Friday, August 31, 2012

School Days

“School days, school days. dear old Golden Rule days.
  Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘ritmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick.”

That was the old song, when schools followed the Machievellian principle of the threatening stick as the prime tool for motivation. The new version might be “the carrot stick,” the philosophy of “if you do this unpleasant thing, you’ll get that cool thing.” Of course, not too many kids think the carrot stick is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the carrot and stick image came from getting your donkey to do what you wanted. Either beat it with a stick from behind or dangle a carrot in front.

Both theories assume a few questionable things:

1.     People should be treated like donkeys.
2.     Work is so unpleasant as to need a threat or reward.
3.     Donkeys growing up in the carrot and stick society will be worthy of leading us into the future.

A lot of research in Motivation Theory, from Abraham Maslow years back to Daniel Pink today, focuses on corporate workplaces and with Google leading the way, there is a clear shift in the wind. Treat people like people and give them the respect to make intelligent autonomous decisions, give them worthy work with a clear purpose and community effort, count on their intrinsic desire to do things well and you’ll have happier workers who do better work and contribute to a successful corporation (see “Nordstroms Rocks!” Blog).

But ironically, as corporations are moving toward this model, schools seem to be moving away from it. Here we are at the end of the summer and the parents are thrilled to pack their kids off to school and the kids are buying their school supplies and what can be and should be a glorious reunion in the hallowed halls of learning will be another 9-month jail sentence. I’m still reeling from my friend who teaches 2nd grade and has to give the kids a test the moment they walk in the door on material they’ve never studied. Welcome back, kids!

And so for the 38th year straight, I offer my little workshop series (see my Website for details) with a new version of the old song:

"Readin’ and ‘riting’ and ‘ritmetic, taught to the tune of a jazz drumstick.”

Integrated Arts is this year’s theme— a bit redundant, since all arts are integrated. But because we've forgotten that, this series shows how to use music and movement as doorways into math, language, history, science, visual arts, drama and more— and picking up a few necessary music and movement skills along the way. In an ideal teacher training course, we all would learn how to teach art through history, teach history through music, teach music through poetry, teach poetry through math, teach math through dance, teach dance through science and so on. It can be done and it should be done and both teachers and students would be enormously refreshed.

No need to throw out the tried-and-true, but hey! open up the windows and remind yourself that every subject is a humanly constructed artifice that appears separate, but in fact, is integral to every other subject. We are so lost in the maze of our specialties that we’ve forgotten that each subject is also called a field and fields connect to forests and other fields and invite us all to lay out the blanket and picnic and look down at the ants and up at the stars.

And that’s what I hope the kids did over the summer—ran barefoot through fields and looked for shooting stars and noticed the bugs at their feet. I hope they sang songs around campfires, lost themselves in fantastic books, improved their juggling. A school’s measure of success is to minimize the transition when they walk through the doors again, learn a bit more about the dung beetle, Cassiopeia, wild grasses, to sing new songs, dive deeper into the richness of story, juggle to a jazz beat. I hope that kids are ready to trade the dizzying freedom of summer for the structured freedoms of school, exchange the glories of getting bored and catching the scent of something new for a teacher leading them down a path to a place they might not discover on their own, move from the outdoor heat (except in San Francisco!) to the indoor coziness. I hope that children feel the same excitement entering the school building in September as they felt exiting it in June.

May it be so!

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