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Posts Tagged ‘flourishing’

As has always been the case, schools in the early 21st century are trying to reinvent themselves.  The model is broken. Modern times calls for something new. Achievement is not what it could be.  And so on.

Today we read about flipped classrooms, tablet/tech support for learning, blended learning, amongst other fads.  I mean “fads” seriously.  These ideas will not fix the problem with traditional education because they are more superficial solutions.  “Playing around at the edges” as I call it.  These are not educational innovations that cut to the core assumptions of education.  What are those core assumptions?

  • that learning means remembering
  • that learning can be measured by test taking
  • that learning is about “pouring knowledge into the learner”
  • learning can be packaged in a one size fits all approach

That’s enough to get going.

Until traditional education is willing to look at its soul, to see that its very identity is rotten, it will not be able to remake itself into anything truly valuable to all children, learners, students.  Learning is not about “acquiring”, it is about “becoming” and “constructing”.  Each of us is in a process of becoming from the day of our birth.  We construct ourselves out of our experiences in our environment, equipped with the DNA package we carry.  Education needs to focus on what that environment needs to offer the individual learner, so that s/he can have access to the necessary “stuff of becoming”. Provide a person with the raw material to build themself up from, then stand aside and let them do so.  Learning is an active process for the learner.  If they are not the active one, then the path to actual learning is closed.

Flip your classrooms, incorporate technology, and otherwise tinker with the model all you want.  In five or ten years you’ll be reaching for some other idea that will change education and truly make it effective, and it will always be a distant goal… just out of reach… if only….

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The crisis is still with us.  Grads look for jobs and don’t find them.  People call for a rescue to save them and others.  There’s despair and longing and a sense of hopelessness.  But not everywhere.  For some there’s a better way.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  The ones you will see rise up today are the ones who can tap into what made this country what it is: intrinsic motivation, perseverance, inventiveness, confidence, curiosity, boldness, independence and courage.

Watch  this music video and what do  you see?  I see two young people ” just doing what needs to be done”.  They put themselves out there.  They are making something of value because they can, and maybe they have to.  Hand-outs are not ever an answer.  Hand-outs train people to wait for help.  It trains them to “rely on” and become DEpendent.    That’s no future.  Maybe it’s just me but the passion and confidence I see in these two is what will carry them.  Never mind the particular song if you don’t care for it – see the souls of these two, their spirit.  I’m not worried about them.

The world is spinning out and we need young people to understand what will get them ahead.  The ones who are capable of rising themselves up will be the ones to make the future, to carry the world forward.  We need education to play a role in nurturing these young people, to show them that this is possible. We don’t need schools that  train them to sit and wait, to follow the rules, to be lead and to just  do what they are told.  Maybe too many generations of that is taking its toll today.

Education needs a reality check today.  It needs to be able to show all students  (i) that they have something inside themselves that they can contribute, (ii) that they can develop the skills to make that contribution.  But that skill development is not what’s on offer in most schools today.  There’s no path there for the innovators and creators.  Half of them are “tamed” with medication to help them “focus” and be calm and controlled.  That’s a shame because the taming also suppresses that which actually makes them tick, that which would unlock their contribution.

So, “cheers” to those who are striking out on their own, who have discovered their contribution.

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Yes, true education reform remains the hot topic.

Education needs to be reconceptualized as “that which a human being requires to develop from birth to maturity”. That is such a different focus from the conventional conception of education as the transmission of data/facts.

All we can do, in this new understanding, is “to  assist life”.  What does this mean? : what does life “want” and how can we assist it?  What does it mean to ask  this question or to even think this way?

Life, all life, not just human life, wants to thrive.  A basic element of biology  is this: living things want to thrive.  We see this everywhere in nature: the wildflower growing out of a rock face or through dried leaves in early spring; the instinct of animals that serve to protect or propagate.  It would be wise to learn from nature – being a part of it.  The secret is there for us to see, if only we’d turn our gaze to it.

Children are born ready to learn, to thrive.  Our task is to clear  the way and provide safety and security for this life to unfold.  Nature knows what to do.  We’ve learned about the nature-nurture dance, about the value of  enriched environments.  Let’s do that: prepare the environment that nature requires, then stand aside and let it work its magic.

This is what it means to “assist life”.  It’s easier than we think.  Nature is a lovely, beautiful, integrated and powerful  system –  let’s unleash it, respect it, honor it.  Instead, conventional  education has blindly and misguidedly tried to invent something that doesn’t need inventing.  Education is a natural process if you conceive of  it as life merely unfolding.

This is a different way to conceive of education and if there’s a chance for education, for children and for our world, we need more people  to begin to come to this understanding.  Montessori schools get this.

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An adult was heard to say “my dad didn’t teach me what to do, he just lived and let me watch”.

