Friday, June 19, 2020

Building Our Wooden Boats

I have a friend who declared he wanted to build a wooden boat. He didn't want to row a boat, he didn't want to sail a boat, he didn't even want to own a boat because the plan was to give it away. He simply wanted to build a boat. It took him the better part of a year to build it. He enrolled in a class at the Center for Wooden Boats, he read books, he asked advice, and he researched on the internet. He then engaged in a lot of trial and error until, one day, he had built a boat.

He had learned to build a boat, yet he never set out to learn anything at all: he just wanted to build a boat and the learning was a side effect of his desire to create something new. I suppose there are times in life when our desire is to learn something specific with no other goal than the acquisition of knowledge, but the vast majority of what we learn throughout our lives is because we have a project before us that we either want or need to accomplish and learning is what we call the process by which we do that.

That's how learning looks in the real world. Indeed, the only place where learning routinely precedes the project is in schools, places we've artificially set aside and apart for the sole purpose of learning. Schools are not typically places where we can build the wooden boats of our dreams, but rather where we are coaxed, cajoled, and scolded through "material." Throughout most of our decades of school life, and especially when we are young, we have no say in what this material is going to be. We are told to learn this and that, some of which may be interesting, but most is just material to get through because to do otherwise is to confront some sort of misery like the shame of poor grades, the grind of repeating it all over again, or the threat of yet even more material designed to help you catch up with the others.

This is why so many of us think of learning as hard. It has been separated from our projects, which are, after all, why we get out of bed in the morning. This phenomenon is what philosopher and self-proclaimed "pamphleteer" Ivan Illich called the "transformation of learning into education."

The transformation of learning into education paralyzes man's poetic ability, his power to endow the world with this personal meaning. Man will wither away just as much if he is deprived of nature, of his own work, or of his deep need to learn what he wants and not what others have planned that he should learn. ~Ivan Illich

As a preschool teacher, I see my role as one of enabler rather than educator. I create environments, offer materials, keep them safe enough, and otherwise make myself of service to children as someone who has lived more years. Then I strive to stay out of their way as they build their wooden boats.


I'm excited to announce that Teacher Tom's Second Book is now available in the UK, Iceland, and Europe thanks to my friends at Fafunia! It's also available in the US and Canada. We're working to find our distributor for Australia and New Zealand. If you want to go directly to the Fafunia page click here.  And if you missed it, Teacher Tom's First Book is back in print as well.

And finally, this is uncomfortable for me, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 9 months due to everything being cancelled. I'm hustling to become a new and improved Teacher Tom. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the yellow donate button below. 

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
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