Friday, August 21, 2009

Redefining Education

I wrote the following for a group called Project 2012, a discussion forum of folks who advocate true democracy (and who call for universal human rights) in community form. I'm not sure about how it will be received, or even if it will be, so I'm posting it here. Please pet me in case they don't.. :) Enjoy:

The classroom, like a church, is a sacred place where the teacher, like the minister, has an inviolate commission, not only to be a guide, but to serve. He cannot be a party to the capitalist's idea of prosperity, one that does not equate to abundance. Instead, he has to understand that his investment is one of respect - that the only way to create communitas is to engage in a true learning, a democratic society where all opinions are weighed, where everyone, including the teacher, learns, thus producing profit for all.

Thanks to this list, I allowed myself to think about what ideal education looks like stripped of the confines and/or trappings of government interference: assessments, budgets, rules, and dogma. I looked at Gandhi who spoke in terms of "the village." He spoke about education in relational terms - that the educator is also the student. He believed in educating the whole person and was a proponent of manual labor (and against machinery), insisting that it was faulty to consider that type of work lesser than any other type. I looked at the ideas of the Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, who also promoted education as a relationship - more democratic in the give and take. There are a million philosophies to consider Hegel, Bloom, Rousseau, Marx... Too many.

I decided, instead, to pose the ideal as a question to my colleagues, fellow teachers who have more years of combined experience than they'd like for me to share. I asked them, "What does genuine education look like? Is it possible?"
The thing that all of the responses had in common (though different approaches were offered) was that "kids learn to think." Too often (and to the detriment of society) have we created automatons - robots who can produce the correct answer, but who can't explain how they've arrived there. We have kids who can operate technology, but who don't understand how the technology works. Somehow that's a respect issue.

In the US the modern school system was created to produce factory workers. From there, it has itself become a factory of capitalist production where minimal investment is expected to create a maximum return. Unfortunately, this system is backfiring in a huge way, to the detriment of society.

We have to go back to a place where education is about the exchange, about thinking and experimentation -trial and error and consideration -where getting the wrong answer is ok as long as you learn from the attempt.

I don't know what that kind of school truly looks like, other than it must be divorced of standardized everything. But education is expensive, especially in the investments of time, patience, and money. It also requires a ridiculous amount of trust. I do know that there are many teachers out there who understand this and who attempt to participate in the ideal despite the interference of the state. That's hopeful at least.

6 comments:

Amy said...

It really does seem like the school have changed. We are there to learn but the fun it gone. What happen to those teachers who brought more into the classroom for us to learn. Now teachers have to ask everyone first before they can bring something in. I had so much fun in my high school with teachers who brought teaching to life and it was fun. Not hurry and learn this because you have to fill in the circle and get the answer right or you will fail. Not fun...

Jen said...

Great Post Ging!! It is sad that the trial and error has been taken out of schools. I am sick of programs and standard curriculum that is so scripted that when you just want to do good fun teaching you feel guilty because you've swayed from the script!!

Thanks for participating in my teacher swap!! That was perfect!!

Christine said...

Lovely post, Ginger. We all need to remember that true purpose of teaching kids to think, teaching them the processes instead of a list of disconnected facts, so that they can approach new problems with tools they can use. This is what I love about IB.

Jen's right about how we somehow feel bad about straying from the state 'script' to teach our kids the things that are so vital. You know how I gripe about the lack of the phrase "independent thinking" in the state standards. That makes me sad. At least the new Texas standards seem to be moving in a better direction, but I bet that we'll get pulled back with the new test. Quality assessments cost money.

What does the ideal look like in practice? Interesting and tough question. Maybe whatever the given community wants/needs? It's tough sometimes to live in such a big city in such a big country.

Tammy Howard said...

I left teaching a little over a year ago because I just couldn't bear how everything was geared towards teaching to the test. I hope there's something that can be done to turn the tide so that we can once again value learning and thinking rather than just the ability to fill in the right circles on a multiple choice test.

Mimi said...

YAY! *standing and clapping* Yeah the education system is so product-driven that sometimes, even as the teacher, I feel as though somehow my students are not learning unless there is a product of some sort...trying...to...fight...box that Jen and Christine mention. (Btw, yay, starting my 2nd "official" year!)

It is as though the process doesn't matter unless it is enclosed (and put on the top shelf out of reach) in some abstract and intimidating terminology. I notice that when I do teach them to use the process, some students get so confused (some get mad!) and crave a "solid" answer, usually one that will coincide with what they "think" I want them to say. In my experience, it is almost like teaching the process becomes this awkward social dance that if the steps are not seen as steps, the students stop looking at their feet as they are moving and start looking at my face to see, if at least, I am happy with how they are dancing. So many students do not realize that part of learning is stepping on the other person's toe (or disagreeing) and do not realize that not agreeing is okay. Hehe, which is sometimes why they get sent to me!

