ED 615 Week Four (Fall 2020)

Hi Everyone,

 

Story of the Day

Imagine: we sit across from our friend in a restaurant listening to her talk about Bill and Mrs. Jones.

“Bill is going out with Mrs. Jones,” our friend says. “What do you mean?” we respond.

And there it is. In that brief instant we wonder, and we ask the question, “what do you mean?” (Children use this all the time: they say, “why?” But of course, we are not children). We ask the question “what do you mean?” Here is the moment in time that something just happened and our response was to wonder and question about Bill and Mrs. Jones. It is an experience that we all have. We know the feeling and we know the look when others wonder what we mean by something we say. It is fascinating, the moment of wonder and a desire for clarification. We search for clarity. When the question is satisfied, our brain gets a small dose of dopamine. And that feels good.

But why does this happen? Why didn’t we just respond, “Oh ya? So Bill is dating Mrs. Jones. So what?” Well, of course at times we do. At times we are told something and there seems to be little need to question or wonder. Sometimes acceptance of our traditions do this to us. We can even get so complacent and lacking in wonder that we simply wait to be told everything. But when that happens, how engaged are we? How curious are we? But in this case, when we were told about Bill and Mrs. Jones, we did wonder. “Bill and Mrs. Jones?!” we exclaimed. We felt it. The surprise. Perhaps the disbelief. We couldn’t help but wonder, and request further clarification. Something had to be clarified. Perhaps something was not right. Perhaps something was . . . . (and before we could finish our thought) . . . “Yes,” our friend replies. “Bill is ‘going out’ with Mrs. Jones.”

“Not ‘going out’? we exclaim.

“Yes, ‘going out.” The words hit us hard, unexpectedly. We look around the restaurant, as if this might be something others should not hear.

Why were we surprised? Why did we wonder? Something must have been unusual. If there seems to be something out of the ordinary we might respond: “Going out? “What do you mean?” Perhaps this new development doesn’t seem to fit in with the narrative we already have.

What is it that engages us? Why do children feel the need to know something? When do we feel the need to know something? Are we trying to make sense of narratives? Are we trying to create narratives so that we can make sense of things?

As you go about your day, when do you ask why? Why did you ask why?

 

The Search For unusual, the “What-Do-You-Mean?”

Would it be fair to say that during our everyday conversations with people, we are more apt to ask the question “What do you mean?” than during our school classes. I have taught many classes where students rarely ask me what I mean by something. And, I have been a student in many classes where I was not inclined to ask the question, “What do you mean?” Why is that? Are we so conditioned to simply sit back passively during classes that we simply don’t question? Do we find nothing unusual? Or do we expect that nothing should be out of the ordinary? Do we go through classes not feeling any need for clarification? Do we not have a wonder that needs quenching? If it is fact, it’s fact. It must be the case.

What are we searching for when we ask ‘what do you mean?’ Perhaps we need to know more of the background context to really understand what we have just heard. We search for meaning — for clarification. Perhaps we try to fill out the background context so that what we are focussing on makes sense. If we don’t know Bill, we might ask, “what does Bill look like?” But here again, this is a way to fill up the missing context. His looks must mean something. Perhaps we feel that he must be very good looking if he is ‘going out’ with Mrs. Jones (assuming we know Mrs. Jones would only ‘go out’ with a good looking man).

And then in that very cafe, where we sit with our friend listening to her story about Bill and Mrs. Jones we hear someone singing softly in the corner. His back is toward us. And he seems to be gazing out the window.

 

 

Me and Mrs. Jones

Me and Mrs. Jones, we got a thing going on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong to let it go now

We meet every day at the same cafe
Six-thirty, I know she’ll be there
Holding hands, making all kinds of plans
While the jukebox plays our favorite song

Me and Mrs., Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones
We got a thing going on
We both know that it’s wrong
But it’s much too strong to let it go now

We gotta be extra careful
That we don’t build our hopes too high
‘Cause she’s got her own obligations, and so do I
Me and Mrs., Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones

Well, it’s time for us to be leaving
And it hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
And now she’ll go her way, I’ll go mine
But tomorrow we’ll meet at the same place, the same time
Me and Mrs., Mrs., Mrs. Jones
(Same place)
We both know that it’s wrong
(Same time)
Everyday at the same place
(Same place)
We got a thing going on, you know it’s wrong
(Same time)
But it’s much too wrong
(Same place)
Me and Mrs. Jones

I don’t know about you, but I would like to know exactly what Bill means by “a thing, going on.” But I digress.

