birthday today as well so a very happy birthday to him old man of sixty two. At least till November I can pick on him for being older than I am.
It was back in Pennsylvania where I grew up being part Pennsylvania Dutch on my maternal grand father’s side and living on the edge of Amish country I have always been fascinated by the plain people. Growing up we had eggs and milk delivered door to door if you wanted in a buggy by Amish farmers who lived in the area. However there was an Amish tradition that always caught my attention, it was that of a barn raising. If by chance a farmer’s barn was destroyed by fire or storm the entire community would gather and put up a new one almost over night. This would be a traditional post and beam construction with huge wooden beams and wooden pegs holding all in place. Barns that were built to last and provide for their owners for many years save storms and fires which really did not take that many.

“Children come into the world with a desire to learn that is natural as the desire to eat and move and be loved, their hunger for knowledge, for skills, for the feeling of mastery as strong as their appetite. They learn an amazing variety of things in the years before they enter school, including miraculously, how to talk fluently in their native language.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Learner

“But despite the wonderful efforts of individual teachers who promote and celebrate intense and exuberant learning by students of every stripe and circumstance, too many young people, when they enter formal schooling, feel the passionate learning of their early years begin to decline, often with permanent results.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Learner

So here I sit watching my grand daughter at six months daily learning new and exciting things, dropping toys just so grand dad will pick them up being a big one today. Finding what whimper to issue to get the desired result from grandma or her mom or dad. I see learning is occurring in leaps and bounds and often in ways we still do not understand. But to compare learning and education to barn building that might be a stretch. As I sat down again this evening trying to complete my writing for the day I have been pondering through the day ideas for this concept. In the Amish way of building barns an entire community would come together almost without instruction each member going to their task. As beams were hewn and sawed and in each joint dovetails cut for the next beam to interlock all were focused on doing the best possible job. Some of the folks were fixing lunch and other ferrying tools and pegs to carpenters working overhead. All had a job and all participated. The end result would be a finally finished and very high quality barn.
Education has become a parody in many ways. Emphasis has gone from learning to passing an exam at some point in time. Many times the exam is not even over what has been taught in the class but arbitrary items selected by state committees that deem this piece of information to be crucial to a child’s success. I wonder as I look at Math I curriculum in Georgia and find I am unable to do many of the problems. So here I am working on a second doctorate and unable to do Math I high school problems. Alfie Kohn goes into detail on “what does it mean to be well educated” in his book of the same title.

“However if the term refers to the quality of your schooling, then we have to conclude that a lot of “well educated” people sat through lessons that barely registered, or are at least hazy to a point of irrelevance a few years later.” Alfie Kohn, What does it mean to be Well Educated

Perhaps within the semantics of what is education versus learning is where we have a point to argue. Kohn and Fried both see education as schooling and in most references to public schooling. They see learning in a different light. Learning is an attribute you take with you from an experience.

“Learning is active. It involves reaching out of the mind. It involves organic assimilation starting from within. Literally, we must take our stand with the child and our departure from him. It is he and not the subject-matter which determines both quality and quantity of learning.” John Dewey

Many authors will go back to progressive educator John Dewey and point to experience as the key in learning. More recently in my own involvement in the Foxfire teaching Approach Dewey’s idea’s have been borrowed from and over a period of nearly fifty years sorted and modified into Ten Core Practices. These are from the Foxfire Teaching Approach and are available on the Foxfire Fund website.

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.

Beyond the traditional classroom is one of teacher and students working together to both learn and interact and both be students in learning. There is a community aspect to this type of approach to teaching. There is interaction within the class and within the community. I have said over the years it is as if the teacher walks in the room and asks after telling what is to be covered now how are we going to do it, rather than we are going to do this period. It is getting students to be actively involved and showing them that we are all involved and all can make this better.
Mary Aswell Doll in the introduction to her book Like letters in running Water, includes in her thoughts her interdisciplinary studies with religion and psychology that help probe the inner workings of soul. It is only through coming to terms with inner understanding that we can address outer concerns. It takes inner looks to stir and fire up the imagination and to build and develop ideas and expand learning. So how does someone get to a point of wanting to build a barn the right way and not simply the quickest or just because we need to build a barn by these plans. It takes innovation, creativity, and taking the theory and making it into practice. William Pinar noted Curriculum Theorist states that;

“Teachers can become witness to the notion that intelligence and learning can lead to other worlds, not just successful exploitation of this one.”

