Today is kind of a rant, so be prepared.
One of the tenets of thinking well is to identify and question the origins and validity of our assumptions. These mental moves are powerful when we can do this consciously, systematically, consistently and fair-mindedly throughout all domains in our lives. I’ll let you know when I can, which will be a long time from now. Nonetheless, I try.
Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying what has been interpreted (misquoted) as “Every generation needs a revolution.” ( PTJ 12:356-7. Letterpress copy at the Library of Congress) Why? In his Tree of Liberty discussion, Jefferson laments on the challenges of complacency and apathy. We can take this line of thinking further and argue that familiarity is built on assumptions that are rarely critically examined. This is part of what it means to be thinkers. We must take certain things for granted; otherwise, the efficiency of our thinking would be seriously damaged. For example, I assume the roof over my head won’t fall in on me. I also assume that this chair will remain structurally sound. I assume that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning. Assumptions are part of efficient reasoning. However, when does it become necessary to surface and examine these assumptions?
I think Jefferson’s concerns over complacency and the preservation of democracy parallels concerns over complacency and the preservation of education ideals. Working in educational institutions over the last seventeen years has exposed me to issues, problems and many conversations regarding how to address complacency and apathy and frustration. These conversations have been relevant to all those involved in the educational enterprise: teachers, students, administrators and staff. It’s pervasive. This isn’t to say that all are complacent or frustrated. In fact, I’m always jazzed by inspirational people. Nonetheless, complacency exists. How do we confront it?
There are approaches. That’s the best I can say. There is no fix, there are merely ways to manage. If I had a solution for poor motivation I’d be living in Fiji right now because I’d be a billionaire. So, we manage, we approach, we try, and we must revisit and reinvent. School is no exception.
Day 21 Question: Do we have to destroy school to rediscover the love of learning?
What would learning look like if there was no school? Would we reinvent it? Who would seek out mentors? Would the new school look like something else that what it currently is?
I like school. I love learning, and I think people do to. People might not like the system of school, or predefined curriculum, or the cultures they find themselves in, but I think that learning and curiosity is an innate part of being human. Various things temper or subdue curiosity, but it’s there. I think the best teachers know how to bring curiosity to the surface.
I remember visiting South Africa and watching students in a rural village hold school under a tree because there was no school house. While in Panama I remember wondering why so many kids were regularly running around the streets and not in school. Although school was required, many kids didn’t go. I recall my grandfather, who was from the Missouri Ozarks, telling stories of how he was largely self-educated due to the demands of rural life and family obligations. I’ve heard similar stories and seen similar things here in the United States – a consequence of growing up near a particular forgotten Native American reservation.
My reason for bringing these experiences to this post is to highlight that schooling is a complex animal. There are pros and cons and that is the nature of any system, especially those imposed on us without our input or choice. So, is the education we enjoy in this country taken for granted? Is it seen as a right? Is it a curse of privilege?
It is my experience that I value those things most that are difficult to get. I’ll put my wife in this category 🙂 I value what takes work, investment, and choice.
Britt Watwood made a good point regarding teaching with an online system like Blackboard. He said that if a teacher uses the given course layout, then the teacher has just let Blackboard tell him how to teach. The same logic that drives this type of choice is similar to those who merely accept and implement a previous instructor’s syllabus or textbook. Efficient? Yes. Effective? Hmmmmm. Such approaches are teacher-centered; they don’t design the learning based on the student context. Actually, it’s based on assumptions about student context.
We’re talking about systems imposed on learning while (fairly successfully) presenting an illusion of choice. Consequence: Push-back. Alice Cooper captures this attitude well.