 

When do we not wonder?

When do we not wonder about something? If context is so important to meaning, when do we not question? When is the context not important? When do we merely accept something without question?

 

If something seems to make sense, there is little need to question. When the background (the tradition, the narrative) supports what we do, or tells us what to do, there may be little need to question or wonder. If, for example, Bill was always going out with someone different, as was Mrs. Jones, we might not even question their actions. If our culture encouraged certain types of behavior–if it were completely normal for people like Bill and Mrs. Jones to ‘go out’ our conversation might not have even occurred. If a man and a Mrs. going out was a typical part of our tradition, we might not even seem to notice.

I don’t know exactly what you think about Bill and Mrs. Jones right now, but I would like to show you how context gives meaning to that which we perceive. You probably have an idea of what the background situation is. You have created a context in your own mind that helps you interpret the significance of Bill and Mrs. Jones “having a thing going on.”

However, I may have left out a bit of the context that might provide meaning to how you perceive the situation.

 

Oh, one more thing.

I forgot to tell you that Bill is Mrs. Jones high school student.

Whoa!  And they had a thing going on? That changes everything, doesn’t it?

Of course it does. Context confers meaning. Things mean something because of the context in which they are made intelligible. In other words, things are intelligible to us because of the context in which they (and we) exist. Bill and Mrs. Jones are not simply two independent discrete (meaning separate) objects that can be defined independent of context and who they are.

What initially seemed somewhat questionable, changed enormously when we learned that Bill was Mrs. Jones high school student. That one statement — that Bill is Mrs. Jones’ high school student — changed how we perceived the situation.

 

But wait, there’s more!

It is true, Bill is Mrs. Jone’s high school student. But I forgot to mention that Mrs. Jones was teaching a high school class for seniors. I don’t mean 12th grade seniors. I mean senior citizens. You see, Bill lives in Shady Oak’s senior’s center, he is 72 years old, and he never completed high school. Mrs. Jones, a member of the group ‘High School For Senior Citizens’ (HSFSC for some reason acronyms add legitimacy to what we do) went every Monday to the Shady Oaks to teach 12th grade subjects.  Bill, was one of the students. Mrs. Jones, whose husband passed away 15 years ago is in her mid 60s. Out of respect for her husband she still goes by the name of Mrs. Jones. Bill has also been single for many years. The two, by a stroke of luck, met each other. What we have here is a romantic love story. Two people who really needed some love, care, and romance in their lives found each other.

So, what we have here is an obvious example of the power of context. We also have a clear example of the problem of the ‘incomplete narrative.’

As much as I like wondering about Bill and Mrs. Jones, I think we can learn something from them when attempting to understand the way tradition (background, context, narrative) creates meaning in regards to schooling.

As much as I like wondering about Bill and Mrs. Jones, I think we can learn something from them when attempting to understand the way background, context, and narrative creates meaning in regards to schooling.

Let’s talk tradition 

Many beliefs, actions, and patterns do not seem to be based on truth or reason but rather on tradition. And, we are immersed in tradition and our traditional narratives.

Let us consider this for a moment: Our schooling discourse has unfolded within a tradition — a way of acting and understanding. What might this mean? If we think that reasons are neutral and logical without connection to context, we might have the idea that reason leads to some sort of truth or fact. However, if reason is couched in context, then there is nothing really neutral about it.

 

“Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.”

 

 

Lyrics to Family Tradition by Hank Williams Jr.

 

We often let the word tradition wash over us with out thinking of the significance of its power. We often find comfort in tradition, or feel empowered by tradition if we happen to be living in the tradition that makes sense to us. This is our narrative, we might say. This is our tradition. Or, “why am I doing this? I don’t know. We have always done it like this.” Tradition helps us feel like we are part of the club. Or, someone else’s tradition might make us feel like an outsider.