It has been a few years since I was introduced to Robert Fried’s books in a book club put on by our then principal Steve Miletto. Robert Fried starts his book with a statement from a teacher he had interviewed.

“I believe I make a difference not only in helping kids connect math and science to their lives, but also in understanding how to reach their goals in life – how to be somebody.” Maria Ortiz, science teacher

This is what is about making a difference with kids showing them there is more to education than just school. Fried in his text offers an idea of what a passionate teacher is all about.
“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more. They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried

It is about passion and bringing that to the class room and passing it on the students so as Fried states “it will serve as a base for branching out”.
There is no limiting to curriculum or to education unless we impose it. I recall from reading many years ago that Henry David Thoreau told his friends when he left teaching he needed to be a learner first and then and only then could he be a good teacher. We need to set the example and be learners and in doing so pave the way, lay the tracks for each of our students. Perhaps I am a die hard hippie of the old school, in reality I personally do not believe the corporate schooling agenda will continue and perhaps that is only wishful thinking. I wish I could predict a time, before any more children are left behind and many schools can recover. The late Syndicated columnist Sydney J. Harris wrote in the late 1970’s of how education was like a sausage stuffing machine and should be more like culturing a pearl. We are taking away the essence of who the child is; this essence is what is missing and what is being left behind. In an effort to leave no child behind, all are having bits and pieces being left behind. So can the knights of real education survive the onslaught of the dragons of standardized testing and taking over of our schools? Can we continue to spill so much as we try and fill the liter bottle of each child? I might add can we build a barn of learning that can withstand the onslaught of education? Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Finding Soul in looking at Curriculum

Bird Droppings April 1, 2011
Finding Soul in looking at Curriculum

There is something about the first light on a spring morning and trying to discern how many different birds are singing and calling back and forth waking up. Today was a rough one seems my arthritis in my shoulders is acting up and it took a good bit more to get going this morning. I did not even pack my lunch. But some silence and flute music and perhaps a memory of a wisp of smoke floating along the fence trying to rise up and dissipating in the trees helps ease the pain. It has been a few years since I studied psychology at Mercer University in Macon Georgia and a few as well since Seminary studies at Emory University. But as I continue to wander through my educational career I find new authors and favorites and recall some from days long gone. I have been a fan of Carl Gustav Jung for many years and in my assundery readings the past few years have come upon James Hillman, Thomas Moore and James Kavanaugh.
I am reading right now an article by Mary Aswell Doll for a paper I am writing. Doll is known for her work in curriculum and the teaching of literature. As I read her paper which is actually an introduction to her book, Like Letters in Running Water; A Mythopoetics of curriculum, entitled “Fiction as food.” She referenced several times Jung, Moore and Hillman, using the word soul as a medium for learning and growing.

“In another attempt upon the idea of soul I suggest that the word refers to that unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern. These four qualifications I had already put forth some years ago. I had begun to use the term freely, usually interchangeably with psyche (from Greek) and anima (from Latin). Now I am adding three necessary modifications. First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or in religious concern, derives from its special relation with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures, the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy — that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.” Thomas Moore, writing about his mentor Hillman

In the past few days I have seen the word soul used quite frequently and yet it never seems to be defined clearly ever.
Over the years I have worked with adults and children who I sense (very scientific term) with in, a void, or a vacancy that I have loosely referred at times to as soul. I am not looking at this in a religious sense as Thomas Moore also infers in his definition other possibilities as well. In this sense of vacancy perhaps learning issues become a part as well. Doll in her writing emphasizes making a connection with content and existence or context as Dewey would say and the bringing of the two together. “First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences” is how Thomas Moore defines soul. It is that piece that becomes a piece of your reality not just a fact memorized and categorized. As I looked over memory with an AP Psychology student yesterday several various definitions of differing types of memory fit in this idea as well.
As I read through Doll’s article other issues came to mind. In our rat race society of cramming as much curriculum into given space as possible irregardless of whether it will make sense “just get the test over with and I am out of here” I have heard that line from teachers many times. I have raised questions of filling a liter bottle (a student) with two gallons of information and where does that lead us. I think Thomas Moore sees us stripping away any soul we may have or not taking the time to nurture the soul.

“But the culture is going into a psychological depression. We are concerned about our place in the world, about being competitive: Will my children have as much as I have? Will I ever own my own home? How can I pay for a new car? Are immigrants taking away my white world? All of this anxiety and depression casts doubt on whether I can make it as a heroic John Wayne-style individual.” James Hillman

Are we killing off soul in kids and in adults is a question I keep pondering. I was watching Law and Order just yesterday afternoon after getting home from school. It was an old show about a father was so enraged with a hockey coach after a game and the coach not playing his son enough and scouts from colleges were there that he beat him and ended up killing him. As the trial and arrest played out his defense was parent rage simply losing control and the attorney for the state came back with how can we excuse this man? His rights stopped when he put his fists up to the coach. We can not accept road rage, parent rage any kind of rage and then I read Hillman’s statement again. It is about the self view, psychological depression and partly because we are all supposed to be John Wayne. Borrowing from a thought I read a day or so ago from Steven Pinker that behaviors are not manifestations of our environment but of our genetic makeup and environment triggers behavior.

“Instead of seeing depression as a dysfunction, it is a functioning phenomenon. It stops you cold, sets you down, and makes you damn miserable. So you know it functions,” James Hillman

In our rat race society where being John Wayne and never stopping and emailing till all hours of the night and working twenty four seven and no sleep and energy drinks (I tend to like the five hour shots) to keep going. I saw my first bottle of Coke BLAK coffee flavored coca-cola a few years back as the Coke man was loading coolers at a near by convenience store. Reminded me I was one who stopped drinking coca-cola when new coke came out. Hillman sees our increase in depression as a response to our competitive society and that we are leaving behind something perhaps our soul. Hillman authored a best seller “Soul Code” and Moore’s best seller “Care of the soul” these two men are not just fly by nights. Hillman studied under Jung in the 1950’s and Moore a student of Hillman and a former Monk studying for the priesthood has a doctorate in psychology and music and is a pianist as well as therapist, both are concerned about this thing we call soul. In Doll’s article she emphasizes children learning literature in a manner that stirs the soul going back to Moore’s first definition, “First, soul refers to the deepening of events into experiences”
John Dewey sought to pull experience into learning by making it a crucial aspect of his philosophy. I have many times related to context and content being equal partners in learning.

“According to the German poet Novalis, “The seat of the soul is there, where the inner world and the outer world touch. Where they permeate each other, the seat is in every point of the permeation.” Thomas Moore

Over the years I read several of Moore books and one thought he refers to often is that primitives die from water born disease and in modern society the major cause of death is stress related illness. As I think about that thought it has made me think about how we teach as well. As we are taking the soul out leaving only content sort of like a tape recording children can simply give back facts. In Doll’s article she describes several things to help teach fiction one being deliteralization that is getting back to imagination and then letting imaginations run wild. She mentions several times fluidity and:

“…fiction is food, fiction feeds the souls hunger.” “Second is a teaching method for fiction probably not favored in surveys courses: slowness” Mary Aswell Doll

I have been wandering thinking throwing out far too many ideas maybe I have been reading too much in these days before our spring vacation days. A slight change of thought but very much in line this time borrowing from James Kavanaugh with a line or two from Men too gentle to live among wolves.

“There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men to gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.
There are men to gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men to gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.”

I wonder if we could slow down or change gears or maybe find that which is missing from so many? I get excited when I read Moore and Kavanaugh hoping maybe we as a society will find answers and then I turn on the TV and ruin my thoughts. This morning a news broadcast about a high up official in Homeland Security who was arrested for soliciting sex with a under age girl over the internet caught my eye. He had been reported using secured cell phones and computers for his obsession. So a crazy what if the Katrina mistakes were because a memo slipped up during one of this guys computer sessions.
Each day it seems another mega conservative powerful person is found being naughty sort of like the parent rage on Law and Order I am sure someone will say this man has an illness. I would say it too borrowing from Pinker’s thoughts that it was in his DNA and needed something to bring it out fortunately this time it was an undercover officer posing as a fourteen year old girl on line. But what if’s terrorists figured him out and got into his secured files? What if black mail was a regular part of our governments doing business? I spent the better part of several hours discussing politics and ethics in school yesterday and came to the conclusion a politician by definition can not be ethical. We vote the way someone wants us to vote not how you know in your heart you should far too often. I might email Thomas Moore maybe we need a repair book for soul so please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.