Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Not In A Million Years

One of the things that today's self-styled education reformers leave out of their master plans to standardize the teaching profession, what they fail to understand, is that teaching is a two-way street. Education is not something we do to kids, it's something we do with them, and anytime a teacher is not learning at least as much as his students, it is a lesser experience to the degree that it might not qualify as education at all.

Standardization in all its forms is the enemy of education: the ladled slop from the bland pot of unidentified food substance on a cafeteria tray. It may keep us alive, but it's hard to thrive on that homogenized crap. The more I learn about education reform, the more it seems that these guys are hoping to turn education into a chain of fast food outlets, where the meals are all the same, and the minimum wage teachers' job is to push buttons, smile, and ask, "Do you want fries with that?"

Each of us have our own unique recipe for attaining true knowledge and enlightenment: it doesn't come in a can of curriculum or a jar of testing. Teaching is not about feeding kids, but rather helping them learn how to cook for themselves. It's not about manufacturing consumers satisfied with a limited menu to burgers and nuggets, but rather master chefs engaged in the creative process of bringing their own unique meal to the table.

To accomplish that, teachers too need to be learning all the time, not just blindly following a recipe passed down from corporate: messing around, figuring out each child, experimenting. Just as it's important for students to learn from failure, so it is for teachers. As we gain experience, we add tools to our belt of course, but since each child is different we must always be prepared to learn how to teach all over again if we're going to give each child our best. I try to start each day with theories about how the day will go. I've set things up, planned, and even prepared back-up plans, but I'm at my best when I remember that it's an experiment that may well end in all my theories being blown up.

Last week, when I set up our "block area" with a length of Hot Wheels track on one side and Pretty Ponies and Troll Dolls on the other, I figured I'd be taking a look at how gender preferences were manifesting themselves across the various ages in our community of children. I didn't expect to learn anything groundbreaking, but I was curious about how this specific collection of children, this year, in early January, at Woodland Park, would interact with what I thought was a classic juxtaposition of cars and dolls.

Well, the first thing that erupted was the crazy exciting, cross-gender, cooperative 2-year-old constructive play I wrote about here. I'd thought the blocks were just a "prop" in my grand experiment, but the children thought otherwise. And then there was the remarkable, one-girl math exploration depicted in the first photo series in this post. I was looking for boys playing together through the physics of cars, and girls engaged together through the dramatic play of dolls. And that did happen a bit, especially in the 3-5's class.

And it was interesting to see how those gender preferences seemed to be stronger the older the children were. But the children were clearly not interested in what I was serving up (as usual, I might add) and mixed up their own spicy concoction . . .

One that will never again be duplicated, not in a million years.

(Personal note: I managed to get a post up today, but we're still in the midst of moving, so don't be alarmed if there is some interruption in my blogging during the next few days.)

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Scott said...

Tom, for some reason your post today reminded me of "Top Chef" (and those other competition shows). Basically the chefs are told "here's what we want you to accomplish and here's what you have to work with" and then each chef creates his/her own unique take on that assignment. Our classrooms are the same. We say: "Here are the tools you have to use and here's the (general) goal we want you to accomplish (i.e., concept, skill, or just to think/learn)." Then the kids take that and create their own unique learning experiences. Hmm. Maybe I need to ponder and post on this.

Unknown said...

Tom, thank you so much for your insight. I know so many public school teachers are truly hampered by the system and they are so frustrated that their kids aren't *learning* anything. Sadly, this is happening in daycares as well.

aroma said...

Some days when the 'system' gets to me, I think that I have failed the kids and that they did not 'learn' anything at all...but then I come home where my daughter (who I happen to teach) will share a story or a song or say something random but real sophisticated and caring about the day like, "today so and so and I told so and so not to kill bugs because we have to be nice to the world" and it will make me think that 'perhaps, just perhaps, the kids did learn something-it just wasn't in my "standards" for them to learn that and that I can't 'assess' it but that doesn't mean it wasn't important. I agree with you that teaching is a dance between the kids and the adults in the room....and in some ways they are the lead dancers.

Juliet Robertson said...

Hi Tom

I've just spent 2 days in woods interviewing pre-school staff, children and parents in two different settings.

What all groups commented upon was the lack of gender-differentiated play. Out in the woods everyone plays with sticks, or plays hide 'n' seek or does other things.

It makes me wonder whether we inadvertently encourage gender play indoors through the resources we put out and the layout of the room.

Oh and...

.... in the years to come I predict that you will be quoted left, right an centre. I've just checked the quotes section on my discussion page on Creative STAR Facebook page. It's got a growing number of classic quotes from you.

Keep tip-tapping those keys, bro!

Play for Life said...

Confucious say "We are all teachers and students in the school of life." ... And you don't want to argue with Confucious!

Donna :) :)

kat said...

Sing it Teacher Tom! Learning Rocks!

Celia Marie (W.) B. said...

Oh how I wish I lived close enough to participate at your school with my boys. Alas. TX is not WA.

Plants seeds of knowledge...for our future! said...

Bravo!!!! Well said! Now if we could just get those politicians, text book companies, and testmakers to tune into you and others making the same message as you, there just might be hope that education can be saved!!!
It's too bad Oprah doesn't have her show! She needs to have you on it so we can get the message out! ;D Everyone listens to Oprah :D

Kate S said...

Thank you for this! I find I learn something constantly from the children in my care! That is why I LOVE working with Toddlers!

This post has come at a perfect time as our program as a whole has been examining teaching practices...You have validated my points once again!