Tradition

I looked up the term tradition. Here is what was listed in the online Webster dictionary:

Tradition is:

1 : a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time

2 : the stories, beliefs, etc., that have been part of the culture of a group of people for a long time

3 : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom)

4 : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable

5 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction

6 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions

7 : characteristic manner, method, or style <in the best liberal tradition>

 

Now, keeping tradition in mind, I would like to throw in two points that I think are important for all of us to keep in mind: First: Much of what we do makes sense in the context in which we live. I better put that in a box, because it is an important point.

 

Much of what we do makes sense in the context in which we live.

 

That’s better. So, in other words, if we accept a particular tradition and that tradition becomes the narrative through which we make sense of things, then our practices are made meaningful by the tradition (the narratives) handed down to us. In other words, we often do things because the context suggests that we do those things.

Second: Our traditions can make us impervious to what is going on. We might not even question what is going on around us.

 

Our traditions can make us impervious to what is going on.

 

Is it time to throw in the being human question?

Furthermore, do traditions support a limited view of human being (or being human)? The Fiddler on the Roof tradition certainly does not encourage the same types of behaviors as Hank’s family traditions. Traditions might be limiting or liberating I suppose. Traditions limit what humans living within the tradition do and think. Tradition limits what and who people become. On the other hand, traditions might very well encourage us to do things we might not otherwise do.

 

What about traditions that are limiting?

What if our schooling discourse has unfolded within a tradition that supports a limited view of being human (or human being)–what might that say about our schooling practices?

As far as schooling goes, we seem to accept what is told to us about schools, and we seem to accept that there are ways that schools should operate. End of story. I have taught hundreds of classes and very few students ever ask ‘why?’ “Why do we do this in schools? Why do we do that in schools?” It seems that we are conditioned not to question. And I also know it is easier for me if my students don’t ask why? Because for the most part, I didn’t ask why, and nobody told me why we did what we did when I was becoming a teacher. And I don’t always know why because nobody asks why. ‘Just accept it!’ we are told.

Of course as educational thinkers we have an obligation to question—to ask why? And now that you have taken the Oath of the Educational Philosopher you are obliged to ask questions as well. (Did we take that oath yet?)

 

Is it tradition?

So why do we accept so many schooling practices without question? Is it tradition? Have we been schooled in such a way that our schooling has become an accepted tradition?

 

Now, when we think about questioning, we direct our questions into a particular, established, discourse, or a domain. What I mean by this is if I were to ask a mathematical question I would seek an answer (or response) from within the domain of mathematics. If I were to question love or mothering, I would not look toward the domain of mathematics to find answers to my questions. If I have questions regarding music, I would look toward the domain of music for a response (perhaps mathematics if it pertains to mathematics, and perhaps mothering if my music question has something to do with mothers singing to children). This domain, or discourse, is metaphorically a sphere of knowledge and activity (I am using these terms loosely at this point). All the pieces (the knowledge and the activities) relating to the particular domain just seem to fit together–they just all seem to make sense. So much so that there doesn’t seem to be much point in even questioning anything relating to the field. I think it would be fair to say that the domain of American public schooling seems to fit together in such a way that everything seems to make sense (or be reasonable). This is not to say we always like it, but it seems to make sense–at least until we start asking some probing questions–some deeper questions.

 

1000w_q75

This is a picture of Nancy encouraging Marge to ask deeper questions.

This is a picture of Marge asking if Nancy would please open up her visor.

 

 

 

So what about Frank Smith? What is his contribution in all of this? I am referring to his Book of Learning and Forgetting

When you read Frank Smith talk of the official theory of learning, you will hear and recognize much of the domain, or discourse, of schooling. We find ourselves living and working within that domain–our rather recent tradition of the official theory. Our school environment is so obvious to us that we seldom find any reason to question into it. Also, the domain of schooling is coherent enough that Smith finds it easy to contrast one domain (the official theory) with another domain (the classic model of learning). Interestingly, the current official domain of schooling is so ingrained and seemingly coherent that it is difficult to even imagine using ideas and methods from the classic model and incorporating them into the official domain.

 

Back to my initial reasons for questioning:

We want to adopt a questioning mindset.

We want to become more sensitive to our school environment.

