Monday, November 29, 2010

Why I (often) don't sing in church

I enjoy the music/singing at my church very much but I have noticed lately that I rarely sing with the rest of the folks there. I remember as a young person my Sunday school teacher telling me she does not like to sing, but to listen and mediate. I guess that was the first time I realized that it was ok not to sing. My parents always sang every word to every song. What I have come to realize is that part of what makes Sunday morning sacred to me is the opportunity to meditate. By meditate I do not really mean some "religious" practice. Most of the time I am thinking about my life and relationships: school and my family. I NEED this time in my life.

Last weekend I was in a bad mood. Can't really determine why but I was definitely ornery most of the weekend. Singing time at church gave me the opportunity to reflect on my poor attitude and why. I did not really figure out why, but was able to stop and try to make the choice to change. Besides the sermon included Star Wars clips and this video as illustrations:

What I have come to realize in the busyness of life is that I require quiet time to think about life. Otherwise I get caught up in lists and tasks and accomplishments. I am the type of person who feels satisfaction when something is finished. Sometimes I get too caught up in "doing" instead of just "being." Sometimes I am more concerned with getting "things" done than my relationships with people. I need time to stop and re-focus on priorities instead of my Google task list.

When my life becomes too busy, I feel stressed. If I am not checking things off my list, I feel stressed. If I take the time to reflect and then I relax and focus on my real priorities. I believe this is why I was ornery-I needed some down time to think. I also think this is my most of my blogging is done on Sundays or holidays. My regular school week does not have time in it for reflection and that is really too bad.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Lottery in Life

This past week I watched God Grew Tired of Us about the "Lost Boys" of Sudan relocating to the United States. I also read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini which tells the stories of refugees in Afghanistan. (By the way I highly recommend them both). So I was already entering Thanksgiving time reflecting on how fortunate I am and lucky to be born in this country and time rather than somewhere else in history. I fully realize it did not have to be this way. (Try the lottery of life to show students this).

Yesterday I had a long conversation with my cousin and his wife. They live in Haiti, not just dropped in after the earthquake, but have lived there for years (they blog about their life here). He is a horticulturist and tries to find drought, insect, and disease resistant plants to grow in Haiti's harsh climate and poor soil. His wife is a doctor who works at a clinic and trains Haitians in medical care. They are offering sustainable help that will last years after they are gone. His wife has just finished writing a book about health, basic first aid, and personal hygiene.

She explained how Haiti has more aid organizations in it than any other country in the world, but to little effect. She also recommend the book When Helping Hurts to explain a better way to help the country. I was reminded of this Ted talk that compared the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and explained how Chile had very few deaths even though their quake was much stronger.

So I have found myself reflecting on how fortunate I am to live in the time and place that I do. I love history and am fascinated by many time periods and especially the cultures there but would not want to live in any time but the present. I have so many blessings starting with my family and including my home, food, clothing, secure job, health insurance, and friends. I also have the opportunity to study and learn about anything I choose. Lastly I am thankful that I have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Real Reform Goes Backwards

I for one am tired about hearing about broken public schools. Are they perfect, of course not. Neither is any other human institution. But what really disturbs me is that the people who want to "fix" public education have the worst ideas ever. They want to make schools more like business and hire head-hunters (superintendents) to fire the bad employees (teachers). Then the head-hunters move on to work for Fox news or some think tank. These people do not truly care about children but about money. Therefore their goals are to get rid of the evil unions that protect teachers' benefits so they can hire cheaper teachers (outsource them just like the manufacturing industry in this country). Standardization measured by tests is the magic cure!

The problem is that schools are not factories and should not be treated like them. And most importantly students are not widgets that can be taught by anyone using the same script. These reforms disrespect both teachers and students by treating them as all the same. Just put the student in the proper machine (program) and out they pop at the end- educated (able to pass standardized tests). But students need relationships to grow and learn. Schools should be more like families than factories.

I think real reform starts by going backwards to a "classic" liberal arts education. In Ancient Greece students were discipled by the master as part of a community. Relationships were an important part of education. They learned by asking questions. They studied logic, poetry, geometry, and exercised all as one experience. They were not divided by age and subjects were not compartmentalized. There was not classwork and homework. All of life was learning, one integrated experience.