I think the ideal must include the community (even though I hesitate as I say this, lol) but I think the community is sometimes enchanted by the fancy (and again intimidating) rhetoric of education that they think, "surely the state knows what it is talking about, let's leave it to them"...thinking their opinion is of no use. When the community does speak, it is to yell "but I won!" --to dispute whether their school was "exemplary" or "recognized" or whatever--not realizing that nothing has changed in, at least, a decade. Technology is moving the community and society so much farther and it is scary to think that education is so slow to make a real attempt to catch up.

Excellent post! Thanks! :)

Mariam

Ginger said...

Amy - Yes, school has stopped being fun, and that is a major problem in my opinion! "Fun" helps kids want to take ownership of their educations.

Jen - Standard curriculum as we know it makes me urp for the most part, though there are some I really like. In IB, for example, the curriculum is sort of a fill-in-the-blank chart. For English they say you need to use three texts from this prescribed list and one from this one. Then the teacher gets to choose. I like having choice.

That said, I also understand the need for some collaboration as far as aligning curriculum is concerned (to make sure, for example, that we are scaffolding skills AND to make sure they are not reading the same texts twice). When the curriculum becomes a check list that has to be crammed into a semester, especially for a standardized test.. blech.

They've started to give six week standardized tests in certain classes in my district. 25 questions, multiple choice. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (breath) OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Christine, is it just me, or does money fuck the duck every time? I do like the new TEKS, but the problem will be in the interpretations (ahem..Francine).
You are right in missing the independant thinking part. It's all over the IB mission statement. And once again, I heart IB.
Maybe we can do some brainstorming about the ideal school.. and then we'll win the lottery and hire Greg Mortensen to help us learn how to build the school, using local materials, with the help of folks in the community who fully support the endeavor and support the curriculum. And then all the kids will love school, and the country will use our school as a model, and monkeys will fly out of my butt. (sigh)

Tammy - I'm with you on the being sick of the test. I've often wondered what the hell I'm still doing in the profession.

Mariam - OK, as usual, your metaphors are gorgeous!!! And your wisdom extends far beyond the "second full year" of teaching!! You're so insightful about the fact that kids sometimes come to your school (the alternative schoo, for those who aren't familiar) because they haven't conformed to what our society says is "appropriate" learning.

Do you want to work at Christine's and my ideal school? ;)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Redefining Education

I wrote the following for a group called Project 2012, a discussion forum of folks who advocate true democracy (and who call for universal human rights) in community form. I'm not sure about how it will be received, or even if it will be, so I'm posting it here. Please pet me in case they don't.. :) Enjoy:

The classroom, like a church, is a sacred place where the teacher, like the minister, has an inviolate commission, not only to be a guide, but to serve. He cannot be a party to the capitalist's idea of prosperity, one that does not equate to abundance. Instead, he has to understand that his investment is one of respect - that the only way to create communitas is to engage in a true learning, a democratic society where all opinions are weighed, where everyone, including the teacher, learns, thus producing profit for all.

Thanks to this list, I allowed myself to think about what ideal education looks like stripped of the confines and/or trappings of government interference: assessments, budgets, rules, and dogma. I looked at Gandhi who spoke in terms of "the village." He spoke about education in relational terms - that the educator is also the student. He believed in educating the whole person and was a proponent of manual labor (and against machinery), insisting that it was faulty to consider that type of work lesser than any other type. I looked at the ideas of the Brazilian philosopher, Paulo Freire, who also promoted education as a relationship - more democratic in the give and take. There are a million philosophies to consider Hegel, Bloom, Rousseau, Marx... Too many.

I decided, instead, to pose the ideal as a question to my colleagues, fellow teachers who have more years of combined experience than they'd like for me to share. I asked them, "What does genuine education look like? Is it possible?"
The thing that all of the responses had in common (though different approaches were offered) was that "kids learn to think." Too often (and to the detriment of society) have we created automatons - robots who can produce the correct answer, but who can't explain how they've arrived there. We have kids who can operate technology, but who don't understand how the technology works. Somehow that's a respect issue.

In the US the modern school system was created to produce factory workers. From there, it has itself become a factory of capitalist production where minimal investment is expected to create a maximum return. Unfortunately, this system is backfiring in a huge way, to the detriment of society.

We have to go back to a place where education is about the exchange, about thinking and experimentation -trial and error and consideration -where getting the wrong answer is ok as long as you learn from the attempt.

I don't know what that kind of school truly looks like, other than it must be divorced of standardized everything. But education is expensive, especially in the investments of time, patience, and money. It also requires a ridiculous amount of trust. I do know that there are many teachers out there who understand this and who attempt to participate in the ideal despite the interference of the state. That's hopeful at least.

6 comments:

Amy said...