In our recognition of different narratives, we become ‘bilingual’ in a sense. We develop a polymorphic understanding.

We may, in the final analysis find aspects of tradition that are obscuring, limiting, or oppressive.

 

Listening to those who question the tradition

We can question. But to become more sensitive to our school environment–to recognize the patterns of activities and the artifacts/tools in use–we can learn from others who have not accepted the tradition. They help us step out of our tradition. They allow us to see our tradition. These voices can then be used as a comparison. It is definitely easier to recognize the intricacies, the strengths, or shortcomings, of something when you are able to compare and contrast.

Husband: “Wow, I always thought your sponge cake was great until I tasted Marge’s.”

Wife: “You have the nerve to compare my sponge cake with Marge’s?”

Husband: Note to self — be careful what, or whom, you compare.

 

On page 5 you probably noticed Smith’s stark contrast between the classic view of learning and the official view of learning. And if you have read Part II you get a better sense of what Smith means by the classic view. And, and, if you couldn’t put the book down and have read Part III you are gaining glimpses of what he means by the official theory of learning and forgetting. And, and, and, if you are still waiting for your book to arrive, let me assure you, you have some interesting Smith-reading on the horizon.

 

In the meantime: let’s work on our polymorphic understanding.

 

Teacher of the Year

Today I would like to continue digging into narratives by reading a speech given by a man who won the New York Teacher of the Year award twice, and taught for 30 years in the public school system. He is someone who loves education, but doesn’t much care for the institution of schooling. You see, institutions have particular narratives that sometimes support the institution rather than the people the institution was designed to initially support. His name is John Taylor Gatto. This is the speech he gave when being awarded Teacher of the Year. As you read his speech I know that many of you will find it a bit disturbing. Some of you will feel angry with what Mr. Gatto says. I know that. But in all fairness I have to make something explicit before you read this because without knowing Mr. Gatto’s other writings, it might be a bit out of context for you. You might feel as though he doesn’t like teachers. It is important here to know that Mr. Gatto is very supportive of education and teachers. But he started questioning, and came to many conclusions regarding unfortunate ways the institution (the system) treats students and teachers. He is looking into the cracks of the official narratives of schooling.

Please remember that I often try to introduce you to individuals with strong opinions about schooling and education. I do not choose these authors because I want them to make us feel good about what we do. I choose them because I want them to help us discover that which might be hidden from us–that which lies hidden within our culture and traditions. We don’t just pick questions to consider in any happenstance manner. Our questions grow out or our confrontations with subject matter. This is going to be especially important as we begin to consider the ontological foundations of education.

Nor do I choose these writers because they have a seven step process on how to make schools better. You see, “The Seven Step Solution” can also distort our understanding.

 

Nancy: “Listen Marge, if you can’t come up with something better, preferably in 5 steps, don’t question what we are doing!”

Marge: “I guess I better not question.”

 

So much of our schooling discourse has revolved around the idea that we have problems that need to be fixed, and they can usually be fixed in about seven steps. If only it were that easy! But schooling is complicated, and understanding schooling is challenging indeed. We have to see our environment clearly before we try to understand our environment.

We are not taking this class to be told the seven steps we should follow. We are working through this material so that we can see some of the hidden aspects in our understanding of schooling. If we have a clearer understanding, we should be in a better position to determine what might point toward better courses of action as far as schooling, teaching, and educating–in other words, we might derive some wisdom. We become the wise ones–not because we have seven problem solving steps, but because we have insight and clarity on our educational/schooling environment. So we listen to others in an attempt to allow them to show us what they see. Furthermore, a polymorphic understanding helps us in our graduate work, coming up with new, insightful, knowledge.

 

What does this do for us as graduate students?

As a graduate student, if I am trying to develop new understandings and new knowledge, I have to step outside the box. In some cases I might have to be nudged or pushed outside the box. Kind of like this:

 

 

sumo

 

Or maybe like this:

 

tough-love-bird-nest-nestling-kick-demotivational-posters-1400468961

 

If nothing else, I need to be helped to see things differently than I do now. I think Mr. Gatto might help.

Funny-Child-In-Big-Glasses

 

Mr. Gatto is very supportive of education and teachers.

As I said, Mr. Gatto was a school teacher for many years himself. So as you read his talk, try not to misunderstand what he is saying. Mr. Gatto is opposed to “Systems and institutions” that operate for the sake of the “system” and then drag us along with it.

 

Why are we reading this? It is a narrative whether we agree with it or not.

I am glad you asked that. We are working to get glimmers of the schooling environment that might not be readily apparent to us. Mr. Gatto looks at aspects of schooling that we don’t normally talk about. That’s not to say that every thing he says is right. And that is not to say that what he says doesn’t apply to my school or my teaching. However, if might apply to some schooling. And if we don’t talk about something, we might not see it. Perhaps he views the school environment from a different lens. To use a Marshall McLuhan aphorism, he is trying to help us see the water from the fish’s perspective.

 

fish-did-not-discover-water-marshall-mcluhan-in-fact-because-they-are-completely-immersed-in-it-they-live-unaware-of-its-existence-similarly-when-a-conduct-is-normalized-by-a-dominant-cu

 

So if Mr. Gatto isn’t opposed to teachers and education, what is he opposed to? What narratives is he addressing?

Mr. Gatto is opposed to a tradition that privileges efficiency systems and compliance-based institutions.

Mr. Gatto is opposed to “Systems and institutions” that operate for the sake of the “system.”

Mr. Gatto is opposed to systems and institutions that limit our own personal freedoms.

Is he right to suggest that the school environment is a system and and institution? Is he right to suggest that systems and institutions limit our own personal freedoms? Are people’s personal freedoms limited in school environments? What is a system-produced (or politically-produced) phenomenon? If you have ever wondered why on earth you are doing so much testing when you think that it is unnecessary, then you may be witnessing a system-produced (or politically-produced) phenomenon.

There are a number of aspects regarding the “school system environment” that Gatto brings to the surface that we might want to see more clearly:

curricular sequence
subjects
facts
theories
sequences
school subjects
class position
numbering students
competition
testing
scores
grades
lessons
objectives
projects
bells
authority
rights
discipline
control
individuality
classification
intellectual dependency
experts
theories
resistance
enthusiasm
employers
conformity
resistance
counselors
self-esteem
report cards
cumulative records
regimentation
basic skills
global competition

Interestingly, none of these really seems out of place in our school system. Interestingly, few of us ever really question where any of these ideas came from in the first place. They just seem normal–part of our tradition. Imagine, Hank Williams, a veteran teacher, singing:

“Why do I test?”
“Why do I give grades?”
“Why do I sequence every . . . . . (I can’t think of a rhyming word here).
“It’s just a school tradition.” (Something like that).

Becoming attuned to these aspects of schooling is great for us. As we become more aware of these aspects of schooling, we are in a better position to begin to ask the questions as to why many students and teachers experience schooling in particular ways. We might begin to ask, “why are things the way they are?”

Now, let me emphasize that you don’t have to agree with what Mr. Gatto has to say, and you don’t have to like what he has to say. Regardless, there is something powerful in developing the ability to see that which is often obscure from our view. Mr. Gatto forces us to look more deeply at the system of schooling, and he helps us begin to tease out the educational aspects of learning from the systematic techniques of schooling.

 

Please don’t make this mistake

I would like to share something else with you before you read this: Some of my students in the past have misinterpreted something in Gatto’s talk. When they read Gatto saying that he confuses students, or that he teaches provisional self esteem, etc., they presume that he is intentionally teaching students to be confused, compliant, etc.. This is not what he is saying. Gatto is saying that there is a system in place that creates environments that are detrimental to students and teachers–a system in place that is designed in such a way that teachers are expected to teach in a manner that creates confusion. And, as a teacher working within the system, he was expected to enforce the system without question. So, he doesn’t deliberately confuse students and he doesn’t think we should confuse students. Confusion is forced upon them as a result of the nature of the system. We often end up teaching not what we believe to be right, but what is expected by the institution.

 

Please take some time to read Gatto’s Seven Lesson School Teacher.