That’s rich.  How many parents spend a great deal of time “telling’ their children what to do, how to do it, how to be “polite”, “kind”, etc.  Is this the best way?  The adult above clearly valued a different approach: modelling and let it be.

People learn best through self-discovery and exploration.  “Telling” rarely communicates what is important because it is disconnected from your own experience- it amounts to accepting received wisdom, so to speak.  Parents who live their lives well, don’t tell their children to do as I say not as I do”, teach them what is important and teach them in the best way possible.

The other thing at work here is not micromanaging a child’s development or future. Sure, as parents we all want what’s best for our children, we all want them to succeed in their endeavors.  There is a difference between providing opportunities and support and what some parents do, which amounts to controlling their children’s lives and not allowing for self-expression and self-awareness.  Letting your child discover what moves them, what contributions they can make to the world, is the best way to help them become both whole and happy.

 

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A business executive recently said in an interview that “You’ve heard this a million times before: The only way to fail is to not fail, because otherwise you’re not taking risks. You’re not getting better.  You’re just doing the things that you know will work. Now, the difference is that you really want people who learn from their mistakes.”.  Get that? ” The only way to fail is to not fail” : which means that failing is the key to success.

So why do our conventional schools not understand that?  In schools it’s all about the “one right answer”.  Red marks on your paper are an embarrassment: a sign of wrong answers – failure.  To be avoided.  Students “learn” to regurgitate and not take risks.  Like I  said in my previous post, how you go about “teaching” conveys a great deal about what you will actually convey – the process is inherent in the message.

We need to embrace failure as the necessary road to success, to achievement. There’s truly no other way there.  Avoid failure and you avoid success – now that’s not what schools teach students, not the conventional ones.

Tied up in this are parenting styles that endeavor to “protect” children from disappointment, helicopter parents and any parenting that amounts to “making sure it all works out”.  How will our children learn to cope, to persevere, to manage disappointment, if they aren’t allowed and encouraged to fail?  I’ve written about that here too.

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“Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!”  (sing it with me.)  Yes, Pink was on to something.  Parents – leave them kids alone!

When did parenting become a vocation?  When did parents become artists whose children are the raw material from which to sculpt their masterpiece?  This is what too many parents do these days: from Baby Mozart (hopefully mostly debunked… right??) to prep-school for a prep-school for a prep-school…. getting into the “right” kindergarten, yes?  Otherwise it’s all downhill.  Helicopter parents who attend job interviews for their 18 and 22-year olds – then call up the employer when they don’t get the job to ask why.  I don’t make this stuff up.

When president emeritus of the American Public Media Group, Bill Kling, was asked what his parents were like, he said “They were wonderful.  They absolutely left me alone.”  What?! Come again.  Not in today’s world.  He talks about all the exploration he did and experiments he invented (and, yes, things he blew up!) – all in the pursuit of his own ideas, his own conceptions, his own thinking, innovation and curiosity.  That’s an education.  That’s a child given the space, the freedom to learn.  Not plugged-in, entertained and “activitied” (I made that up: it’s the parental over-scheduling act of having activities being thrown at you all too frequently).  No, this was a child left on his own to learn.

It really is that simple.  We are born to learn.  That’s the one huge gift we are given at birth: ready and powerful learners.  Naturally curious and explorative we will figure it out, whatever it is.  It’s what humanity has done all  along and will continue to do if we don’t short-circuit the system.  Leave them children alone, and all will be fine.

We need anxious parents to relax, take a step back and understand that this is how it works best.   There are too many parents motivated by good intentions but who are lacking some basic information.

A good new website provides some guidance: http://www.aidtolife.org

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Do schools make us smart? smarter? What is more important: intelligence or ingenuity?  If you had to choose, which would you?

Steve Jobs biographer, Walter Isaacson, recently wrote that Jobs was more ingenious than he was conventionally intelligent.   He argues that Bill Gates – that other guy – had more raw intelligence but that Jobs, like Einstein and others before him, stood at the intersection of the humanities and science.  Ingenuity here means “practical creativity”, it means seeing the relationship between disparate things that others don’t see, the connections.

It’s not that ingenuity is better than intelligence, they are just different.  The world needs all kinds.

What is an educational experience to do with these?  How can the experience in schools support both styles?  There’s no secret today that there are many kinds of learners.  Jobs’ insight is said to come from “experiential wisdom” – that’s learning which comes from doing, from acting in the world, learning from errors, trial and error- like all the great inventors did.

Of course, Jobs dropped out of college.  School was a limitation for him.  It didn’t allow for him to function, dare we say “excel”, the way he he was born to.  The reality is that we are all “born this way” – the way we are.  We need schools that recognize this, that allow each student to be themself, to learn as they need to, to think, create, invent, explore and solve problems.  Some may not even need school the way it is typically conceived of today.

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