Saturday, September 5, 2015

Where Are the Kids?


As many writers will testify, I have no idea where my ideas come from in these blogs. Generally an experience or a book or a piece of music triggers a thought and I give myself permission to follow it and see where it leads. Sometimes straight into a wall, sometimes it meanders about before hitting a dead-end, sometimes it opens to a glorious sunlit path. One can only follow.
But it’s not entirely without intention and will. Like most of us, I have a few constant themes that I keep an eye out for and once I start off on the path, I bring everything I have to the venture. One such theme is cultural blossomings and cultural sickness. (Danger: metaphor-shift ahead!) The words are like the surgeon’s tools, poking and prodding amidst the network of bone, muscles and nerves and attending to the patient’s reaction.
Imagine my surprise when a blog I wrote in about five minutes hit some collective nerve and instead of the standard 75-100 reads a day, it got over 1300!! Never happened to me in almost five-years of blogging. It made me think I better pay attention.
Titled, “Keep It Real,” it’s a critique of the trend to micro-manage and script teachers’ language, to narrow teachers’ passion, knowledge and expertise to someone else’s fantasy of what good education is. And according to the overwhelming response, it indeed hit a nerve that spoke to teachers’ anguish or helped them feel that they’re not alone in their outrage.
Naming the sickness is a necessary first step to healing, but can’t take us all the way. Luckily, my constant critique about what doesn’t work and why and sits side-by-side with some tried-and-true experiences with what does and why. One of my issues with the sitting through the “latest and greatest educational techniques” presentations is that the language is wrong. I don’t hear children in there. And since children are the beginning and middle and end of the whole venture, shouldn’t they be present—literally or imaginatively— in the conversation? My rule of thumb question to ask the presenter is:
Can you explain this so a 3-year old can understand it? An 8-year old? A 14-year old? And not only understand it, but be excited about it?”
 If not, then don’t waste my time. 41 years of real time with real kids makes me impatient with theoretical ideas about how this idea will finally transform education. For me, each class is like my writing, entering the room with a theme and bringing the whole of my knowledge, intuition, imagination, intellect to it with the children, noting their reaction, feeling the energy in the room. Sometimes it hits a wall, but I know how to try again and go around it or over or under. And sometimes it opens up to that glorious shining field and nothing I do will ever guarantee that this will happen. There are other forces at work, each dependent on a grace that will not be corralled or herded or tamed by us. They can only be invited into the journey— and then the wonders begin.
So I have no illusion that this entry will carry the needed message of the last, that my truth will be your truth. My job is to just keep poking and prodding, with tender loving care and leaning toward healing.
(I wanted to give three examples from recent curriculum statements about how we might speak in a way that includes the children. However, I realized I already did! I know, this is a stretch to look elsewhere, but if you’re interested, go to May’s entries and click on 21st Century Curriculum Statements. )

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