Do we really remember what it is like to be 5 or 9 or 12 or 14 or 16 years old? Really remember? I can’t say I do. I have impressions, specific clear memories, and the emotions. And perhaps the emotions are the most important component of memories — how we felt.
Yes, we usually remember how others made us feel, if we choose to give them that sort of power over us. The point is emotions are powerful. In fact, we don’t learn very well at all, if at all, when we don’t have positive emotions going into a learning experience.
This is why most people learn a lot when they have to pick up spots of knowledge here and there on different topics as they work on a job or project they have chosen and want to complete. We learn well, unimpeded, and overcome obstacles when we are enthusiastic.
Enthusiasm of students isn’t often a valued commodity in a classroom. More accurately, it isn’t a primary goal. A significant percentage of complaints students have about school is that they are not interested in what they are being forced to learn. They ask questions about the rationale, and oftentimes the response they get about why it’s necessary — poetic devices, functions in math, the Krebs cycle, or any of thousands of other possibilities — is they need to know it for next year, it’s on the end-of-year test or the ACT or the state Common Core test. Never good answers, in fact, they’re horrible, non-relevant answers. In further fact, if one is an educator and that is the only reason for doing something — curriculum or not — then it shouldn’t take up any time and certainly not be on some test.
By the way, every standardized test is held not only over students’ heads but also teachers’. I heard on several occasions from administration that we might as well accept it, that the state had invested millions of dollars in it, and it wasn’t going away. Every single one did. My emotional response to that? I don’t trust you any more. And if kids don’t find they ever face doing a matrix again, they won’t trust future teachers when they tell them the same bullshit about you need to know it for the future.
How do they feel? Do we hear them? Do we hear one another? Do we really want to make school hard to prepare them for a hard life? Shouldn’t we prepare them for a fulfilling, significant life — which means in part they are being heard — instead of one where they expect rigor?
Oh, I used that word on purpose. Do you know how stupid that sounds to me? Rigor, many educators think that is something to boast about. A school has academic rigor. It means hardship. They purposefully want to make it hard. It’s the mindset of the current screwed up system.
I enjoyed my years as a teacher. I loved being in the classroom with my students; however, since my philosophy is diametrically opposed to the current mainstream philosophy, I had almost no patience with stupid programs promoted and jumped on as “reform movements,” which meant next to nothing in the classroom. But we had to have endless trainings and meetings about them. And it was all dutifully carried back to students. Then they would ask why they had to know this or do that.
That top down approach is the wrong way to educate a young person. They want to be heard. They want to know that what they think about is serious and deep, no matter what level they are. When they are heard and educators show empathy, learning changes. It’s why I could still get in the curriculum but give my students a different experience, limited though it was. It shouldn’t be limited. A student-generated and -centered curriculum should be the norm in a democratic classroom. If not, we will only see things like the current situation in American and even British politics, in which governance continues to worsen.
We should view kids as coming to us filled with their knowledge and self-awareness, and our job is to find out how to help them add in existing knowledge to create what they desire, something meaningful, significant. When they are doing that, the learning accelerates, but more importantly, much more importantly, they feel enriched, significant, fulfilled and not beaten to a pulp by a rigorous curriculum.
Allow me to say this, though. Most teachers get into the profession because they care about young people. They oftentimes are following soul conviction in doing it. When teacher education and preparation is not along the lines of an emergent curriculum in a democratic classroom, they don’t know to teach any differently. And that needs to change. Of course, I’ve made the point that to change, education must be redefined as emanating from the student and not being forced on and into them.
I have pleasant memories of Fridays in school. I faked sickness a lot because I hated school, not being heard, not engaging me. But Fridays, for a few years when I got to be one of two audio visual helpers for the weekly Friday delivery, I loved that. I would see what we were going to be watching. And those films or filmstrips had no ulterior motive but presenting things for us to absorb and wonder about, especially the science ones. I didn’t care about tests or homework; I just loved learning, and those audiovisual aids gave me pause to respond in wonder, awe, understanding.
I could go on, but I wanted to speak a little more personally about education following last night’s mini-manifesto, which upon re-reading, I found somewhat acerbic.
But in a way, I beat the system in my little corner of the world or school, as it may be. My students and I had real concern, care, compassion, and respect for one another. I valued them, and because of that, they valued me, even when we were forced to do some things like tests.
The great Carl Rogers, the twentieth century psychologist of Freedom to Learn fame, said, “When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements that seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens, how confusions that seem irremediable string into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.” How do we feel when we know we are heard, when we are counted significant, when our input, our beings, are included in the big picture? Pretty awesome. Students deserve this maybe more than anyone.
We should hear our kids and the words and actions from ourselves when it comes to education. They are more important and have greater knowledge than any hand-me-down curriculum guide. And when we realize that and redefine education, we won’t believe the innovation, progress, and beauty that will result from that. Oh, don’t forget the improvement of the face of future government.
Blessings, you wonderful, wise learners!
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!