After writing and posting my Morning Pages, I saw an article about the emphasis ISIS is putting on schools and education in areas they control. Now, it’s in a bad way, but I mention it because they understand that education significantly influences the structure, characteristic, spirit, and products of and for society. Other dictatorial regimes have done the same. We should note that.
Why? Many would ask how I could even say that when the United States alone spends over $600 billion per year on kindergarten through 12th grade education. Doesn’t that prove how seriously we take education? It proves that there are expectations, and politicians will make damn sure that their constituents are satisfied, not to mention the two million plus teachers in this nation. Americans, for the most part, tend to equate the importance of anything based on the money associated with it.
And that’s where educational reform comes in. At least many know that total dollars spent doesn’t say a lot. We do know that reallocation of that total could make a crucial difference for some parts of the population. What about other factors, other ways to measure?
So much emphasis has been put on data-driven everything that human factors, in arenas where human factors count, are often not taken into account. Many so-called educational leaders put little value on qualitative analysis, when that should drive research in education — with quantitative analysis being a helpful little screwdriver or wrench or something. But I digress, because educational reform considers these kinds of matters and the results of data-driven research. I want to deal with the whole redefinition matter.
Therefore, when I think about education, I do it using human dynamics as the primary foundation. Part of this means that the organization of education begins with the needs of the whole child, which in a substantial way means that the way we learn must be first consideration. The primary motivation to learn, then, must be because we want to, not because we are forced to. Some things we may plough through in order to get to what we truly want, but — and this is a huge but — that should NOT be the bulk of educational experience.
I want to state this again because it is a crucial distinction: Education should be focused on drawing out the hearts, talents, abilities, curiosities, questions, etc of any learner. It should not be built on dumping pre-prepared curriculum into students’ presumably empty heads.
I worked within the system for seventeen years. My own education, research, practice, observations, and interactions informed me that personally significant learning — and that translates into significance for society — only occurs from intrinsic motivation. Learning must begin with students themselves, not with my concept of what students should know. My frustration within the system mounted, though, considering that the guiding philosophy was antithetical to the concept of a student-generated curriculum (not student-centered). The current system is based on extrinsic motivation. If you say it’s not, then eliminate grades. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
This brings me to the real point: How did I function in a system that I knew was wrong? Well, I cared for students. I believed that I could influence and change practice in my department, school, and district. I wanted something that would make school engaging and fun for students, because I discovered why I did not enjoy school. I spoke and wrote to students, parents, colleagues, and administrators. In an evolutionary way, I worked out a personal compromise based on my philosophy of education, which is really a philosophy of learning.
Learning emanates from within and so should the course of study; however, that wasn’t going to happen. I simply exhibited genuine care for them and enthusiasm for the content and gave students the opportunity to see how the study of British lit or any other course I happened to be assigned could be relevant and useful. My grade book was always open because I did not care about grades, and that alone allowed many to buy into our classes and jump on learning opportunities when I could allow them to design their own experiences.
I try to analyze, simplify, and synthesize; sometimes I oversimplify, but I believe it’s better to start there because then the foundation is clear. My clear foundation, the one that allowed me to function within the confines of an extrinsic, ego-driven system, consisted of a three-part approach to learning, assuming that a personal goal has been identified, that the learner has given a reason to herself or himself, and that the proposition has value, i.e., it comes from the heart. (Maybe that’s a three-part prerequisite!) Once a goal is identified, then knowledge must be (1). Collected, (2). Connected to self and other knowledge and (3). Created — new knowledge constructed by the learner needs to do something new and useful in some way. That’s it. I shared a number of learning tools in each of those categories, and we repeated those throughout the year.
It worked, and it was mine in the format that I synthesized and presented it.
Collect, connect, create — works throughout life. (More to come!)
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!