Sunday, June 13, 2010

Who? Where?

Organic Learning
I am inspired by what Ken Robinson said about education that it should be an agricultural model instead of an industrial one.  When did learning get so institutionalized?  No wonder students can't see the connection between school and the outside world.  We've created an isolated micro-world that does not resemble what students see as reality.  I get that schools need certain structures to function because of certain parameters, but when did those structures start taking over the very nature of learning? 

(Apart from the fashion and technology, is this really that different from classrooms today? 
It probably even has the same effect and effectiveness).

Special Tactics and Weapons of Mass Instruction
Don't get me wrong.  I've done all those school things: put kids in rows so they'll stop yacking at each other and pay more attention to me, used grades as carrots and the goal of learning, stepped in and solved kids' problems just so I can get on with my lesson, etc.  And I'll probably use those tactics again in the future.  But that's all they are: tactics, a short term technique to solve a short term problem when I have nothing else to fall back on.  I don't try to base my philosophy or way of teaching on my tactics, but sometimes I wonder.

It's Not WHAT You Know
In Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, he talks about how we ask ourselves about the how and the why  and the what of teaching, but we rarely ask ourselves about the who of teaching.  We have strategies, reasons, and curriculum to help us teach, but we don't really look at what is it about ourselves that makes us teach or teach the way we do.  So when I use power or traditional tactics in my teaching, I now ask myself, am I using these things because that is who I am, or am I using these things in spite of who I am.  Either way, it is not very pleasant for my ego.  Am I so shallow that I have to rely on cheap tactics to manipulate kids into doing what I want them to do?  Or am I falling back on these things because that's all I have and am doing it despite knowing better?  Sometimes it is tough to be mortal.

My intent with the whole transformation in design was to give kids an alternative.  It is not what they think of as school, so hopefully they will have to rethink "school."  But in reality, my present classroom is not a place that reflects my students' reality.  Some of them come from some tough backgrounds, so I did not necessarily want to duplicate that.  Perhaps my classroom is becoming more of a vision of what we'd like our school and world to become: a place of peace, choices, learning, and possibilities.

Palmer and More
Hmmm.  Maybe Palmer is right.  My teaching is more about who I am than I thought and my vision for my classroom says more about me than I thought.  I am creating my own utopia with my students. Whew, talk about ego!  But I don't think there's anything wrong with teaching kids:

You can learn all the time.
You can learn from anyone.
You can learn anywhere.

So I'd like to add to Palmer's treatise that sure we need to ask ourselves about the who of teaching, but also the where of learning.  In my vision of real learning, kids learn from themselves as well as through their experiences.  And if they happen to be learning at school, then the atmosphere that each teacher creates is a reflection of who they are as people.  Hopefully, as Ken Robinson puts it, those teachers are creating the right conditions for learning, just as a farmer creates the right conditions for growing.   

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