Wednesday, August 08, 2012

How Could I Not Have Seen It Before?

My secret pleasure past time this summer has been to step out onto my balcony with a beer in the evening and work a puzzle app on my iPhone. It's a sort of maze solving game. Some of the puzzles are cinches, but there is just enough challenge to keep me coming back. What strikes me is that no matter how much I've struggled to figure it out, no matter how many frustrating dead ends I've reached, once I've solved it, within seconds of my moment of triumph, I begin to feel like a fool -- How could I not have seen it before?

These plastic hoops are always  in our outdoor classroom, often left for weeks on end without being touched. Recently a couple girls have discovered them. In this game, they arranged them in a row down the hill. They stood at the top and took turns throwing a knot of root, then hopped down from circle to circle to retrieve it.

At the top of The Living Classroom blog these days, Michelle has posted this quote:

Learning is always rebellion . . . Every bit of new truth discovered is revolutionary to what was believed before. ~Margaret Lee Runbeck

Yes. It's a small, but nonetheless locally significant revolution when I finally see my way through to the end of one of those puzzles, an epiphanous moment that overturns or displaces or otherwise unsettles everything I thought I knew. And now, duh, I know this new obvious-in-hindsight thing.

Their game was similar to hop scotch, but was revolutionary in that they dispensed with the rules that they found unnecessary. There was no penalty, for instance, when that chunk of root missed its target, they simply used the circle path to get as close as they could. They hopped on two feet, they leapt like gazelles, and when a younger child joined them, they made no quibble when he chose to simply run.

A proper classroom ought to be in a constant state of rebellion, both large and small. Significantly, this is how our democracy ought to be as well; not necessarily a rebellion against government, which after all, in its ideal form, should be simply the manner by which "we the people" do things together. Education, when it really is education, must be an ongoing challenge to the status quo in whatever form that takes: be it social, political, economic, intellectual, scientific, artistic or whatever. The reason we spend soooo many years educating our young shouldn't be that there is so much stuff that we need them to know, because there is not, but rather that we need them to become life-long learners -- life long revolutionaries.

On another day they invented a game in which one girl swung, while the other held out the plastic hoops for the swinger to attempt to "hook" with her feet as she swung forward, then carry them around her ankles on the back swing to deposit on the ground behind her.

If I can spark nothing else as a parent and teacher, what I want most for the children in my life is that they adopt revolutionary habits; that they question authority, that they rebel when necessary, that they don't fear punishment for speaking their minds. This is how progress is made in the world, one small revolution at a time.

They were rebelling against our normal cautions to stand back from where others are swinging and challenging a status quo that would have them play with the hoops in a different area, away from the swings where someone "might get hurt." I'll confess to a first instinct that involved somehow breaking up this wonderful cooperative game that violated our swing set protocol.

I understand why "rebellion" and "revolution" are frightening words to some teachers. They evoke images of out-of-control classrooms, of children who will not raise their hands, of children who will not sit in their chairs or do their homework or who talk back, and this indeed is part of a revolutionary classroom. Defenders of the status quo, both in schools and without, too often respond with demands for obedience, backed up with threats of punishment, when in fact these students, these revolutionary citizens, are doing exactly what they must in order to discover truth.

An education worthy of its name, a democracy worthy of its name, is always a threat to the status quo, a challenge to orthodoxy, a confrontation with injustice, an application of reason to those things that are done, thought or believed simply because that's the way it's always been done, thought or believed.

I can't tell you how often I've found myself grinding my teeth as a teacher when the children choose to not do things the way I expected them to, to learn lessons I'm not teaching, to over-turn my best laid plans, and sometimes I've even found myself fighting back, defending a status quo. But all too often it's just on the other side of those moments that I find epiphany and see that I've been the fool: How could I not have seen it before?

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. ~JFK

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Chris said...

It is our responsibilty to encourage learning to question and think outside the box. This teacher is all for mental rebellion!

Tammy said...

Wow, you get to have swings? They ripped our up despite the cries and outbursts from the children and teachers alike. To dangerous. ...sigh

Cap said...

Powerful sentiments and I couldn't agree more! Kudos, Tom.

Connie - Little Stars Learning said...

It does seem as if the highest learning takes place in the most unexpected situations and opportunities, if we only take the time to observe before jumping. Another excellent post, Teacher Tom. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Love, love, love this post! Your concluding paragraph expressed feelings I think every teacher has. It's up to us to remember to look at those moments from a variety of perspectives, because though they are moments of tension they are what can pull us to the next breakthrough personally and as a learning community! And by the way....I'm working on a play with my students and we were having some of those moments yesterday. I'm feeling a bit desperate about how the play will turn out, but I know I have to trust my kids because they have powerful if sometimes intense ideas!