Math isn't about the numbers. Music isn't about notes. Literature isn't about letters. Is school really about grades?!
Research indicates that our minds crave novelty and motion--seeing the world in a different way: creatively connecting what was previously disconnected.
In fact, I'll go so far as to say that everything is really about pattern recognition. And while our very physical survival depends on pattern recognition, our souls need it even more, and at higher levels, to thrive. And thrive we must! We love to discern patterns in our life experiences, connecting the unlikely to make more sense of the mundane, to find more meaningfulness, to discover that which resonates more deeply in our souls.
Additionally, I think that human nature wants to overlay a fresh, more satisfying emotional context to otherwise ordinary life experience--yes, even to the parts and pieces of distilled, disconnected, fact-based curriculum. Contextualize. Bend perspective. Reshape, perhaps break rules. Connect. Disconnect. Re-connect. Find the patterns. Build new meaningful, more elegant patterns. Discern relationships.
We call all of this beauty. Being more alive. Learning. Art. Joy. Life. It's all the same!
As I've said for many years, I believe deeply that we don't know what we like. We only like what we know. And the more we know, the more patterns we discover thus making our lives and our contributions richer and more satisfying in every way.
Interestingly, these three pictures, from different projects by different people, defy motion and break existing patterns in some very unexpected ways (adding a new dimension to the research findings?) and thereby arrest our attention and invite deeper pattern exploration! (Each photograph is a link to different pictures of the same.)
How do we, as educators, as moms and dads, arrest children's attention to welcome them more deeply into that irresistible world of learning, of contribution, of discerning and connecting new patterns to better make sense of the old?
Swimming on the Banks of the Thames Near London's City Hall
Having just moved to California, I am beginning to discover some of the amazing resources available to California educators. Calisphere is certainly one of them! This collection of primary sources, designed for classroom teacher use, is aligned to the California curriculum standards and can be searched in several different ways including themed studies,
Calisphere is the University of California's free public gateway to a world of primary sources. More than 150,000 digitized items — including photographs, documents, newspaper pages, political cartoons, works of art, diaries, transcribed oral histories, advertising, and other unique cultural artifacts — reveal the diverse history and culture of California and its role in national and world history.
As a classically training musician, I long ago came to realize that everything in life is all the same thing. Art, Music, Language, Love, Teaching, Learning, Design, Beauty, yada, yada, yada... it's all the same life force in different manifestations, if you will. As I read this classic text on design, I keep feeling my heart say, "Yes, that's exactly what good teaching is! It's just great design principles applied to learning, that's all." It's deep integration of Grant Wiggin's work on Understanding By Design.
If ever a company understood design, it would be, of all things, a technology company: Apple! One of Apple's key goals has always been to make complex technology look irresistible and easy, even essential, to integrate into your lifestyle. Again, great design is great educational practice. Great educational practice is great design. It's beautiful and welcoming. It appears elegant and simple. It has an allure about it, a curiosity that beckons.
Take a look at the iTunes Store screen shot below. How can you resist going deeper? The button, "Next Steps" is just begging you to click on it! Why, you would feel guilty if you didn't! You would be missing something you might really need, might really want. This is brilliant design! Our blog posts, our assignments, our lessons could all benefit from "Next Steps," from "Deep Cuts!"
As an educator, a teacher, a principal, if you find yourself working too hard to make your staff, your students reach your performance and educational goals, don't just work harder. Don't resort to anger. Don't raise your voice. Don't stress out trying to beat it out of them.
Just revisit your design! How do you make moving to "Next Steps" something each of them feels utterly compelled to do? You want them to know and experience the joy that really is learning and achieving--the essence of all that is beautiful. You want fire in their eyes as time melts away at the behest of going deeper into learning, of taking more personal ownership of their own educational quest.
And the positive energy, over time, begins to build on itself. You return to your center, your love of teaching, your calling.
It's the middle of February, which is always a good time to step back, and revisit your design.
Warning Label: This post condenses a lot of thinking into a few words. It's a tad political but addresses some big issues.
I have long lamented the death of liberal arts education. I have even begun to wonder if the liberal arts could exist in a world inundated with terabytes of data overload heaped high in a technological nano second. In the world I see forming before me, the human being, the well being of which should matter most to all of us, can hardly begin to construct significant meaningfulness, can not build real information from all of the data, to address really significant people problems. We are people, not data. We are humans, not numbers.
Our nation seems to have become powerless to determine our own destiny as people, as human beings. The politicians, the public relations firms, the entertainment industry, the media, and others sway our attention and attempt to build some artifice of tolerable consensus while the unthinkable has been happening all around us. We live in the fog of "freedom of choice," but having the most choice about the things that matter the least while ignoring all of the elephants in the room.
I've seen the media, trying to find its way in the newly emerging social networks that appear to be abandoning traditional media forms, treating everyone as the professional expert, giving the uninformed their 15 seconds of fame. And, I see over and over, that most Americans lack the reasoning skills, the knowledge of or even access to facts, the depth of curiosity, the transformational flexibility of thought, the commitment to the common good to make a meaningful contribution.
We have become overwhelmed and stupefied, incapable of recognizing, celebrating, creating, and sharing beauty in all the multifaceted forms beauty can take. Our K-12 education system, more and more narrowly focused on less and less, is producing a product that is perhaps more easily governed, but can not govern, problem solve, or create. This education policy which places increasing emphasis on outsourcing education to private industry, is, in the long term, absolutely unsustainable. And the market place, as we have so explicitly seen in the last 18 months, is completely incapable of handling matters critically related to our common good as a nation. What if Social Security had been privatized before the crash of Wall Street? Do we want to place public education in the hands of for profit corporate America?
This is the heart of the matter for me: the process of creating--creating beauty. It is action. It is imagination. It is valued. It is liberal arts education.
I marvel that, in a time when we have the affordable technological capacity to create virtually anything we can imagine in our minds, our minds, detached from our hearts, have lost the capacity to imagine anything worthy of creation. This is the tragedy of an education system, once the envy of the world, that is focused solely on the memorization of a minimum body of information detached from the reality of the significant issues facing our world and the world our children will adopt.
I read many education blogs. We are all guilty of pumping out megabytes of bandwidth about what is broken in our field.
It is time to begin imagining what can be, what is now possible. This is the hard intellectual and creative work on which we must focus our insight, our talent, our passion, our imagination, our expertise, our collaborations, and our deepest convictions about the common good.
I think educators needed to vent our frustrations. But that time is done.
Bennington president Liz Coleman's February, 2009, TED presentation, a call for reform of higher education, is, for my mind and heart, refreshing and invigorating. She speaks brilliantly, for those who have an ear to listen, about transforming education into action-oriented artistic expression focused on the common good. She uses carefully chosen vocabulary and provokes thought designed for action. This isn't CNN: You can't just hear her and "get it." You must think carefully about what she is saying. Her words are as weighty as her message. The presentation is below. Here are just a few ideas from her 20 minute presentation about Bennington's action plan:
... The more powerful our reach, the more important the question: about what. ...
The continuum of thought and action are [the new liberal arts] life's blood, knowledge honed outside the academy becomes essential. [Experts in the field will join the faculty] in this wedding of liberal education to the advancement of the public good. Students in turn continuously move outside the classroom to engage the world directly. ...
The most important discovery we made in our focus on public action was to appreciate that the hard choices are not between good and evil, but between competing goods. This discovery is transforming. It undercuts self-righteousness, radically alters the tone and character of controversy and enriches dramatically the possibilities for finding common ground. Ideology, zealotry, unsubstantiated opinion simply won't do. This is a political education to be sure, but it is a politics of principle not of partisanship. ...
We intend to turn the intellectual and imaginative power, passion, and boldness of our students, faculty, and staff on developing strategies for acting on the most critical challenges of our time. ...
The glacial silence we have experienced in the face of the shredding of the constitution, the unraveling of our public institutions, and the deterioration of our infrastructure is not limited to the universities. We, the people, have become inured to our own irrelevance when it comes to our doing anything significant about anything that matters concerning governance beyond waiting another four years. We persist also in being sidelined by the idea of the expert as the only ones capable of coming up with answers despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The problem is there is no such thing as a viable democracy made up of experts, zealots, politicians, and spectators. ...