 

Here are some things to think about as you read The Seven Lesson School Teacher

1) What are the seven lessons that Gatto talks about; and,

2) What are some connections between Gatto’s rendition and Smith’s discussion of the influence of the Prussian Army on schooling? And finally,

3) What is institutional logic (Gatto also refers to this as the logic of the school mind)?

 

As you read his talk, you will learn more about his position on schooling. This will help you think about this week’s questions.

 

 

Gatto’s Seven Lesson School Teacher.

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do at the time, I tried my hand at school teaching. The license I hold certifies that I am an instructor of English language and English literature, but that isn’t what I do at all. I don’t teach English, I teach school — and I win awards doing it.

 

Please read John Taylor Gatto’s Seven Lesson School Teacher

SevenLessons PDF

 

__________________

 

So, what did you think of what Gatto had to say?

If you felt like this:

reject

 

 

it will be important to try to change your stance to this:

wonder

 

Yes, that’s better. Deep breath:

th

 

Yes, that feels better. So let’s wonder about this for a second :

Does Gatto have some valid points?
Is there some truth to what he says?
Is he pushing us to look deeply into our schooling environments, even if we don’t want to?
Is he trying to reveal a narrative?
Is he trying to shift the narrative?
Is it difficult to think that we might be complying to institutional logic?

One more question: If there is an institutional logic, where does it come from?

 

Gatto’s talk represents, what I think is, a critical departure in our acceptance of the common school narratives. Many of us need to be nudged out of our complacent acceptance of schooling so that we can begin to recognize a variety of narratives in place. Others may need a confirmation that what they disliked about schooling is a legitimate position. Further more we might start asking the question, “does it need to be this way?”

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In session one we started off by giving some consideration to the idea of narratives. We listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speak of how narratives can shape how people perceive us as well as how we come to perceive ourselves. We also listened to Greg Bryk give us the impression that we do have the power to alter our own identity or the identity of others.

Herein lies the power of Frank Smith’s thinking: You learn from the company you keep. What does this mean? Smith continues:

“You don’t learn by consciously modeling yourself on the company you keep, or by deliberately imitating other people. You become like them. We all know this and organize our lives accordingly. . . . We take it for granted that the people around us influence the way we are. That is why the point of view is classic–we rarely think about the continual learning that we and others do all the time. And this learning is permanent. p. 9

 

Notice Smith’s example on page 10, paragraph two when he talks about the influence our children’s friends have on our children. But he makes another important point at the bottom of the page: “I’m not claiming that we learn from all the people around us. . . . I mean we learn from the individuals or groups with whom we identify.” p. 10

Let me quote just a bit more here. I think this is so important:

The way we identify ourselves is at the core of it all. We don’t join a club, or stay in it, if we can’t identify with the other members. We are uncomfortable if we feel the other members are not the kind of people we wee ourselves as being. In fact we’ll go out of our way to demonstrate that we are not members of clubs with which we don’t want to be identified. We’ll do this if we decide that the club doesn’t meet our desires or expectations, but we’ll also do this if we feel that other members of the club don’t want to be associated with us. If we don’t feel “one of them,” we show that we never wanted to be “one of them.”

I think we all know what it feels like to feel included, to feel like ‘we are one of them’. You can probably think of a lot of examples where clubs and organizations know this and take advantage of this to get you to join the club or organization–often to the financial benefit of the organization.

I think we also know what it feels like to feel as though we ‘just don’t fit in.’ It isn’t very fun.

And, when we think of students in the classroom, it becomes pretty obvious which students feel as though they fit in. Unfortunately, the institution and some teachers are pretty good at indicating to some students that they don’t belong. That doesn’t feel very good. I know that from experience. An the other hand, there are teachers who work hard to ensure that students do ‘fit it.’ That they feel as though they belong. I know those teachers from experience too.

Just a bit more from Smith:

And as we identify with other members of the clubs to which we belong, we establish and build up our own identity. Every time we engage in a club activity the other members in effect reaffirm, “You’re just like us.” And at the same time, we confirm to them, “I’m just like you.” (if we reject a club, or are excluded from it, we are told, “You’re not one of us.” And we respond emphatically, “I’m not like you–and I would’t want to be.”)

This is the way our identity is established. . . . We know who we are . . . from the company we keep.

