Thursday, March 02, 2023

What Professional Educators Know

Currently, a higher education bill is being considered in the state of Florida that would prescribe that "Natural science courses must afford students the ability to critically examine and evaluate the principles of the scientific method, model construction, and use the scientific method to explain natural experiences and phenomenon." On its face, as a requirement for a public education institution, it doesn't strike me as particularly offensive, although the fact that a state legislature, instead of education experts, is dictating curriculum is, to me, quite offensive. But that is the world we live in and it's nothing new. A great deal of what we teach in our public schools is dictated by dilettantes such as these legislators, which means that professional educators are forever tasked with figuring out how to navigate around the misguided and nefarious obstacles these amateur educators decide, in their ignorance, to place in our way.

For instance, a couple paragraphs later in this proposed bill, they assert that science should not be part of general education classes at all. "Courses with a curriculum based on unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content are best suited to fulfill elective or specific program prerequisite credit requirements, rather than the general education credit requirement." (Emphasis is mine)

So, in other words, state universities and colleges must teach science to all students, but without broaching anything that is unproven, theoretical, or exploratory, which is, essentially the whole of science. Of course, this is a bill in progress and, one would hope, the final wording will make it make sense, although I'm not holding my breath. More clarifying are the arguments being used to justify this legislation. There is apparently a belief among a certain segment of these dilettantes that public schools should be exclusively in the business of the facts, and nothing but the facts. So, math is totally cool. Likewise literacy, but only when applied to texts that have been pre-approved according to criteria set forth by these very same dilettantes, again leaving professional educators completely out of it. Science, however, is apparently out because it operates on the basis of the unproven, theoretical, and exploratory. History as well. Indeed, all of the humanities are outside the criteria set out in this legislation.

One of the things that professional educators know that amateurs do not is that authentic learning always occurs through a process of interacting with the unknown. It requires us to critically examine our world, to explore, to develop theories, and then to critically examine them as well. As Tyson Yunkaporta writes in his book Sand Talk, "A focus on linear, abstract, declarative knowledge alone not only fails to create complex connectivity but damages the mind. We are biologically punished for this destructive behavior with a neurochemical rush of lethargy and discomfort that most people call boredom. Extended period of this affect a person's mental health, resulting in bouts of rage, depression, and worse." 

"Just the facts" harms us because our brains are designed for creating knowledge.

It's almost as if these legislators view education as a kind of trivia factory in which teachers install the answers to game show questions, while the kids, in turn, practice matching them to the proper questions on tests before moving on to the next batch of trivia installation.

There is no such thing as "just the facts." There can be no learning without addressing the murky gray of things unknown. In life the answers and questions don't always match up. Sometimes there can be as many answers to a question as there are people attempting to answer the question. Some answers change over time. And more often than we are willing to admit, there is no answer at all. If truth is our goal, and I hope it is, then we must understand that learning is as much a collective process as an individual one. My answer is one perspective. Yours is another. It is only after examining a thing or an idea from every perspective that we can ever hope to approach the "right answer." And we will never, no matter how hard we try, run out of perspectives from which to consider a thing. Life itself is theoretical.

That is the danger of what is happening in Florida, and everywhere. There is always a movement amongst the powerful to somehow lock-in "the truth," to assert that one set of facts are always the facts and there can be no more proving or theorizing or exploring. These dilettantes simply don't want to know. They can't bear the idea that they might be wrong, because to admit as much would be to threaten the whole house of cards that justifies their position of power.

Yunkaporta writes, "Respectful observation and interaction within the system, with the parts and the connections between them, is the only way to see the pattern. You cannot know any part, let alone the whole, without respect. You cannot come to knowledge without it. Each part, each person, is dignified as an embodiment of the knowledge. Respect must be facilitated by custodians, but there is no outsider-imposed authority, no "boss," no "dominion over."

We are the custodians.


It takes a village to raise a child. As preschool educators, we don't just educate children, but their families as well. For the past 20 years, I've been working in a place that puts the tri-cornered relationship of child-parent-educator at the center, and over that time I've learned a great deal about how to work with families to create the kind of village every child needs and deserves. I'm proud to announce that I've assembled what I've learned into 6-part e-course called Partnering With Parents in which I share my best thinking on how educators can and should make allies of the parents of the children we teach. (Click this link to register and to learn more.) Discounts are available for groups. The cohort starts this week, so act now!

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!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: