The NY Times followed up its piece on STEM jobs and the causes of unemployment (see below) with one on testing: “The Trouble With Testing Mania.” (Sunday, July 14, p. 10) The editorial headline is the best thing about it, but it opens a few more doors for us among potential allies. A second hurrah.
But can we shift the conversation from the “accountability/testing” mania to a real meaty discussion about how learning takes place. Maybe we have to dig deeper into what purposes we expect schooling to serve, or each step forward or back may represent just a new no-nothing fad. Until then we are avoiding the BIG question, “accountable for what?”
Example: It always amazes me how often intelligent people cannot imagine how one can learn if no one is “teaching,” “telling” or at least “showing.” My old City College guru, the marvelous Lillian Weber who taught so many of us how to observe children well, started off by asking us to list all the things that virtually every kindergarten child knows before he/she starts school. And then, we brainstormed how we thought they had learned all these hundreds of skills, concepts, words, and on and on. It was a tough task.
This is why I hate the expression used too often to promote pre-schooling—”learning to think” or “ready to learn.” We are born thinkers and learners–and quite sophisticated ones. We come into the world as theorists of a very high order. It was this simple idea alongside that amazing list we compiled that convinced me that the clue to schooling lay in keeping this incredible openness to learning new things continuing in school too. How? By imitating the same methods the child has already successfully used out of school. It requires the company of both adults and peers, access to wonderful materials and resources, and a respect for curiosity and self-initiative, even when it leads to partially or even totally “wrong” answers. “I’ve got an idea” is on the tip of every one-year-old’s lips; before that too. What this child is missing at two is the jargon for saying this. But just watch the faces of children in classrooms—can we find that same look on their faces, that same reaching out to explore? If “I’ve got an idea” is not on the tip of the tongue of every 5-12 year old, maybe even 13-82 year old, something has gone sadly wrong. The world is simply too interesting to pass children by without awe, wonder and curiosity—unless we insist on introducing boredom—alongside of trying to read the teacher’s mind rather than reading the world!
I was reminded of this at the 3-day workshop I attended a few weeks ago in Manchester, New Hampshire, run by Gary Stager on project-based learning. We need something like those three days—Gary take note—in every town and village. Gary was a student of Seymour Paper of MIT, who was in turn a student of Jean Piaget of Switzerland, who was…., well he got his ideas in a large part watching and listening to children!
The real “crisis” within schools today is that we are in the process of literally throwing away the carefully constructed ideas that flowed from these (and other) giants’ work. The garden for children (kindergarten) was a late 19h century invention that we are fast abandoning. The ideas behind such “gardens” are not only wise, but critical to imagining that democracy needn’t be utopian—that it’s possible with “ordinary” people who are all really quite extraordinary. Reminder: democracy was “invented” as an answer to “who is accountable.” But “for what” faces each generation anew.
In the meantime Gary and colleague Sylvia Libow Martinez have published Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. (www.InventToLearn.com)
I’ll be quoting from this book a lot! Alongside of The Having of Wonderful Ideas by Eleanor Duckworth (who joined me in New Hampshire). “Some wheels may require reinventing, but hopefully not the idea of roundness itself” (Thanks to Alan Dichter for this quotation. And welcome back to NYC Alan and Vivian Orlon))
p.s. I’m fast (?) recovering energy from the dual attack of a bug carrying both Lyme and Erlichia! Query: Do they play any useful role?
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