By caribb

Students today need to be given time to think, deeply. They need to play, ask questions, discover, solve real problems, and discuss. They do not need to memorize facts for tests. They need to think critically from multiple points of view. Students need to be given choice in what to learn and how to do it. Schools need more individualization and less standardization.

What can we learn from the Ancients? That living is learning and relationships matter. We need less federal bureaucracy and more local control. We need schools that look different because the communities they serve are unique. If we truly teach students to think and learn on their own and in community with each other they will do amazing things. We need science, math, and arts all mixed together. I believe that we should give students freedom to be creative and to engage in ideas with each other. We should scrap textbooks (this form of standardization has dominated even longer than the state and national tests). We should teach from real world problems and current events (we have plenty of them to choose from). Students should engage in real questions and work for real solutions. We should use hammers, nails, wood, computers, dirt, flowers, paper, cell phones, microscopes, cameras, and animals. Students should perform labs where the teacher does not know the answer. Students should study current events and then research the history to understand why things are as they are now. Students should use math to calculate solutions to world poverty, lack of clean water, and adequate food.

So what is the role of the teacher in all of this? To guide the learner and challenge them with new ideas and experiences. Most students are not self-motivate learners by themselves (because schools have bored this out of them); they will need mentors and guides to show them how to learn and to challenge them with new ideas. Master learners (teachers) should create fascinating learning opportunities as starting points and then encourage students as they pursue deeper concepts. Too many teachers use curriculum, standards, and textbooks as a crutch and rarely present students with authentic learning. Real reform happens when we abandon the pre-packaged education being sold by textbook companies and start the adventure of giving students great learning experiences.

So what's your excuse? Reject standardization now. You may not be able to change the structure of your school schedule or the the architecture of the building, but you can change the way your classroom works. Don't know how to start? Start by talking to your students. Find out where their interests are and build from there. Start by talking about the news and the issues in the world. Ask students what they can do about it. Put away the textbooks and engage with your learners. You might be surprised by where you end up.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Still thinking about passion as a major part of student learning. I have a lot of rambling thoughts in my brain right now and this is my attempt to organize them a bit so help me out where it does not make sense.
One thing that has me thinking about passion is the path of my life-long learning. I was an excellent student and great at "playing the game" of school. I knew how to listen, read, take notes, and pass tests. I was also convinced at the time that I was "smarter" than most people. This was a major part of my adolescent identity. I now look back and see that I was just better at playing the game than others, and lacked many problem-solving skills.

By Robert Hruzek
After I returned to the US from teaching English in China, I started working for the largest commercial concrete construction company in our area. My skill level was mostly as a laborer in residential concrete. I had a foreman who became my mentor and trained me to be a legitimate concrete finisher. After that I watched others being trained. The difference I saw between myself and some of them was that I did not naturally figure out how to finish concrete. I needed to be taught directly just like in school. I saw other guys who experimented and figured it out on their own. I began to recognize a skill set that they had toward problem-solving that I lacked. It was a standing joke that I asked questions about everything, especially "why." But eventually I became an expert at knowing what to do after I understood the reasoning behind things.

The other thing I have been thinking about are my "strengths" and "weaknesses." In school, I was a math/science kid. I hated English (writing) and thought history was a waste of time. In college I had to take one philosophy class and saved it for my senior year because I knew I would hate something so impractical. When I finally took philosophy I loved the class and wished I had minored in it. I decided to become a teacher when I returned from China. I loved learning about the culture and history of China so I majored in history. This year on the National Day of Writing I wrote for "fun" for the first time in my life by my own choice.

So I would have never chosen philosophy as a passion until I experienced an actual class in it. I don't think I would have ever chosen writing or history in high school either. I needed to mature and have more life experiences for when I was ready to learn these topics.

Maybe the key is I know how to learn and how to access learning. I can now learn anything that I want to because the tools are easily accessible. Maybe the key to schools should be teaching how to learn and exposing kids to as many learning opportunities as possible and let them run with the ones that are most interesting to them at the time and trust the future for them to learn about the "standards" that they might miss while they are pursuing their passions.