This is why I thought Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk was powerful. She helps us understand identity and narrative. And, I think, Bryk helps us understand that identity can be shaped for the better (in many ways through narrative).

Now, all of that seems rather straight forward and simple in many ways. But when you think of the way schooling practices have been designed, this simple and perhaps important notion of identity is largely absent from the narrative. We have all sorts of procedures and practices that quite often ensure that students are unable to identify with the love of learning. There are procedures in place that seem to work against many students feeling as though they ‘fit in’ or that they can be successful. Is this a problem? Some narratives say yes, some say no.

During session two  I tried to emphasize the power of language. This applies to us in the way that we come to understand schooling (because schooling involves its own discourse or particular language games) as well as how we might think of identifying with others. Do we find ourselves identifying with those who don’t seem to share the same values? And when you think of values, how many of our values are wrapped up and defined in the language we use? Language is important. Narratives are important.

During session three we considered the spectator view. We listened to some narratives that seem to promote the examination of a ‘lived experience’ and some that promote the examination of an ‘objective’ experience. We saw how some of these objectifying experiences are woven into the way we talk about communicating, learning, and teaching. There are narratives that suggest that because of these objectifying linear models of communication and understanding, we can tell students about our reality and they will have access to that same reality.

 

It seems as though we ask a lot of questions about our students: why aren’t they doing this or that well? How could I get them to do better on the upcoming standardized test? Etc. Etc. These questions reside in the typical narratives we have in place. Yet have you noticed, we don’t seem to ask a lot of questions about schooling itself.

“Marge, I wonder why Dana didn’t do very well on his test?”

“Really Nancy, you are asking the wrong question? We should be asking why on earth we have that test in the first place?

It seems as though we take a lot of what we do in schools for granted. Have we been conditioned not to question too deeply into schooling? We are continually presented with problems that simply need fixing? A real curiosity into the world of schooling is seldom witnessed.

Nancy: “Marge, have you noticed lately how we seem to be running ourselves ragged. And some of my students don’t seem happy with the tasks I am having them do.”

Marge: “That’s interesting.”

Nancy: “What’s interesting?”

Marge: “Well you said tasks. I am wondering where the idea of doing tasks even came from? Why are having our students do tasks? Where is the love! Where is the joy! Where is the mercy!”

Nancy: “Oh brother, you sound like someone who just took a class from Dana.”

 

Deep Questions

Diver

 

This is a picture of Marge asking deep questions:

Question #1: “I don’t know, Nancy, are you sure this is going to work?”

Question #2: “Is someone standing on my air hose?”

 

Perhaps we don’t question as often as we could. And perhaps we don’t question as deeply as we could. Interestingly something I learned while researching Finnish schooling practices is that not only do teachers in Finland ask a lot of questions about their practice, but Finnish students are encouraged to question. There is a belief among many Finnish educators that good pedagogy takes place in a context of questioning. Good pedagogy relies on inquiry. Teacher talk time is thought to be ideally about 40% of the class period. The rest is student interaction and student questioning. Here in the States, our teacher talk time is closer to 80%. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

 

 

George_C

I wonder if George Carlin has a point?

 

________________________________________________________________

Today’s response questions:

Context changes meaning.

With the story of Bill and Mrs. Jones, we witnessed how context can change the meaning of the love affair we saw unfolding right  before our very eyes. (Okay, perhaps not unfolding). By changing the context, or by revealing aspects of the context, we saw the affair in a very different light.

The Harvard researchers, in the documentaries we watched last day, also tried to reveal some narratives that they believe hinder students’ learning and understanding. They point out such narratives as delivery, coverage, rate of coverage, and background belief.

The question: Gatto gave several examples of the hidden curriculum and the “logic of the school mind.” It is easy for us to get caught in school logic, or as Smith might say, the official theory of learning. It is easy to be moved by the language and expectations that we ourselves grew up in. It is difficult to notice the logic when we have been well schooled ourselves. So, for the question of the day, are you able to point out a specific narrative that Gatto hasn’t already articulated to reveal the ‘hidden curriculum’ or “the logic of the school mind”?

Please save your response to this question and email it to me when you are finished session six. Thanks.

 

That’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed learning about Bill and Mrs. Jones.