[We need those who pursue a very highly defined area of inquiry, but...] This single-mindedness will not yield the flexibilities of mind, the multiplicity of perspectives, the capacities for collaboration and innovation this country needs. ...
What do you do when you feel overwhelmed. Well, you have two things. You have a mind and you have other people. Start with those and change the world.
He makes the claim that people around the world are more alike than they are different. His musical demonstration is nothing short of brilliant. He speaks very little in this audience participation, and I had never heard his speaking voice before. I was actually really shocked! But don't worry, be happy.
What a time for awesome learning, breaking existing ideas about what a classroom is! I've worked with some great school systems over the past two years that certainly should have some of their older students and younger teachers explore this program.
My background includes music education, piano performance, and composition. Naturally then, I value creative expression, arts education, independent thinking, emotive eloquence expressed through nuanced abstraction, the creation of beauty in the many different forms it can take in our human experience. Such achievements require far more than merely knowing the parts: "Boys and girls this is what an eighth note looks like."
Certainly, learners must know the parts. But as I often say, "Music is not about the notes. Math isn't about the numbers and symbols. Literature isn't about words and parts of speech." For those children whose educational experiences were not providing them with the basics upon which they could build understanding, appreciation, complex meaning and the beauty of expression, then standards-focused accountability for their teachers may have been a logical remediation. But how many teachers in our country didn't provide their students with a quality basic education? Every single one of them, as the national standards movement and NCLB seem to indicate?
Our educator friends in Canada still value the liberal arts education, still view the purpose of education as vastly extending beyond "global competitiveness." Working with them is so refreshing.
Placing value on diversity isn't just about ethnicity. Of great and equal importance is diversity of thought, ideas, and expression. I shudder to think what the long term outcome of standards-based education will be. It actually frightens me for the future of democracy, creativity, curiosity, independent thought...
Alfie Kohn's entire article is important reading. Quoted below, from the extended version of the January 14, 2010, Education Week article by Alfie Kohn, are some concluding thoughts from the article.
Finally, what’s the purpose of demanding that every kid in every school in every state must be able to do the same thing in the same year, with teachers pressured to “align” their instruction to a master curriculum and a standardized test?
I once imagined a drinking game in which a few of those education reform papers from corporate groups and politicians were read aloud: You take a shot every time you hear “rigorous,” “measurable,” “accountable,” “competitive,” “world-class,” “high(er) expectations,” or “raising the bar.” Within a few minutes, everyone would be so inebriated that they’d no longer be able to recall a time when discussions about schooling weren’t studded with these macho managerial buzzwords.
But it took me awhile to figure out that not all jargon is meaningless. Those words actually have very real implications for what classrooms should look like and what education is (and isn’t) all about.
The goal clearly isn’t to nourish children’s curiosity, to help them fall in love with reading and thinking, to promote both the ability and the disposition to think critically, or to support a democratic society. Rather, a prescription for uniform, specific, rigorous standards is made to order for those whose chief concern is to pump up the American economy and make sure that we triumph over people who live in other countries.
If you read the FAQ page on the common core standards website, don’t bother looking for words like “exploration,” “intrinsic motivation,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “democracy.” Instead, the very first sentence contains the phrase “success in the global economy,” followed immediately by “America’s competitive edge.”
If these bright new digitally enhanced national standards are more economic than educational in their inspiration, more about winning than learning, devoted more to serving the interests of business than to meeting the needs of kids, then we’ve merely painted a 21st-century façade on a hoary, dreary model of school as employee training. Anyone who recoils from that vision should be doing everything possible to resist a proposal for national standards that embodies it.
Yes, we want excellent teaching and learning for all -- although our emphasis should be less on student achievement (read: test scores) than on students’ achievements. ... "
Obama: iPad, Xbox Turn Information Into A 'Distraction'
On Sunday, President Obama made this statement in his address to the graduates of Hampton University. Interestingly, The majority of those responding to the survey question on the site, agree with the President. Actually, so do I.
I feel rather confident this comment will create quite a reaction among techie educators. I can't wait!
"You're coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don't always rank that high on the truth meter," he told the students. "And with iPods and iPads, and Xboxes and PlayStations -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you; it's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.""