• Bridging Differences

    In Bridging Differences
    Deborah exchanges views with a different colleague, each for a month or two.  Her current correspondent is Harry Boyte, a Minnesotan (although his roots are southern). He has always been a friend and mentor, even though we come to stuff in different ways and even disagree on and off. He is a professor and an activist, a theorist and a practitioner, with a focus on democracy—beginning a long time ago when he worked with Martin Luther King. He has written or edited ten books on the topic and founded a Center on
    democracy which is now at St Augsberg College, but formerly at the University of Minnesota.  

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    October 5–7, 2017 National Conference Progressive Education Network: Boston, MA

    October 9, 2017 Author Event Penguin Random House: NY, NY

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Surviving in One’s Native Land

I just finished reading Diane Ravitch’s latest blog–and the response from David Berliner. If you haven’t seen it go to Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

She gave me the idea of writing very short comments–in my case also as a way of getting rid of some of the clippings that pile up on my desk! Thanks for the idea, Diane. It’s also a take off from Mike Klonsky’s blog. Bu, of course all three are very different! Which is precisely part of the point behind my educational ideas: our differences show up in everything we touch. And that’s a blessing!~ When we try to follow someone else’s prescription we focus so much on getting it “right” that we miss making the connections that will expand our thinking and our students’.

I’ve read many books explaining to me foolproof ways to discipline minds and behaviors–and I’ve usually learned something in the process–even if sometimes it’s just what not to do. But as a teacher in a classroom there are hundreds of decisions one makes in a single class period–and most require instant responsiveness to novel situations. When a child asks me “can I get another book?” or “go to the bathroom” etc etc I can’t stop and think it through. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow after I’ve researched this better” won’t work. My response has to be related to the individual child, what else is going on at the moment, etc, etc. and I have perhaps 5 seconds to make it. Some would argue that this is precisely the reason that one needs hard and fast “system”, no excuses rules that can be applied at anytime, anyplace to any student–consistently!

But, I’m preparing kids for “life”–and even a tough legal system takes a lot into consideration–which is why juries were invented. It’s even why democracy was invented. Because to most questions–trivial or important–there are more than two suitable answers. It depends on……

But in the long run one can be decisive, sensible, effective–and thoughtful. Applied thoughtfulness, applied consistently. We’ve found kids learn to respect our mistakes, because they are always open (if not now,later) for discussion. (And because we’ve established a relationship in which kids’ more or less know that we’re “on their side”–even when we’re wrong. ) Believe it or not, this stance is a deliberate part of the intellectual education that makes such schools work–although maybe doesn’t raise test scores..

By the way, have any of you ever read James Herndon’s books? They are beautiful and sometimes hilarious accounts of his years as a middle school teacher. If not, lucky you–order them now! Start with “The Way Its S’pozed to Be.” Another is entitled “How to Survive in Ones Native Land”…as a teacher It reminded me of the Chomsky semi-quote by David Berliner.

You survive one step at a time, and you look for every opportunity to find pleasure in your colleagues (of all ages) and your situation.



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