Guess I’m on a roll here, trying to zero in on the details of how to radically transform education at its core and not get distracted by the glitzy, sexy ideas that are mostly the same old systems of control and behavior management dress up a little differently. Recently someone in the national Orff association wrote:
Brilliant teachers--share your fast and EASY way to keep track of daily behavior/participation. I have looked at several tech options and couldn't find one that I thought would work for my classes. We use a 4 point grading system for behavior grades.
Let me be clear. I’m not blaming this teacher for this question, it’s standard fare for all of us teachers. If you teach a lot of kids and are responsible for grading them, it’s probably a good idea to have some kind of system to keep track. But in my response to her, my point is to shift keeping track of their “bad behavior” that makes us adults uncomfortable and pay more attention to their eccentric, quirky, surprising and often astounding characters that can reveal themselves if given half a chance by a teacher who loves kids. And a system not trying to squash them down and narrow them to fit, but to provide structure and support. And this means questioning every assumption ever handed down to us about schools and how they work. Or at least to shift that work from control to love and praise. And so I wrote:
“I check the kids out at carpool time and think if they did anything noteworthy that day and then praise them. I find I have A LOT to say! The kids whose behavior drove me crazy I remember easily, because they're the ones that make me look harder for how to reach them. So rather than a rap sheet of transgressions to be put on their school FBI file, I'm collecting loving memories and ways to help kids be memorable in extraordinary ways. Remember that behavior is the language of children. So instead of keeping a file of transgressions, I try to listen to what they’re trying to tell me. 9 times out of 10 it’s something to the effect of: “Please help me. I’m having trouble controlling my impulses or I’m bored or I’m overwhelmed with information I’m not ready to process or skills I’m not ready to master or I didn’t sleep well last night and missed breakfast or my parents are fighting again.” And really, as the adult here, am I going to punish them further by putting them on record?"
Friends, let’s stop all that. Let’s aim for the rap sheet of love. Think what you want about the potential of human beings and spend your life justifying your cynicism. I can… all I have to do is see that daily photo of Trump’s angry face and the media’s fascination with someone so bereft of a loving heart and a working intellect to wonder “why bother hoping?” But every day at school, I see countless examples of adults helping kids find their better selves. And I imagine Trump—and a few million/billion others— missed out on that. (Even at Trump's age, his behavior is his language telling us that he needs help. I'm happy to help him, but it's hard when so many keep feeding his devils.)
So let’s turn it around for the next generation. When H.G Wells said, “We are in a race between education and catastrophe,” he wasn’t just talking about how everyone in the world needs to know their math facts. I think he was speaking of educating our better selves.