Friday, December 3, 2021

Soulful Education: Part II


“Adults have not understood children and they are, as a consequence, in continual conflict with them…The adult must find the unknown error in himself that prevents him from seeing the child as he is… All who speak out on behalf of children should make this accusation against adults and they should do so constantly and without exception.”

-      Maria Montessori: The Secret of Childhood


Adults, take note:  “J’accuse!!!” The epidemic of edu-babble that is infecting our schools and our thinking, deflating teacher’s passion and making children miserable, needs some attention. And so these steps to inoculate good-hearted teachers and administrators, to keep us away from the Kool-Aid and steer us toward the natural spring water fresh from the stream in our recyclable bottles. I gave some examples in yesterday’s post, but the “wise and seasoned teacher,”  tongue firmly in cheek,  gave me some feedback after reading the post that reveals what we’re both talking about.

“In reading  this article, I'm not sure that you demonstrated knowledge of effective teaching strategies aligned with internationally recognized educational technology standards. 

And ask yourself, did you really locate and apply information about students' current academic status, content-and standards-related learning needs and goal, assessment data language proficiency status and cultural background for both short term and long-term instructional planning purposes?  I think not!”


People, people, people! Can we just return to simple talk, the kind your grandmother used? Jargon and dogma are the ecologically destructive dams that block thought, stop the flow of the live flowing stream of our intelligence and releases water in measured quantities at scheduled times according to some bureaucrat sitting in some office. 


But let me say it yet more plainly. Even if there is a good idea behind a jargoned term, it dies in captivity. Rather than throw back more darts of sophisticated educational philosophy and pedagogy (and I have a big collection), I want to switch the focus to the simplest and most important questions to ask before making busy, overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, undervalued teachers jump through these hoops. It’s as simple as this:


1) Does this required (or even requested) activity increase or decrease the teacher’s passion for teaching? Allow them to teach in the style of their own character and genius and narrow them down to a scripted robot? Make them yet more happy or enthusiastic about their choice of career or less so? If the answer is no to the first clause of each phrase (and having talked to hundreds of teachers, I can guarantee you that it is), then it’s time to stop. 


2) Do the prescriptive ways of teaching and evaluating teaching serve the child as he or she actually is? Does it open further their innated curiosity, sense of wonder, love of exploring, need to play their way to understanding? If not, on behalf of Maria Montessori, “J’accuse!!!”


I seem to be portraying the teacher as a passionate, dedicated, intelligent and imaginative person who equally loves his or her craft, the teaching of the craft and the children she or he teaches. Truth be told, most of the teachers I know and meet are at least aspiring to that ideal, if not embodying it fully. But I know from the teachers I had and from the stories of teachers from around the country that this simply is not the universal case. And perhaps it was in some fear of teachers not measuring up that all these educational methods and enforcement of such developed. But is it effective? Are teachers made better by such micro-managed techniques? I think not. So between letting teachers wholly alone with no external accountability and running them through the maze of top-down management, there is another way that might make teachers and children happier and both the learning and teaching more effective. Not a one-size-fits-all- program that guarantees results, but a specific, satisfying, individually-suited way of mentorship and self-mentorship.


Read on for Part III. 





  1. See my last comment. And FYI, I'm now retired after 45 years at the school and advocated tirelessly (and failed) to keep tuition down. It hurt my heart and still does. But again, that position of privilege allowed me to create a music program whose ideas I carried to teachers in most every state, every Canadian province and some 50 countries around the world, ideas that filtered down to children in all sorts of schools and made their day a little bit happier. Hopefully, none of that means that I can't be taken seriously! And again, good teaching at its heart has little to do with the perfect schedule/ class space/ class size/ technological equipment (though all of that of course makes an impact). My guiding teaching story comes from Horace Mann about what you need to have the best education. "You get a log and sit a good teacher at one end and a good student at the other."

  2. Maybe we should have an e-mail exchange or phone call! These issues are too complex to answer casually, but just a couple of points.

    1. Our school parents are definitely not .1 percenters as far as I know. And we are in the middle range of similar private schools in the Bay Area. Yes, a fair number of doctors, lawyers, tech people, but if you have two parents working at $150,000 a year each, then that tuition is some 10% of the combined salary. Back when it was a $1000 tuition, I imagine many parents earned more than $10,000 combined, so perhaps their percentage was even smaller.

    2. The School never contributed a penny to my travels and teaching, but they did make it possible for me to job share with two other brilliant colleagues for some 20 years, which gave me three months off out of the 9 months to travel and teach and write. In this way, they were indeed benevolent and understand how the students and school benefited from my colleagues and I both sharing our work generated at the school with teachers far and wide and how we came back refreshed, energized and with new material gathered from friends we made worldwide.

    3. The question of why I didn't teach public school needs a long discussion, but starts with a) I didn't have a teacher's credential b) There were no jobs to be had c) I recognized that even if I could wrangle a job, I would be so limited by the hoops I'd have to jump through that I wouldn't be as effective as I would wish to be. I had a period where I explored the idea of both teaching myself in the public schools and working with the Board of Supervisors on restoring music education and the bureaucratic wall I encountered was so thick and high and immense that it felt hopeless. And in fact, I felt—and still feel—that I could be more effective advocating for better conditions for all teachers coming from a position of understanding what could work better. Every workshop I give, I tell the teachers I'd fly out at my own expense to meet with any Board of Supervisors or Administrations that are willing to listen to ideas about how they can support their students and teachers better. No one has ever taken me up on it.

    Truth be told, no one has ever challenged my right to believe down to the marrow of my bone in a more enlightened education or suggested my actual teaching background disqualifies me from talking about it. Happy to talk personally about it if you'd like to continue the conversation— thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Thanks again and this feels like a good stopping place. Feels like we actually agree on a lot, but the point of discussions like this isn't necessarily to reach agreement, but to stimulate more thought. And that has been true for me. Just one last little piece: I have been involved as possible in the public school in Portland my grandchildren go to. Always teach a guest class when I visit and last year, was their volunteer Zoom music teacher. It's a great school on many levels— small classes, good teachers, diverse students, a social justice identification and a passionate spirited principal. And one of the alums from the SF School who I taught is the 5th grade teacher! It restores faith in the power of public schools. And yet, I still see how much richer the program could be. Again, not just money, but a deeper understanding of how kids learn.

    If you feel inclined to keep discussing, my e-mail is But at the moment, I need to focus on two different book projects, the first about social justice and jazz education. A book that I never could have written without the experience I was able to have at the SF School. I hope it contributes something worthwhile. All the best to you.


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