It really does seem like the school have changed. We are there to learn but the fun it gone. What happen to those teachers who brought more into the classroom for us to learn. Now teachers have to ask everyone first before they can bring something in. I had so much fun in my high school with teachers who brought teaching to life and it was fun. Not hurry and learn this because you have to fill in the circle and get the answer right or you will fail. Not fun...

Jen said...

Great Post Ging!! It is sad that the trial and error has been taken out of schools. I am sick of programs and standard curriculum that is so scripted that when you just want to do good fun teaching you feel guilty because you've swayed from the script!!

Thanks for participating in my teacher swap!! That was perfect!!

Christine said...

Lovely post, Ginger. We all need to remember that true purpose of teaching kids to think, teaching them the processes instead of a list of disconnected facts, so that they can approach new problems with tools they can use. This is what I love about IB.

Jen's right about how we somehow feel bad about straying from the state 'script' to teach our kids the things that are so vital. You know how I gripe about the lack of the phrase "independent thinking" in the state standards. That makes me sad. At least the new Texas standards seem to be moving in a better direction, but I bet that we'll get pulled back with the new test. Quality assessments cost money.

What does the ideal look like in practice? Interesting and tough question. Maybe whatever the given community wants/needs? It's tough sometimes to live in such a big city in such a big country.

Tammy Howard said...

I left teaching a little over a year ago because I just couldn't bear how everything was geared towards teaching to the test. I hope there's something that can be done to turn the tide so that we can once again value learning and thinking rather than just the ability to fill in the right circles on a multiple choice test.

Mimi said...

YAY! *standing and clapping* Yeah the education system is so product-driven that sometimes, even as the teacher, I feel as though somehow my students are not learning unless there is a product of some sort...trying...to...fight...box that Jen and Christine mention. (Btw, yay, starting my 2nd "official" year!)

It is as though the process doesn't matter unless it is enclosed (and put on the top shelf out of reach) in some abstract and intimidating terminology. I notice that when I do teach them to use the process, some students get so confused (some get mad!) and crave a "solid" answer, usually one that will coincide with what they "think" I want them to say. In my experience, it is almost like teaching the process becomes this awkward social dance that if the steps are not seen as steps, the students stop looking at their feet as they are moving and start looking at my face to see, if at least, I am happy with how they are dancing. So many students do not realize that part of learning is stepping on the other person's toe (or disagreeing) and do not realize that not agreeing is okay. Hehe, which is sometimes why they get sent to me!

I think the ideal must include the community (even though I hesitate as I say this, lol) but I think the community is sometimes enchanted by the fancy (and again intimidating) rhetoric of education that they think, "surely the state knows what it is talking about, let's leave it to them"...thinking their opinion is of no use. When the community does speak, it is to yell "but I won!" --to dispute whether their school was "exemplary" or "recognized" or whatever--not realizing that nothing has changed in, at least, a decade. Technology is moving the community and society so much farther and it is scary to think that education is so slow to make a real attempt to catch up.

Excellent post! Thanks! :)

Mariam

Ginger said...

Amy - Yes, school has stopped being fun, and that is a major problem in my opinion! "Fun" helps kids want to take ownership of their educations.

Jen - Standard curriculum as we know it makes me urp for the most part, though there are some I really like. In IB, for example, the curriculum is sort of a fill-in-the-blank chart. For English they say you need to use three texts from this prescribed list and one from this one. Then the teacher gets to choose. I like having choice.

That said, I also understand the need for some collaboration as far as aligning curriculum is concerned (to make sure, for example, that we are scaffolding skills AND to make sure they are not reading the same texts twice). When the curriculum becomes a check list that has to be crammed into a semester, especially for a standardized test.. blech.

They've started to give six week standardized tests in certain classes in my district. 25 questions, multiple choice. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO (breath) OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Christine, is it just me, or does money fuck the duck every time? I do like the new TEKS, but the problem will be in the interpretations (ahem..Francine).
You are right in missing the independant thinking part. It's all over the IB mission statement. And once again, I heart IB.
Maybe we can do some brainstorming about the ideal school.. and then we'll win the lottery and hire Greg Mortensen to help us learn how to build the school, using local materials, with the help of folks in the community who fully support the endeavor and support the curriculum. And then all the kids will love school, and the country will use our school as a model, and monkeys will fly out of my butt. (sigh)

Tammy - I'm with you on the being sick of the test. I've often wondered what the hell I'm still doing in the profession.

Mariam - OK, as usual, your metaphors are gorgeous!!! And your wisdom extends far beyond the "second full year" of teaching!! You're so insightful about the fact that kids sometimes come to your school (the alternative schoo, for those who aren't familiar) because they haven't conformed to what our society says is "appropriate" learning.

Do you want to work at Christine's and my ideal school? ;)