Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Thoughts about the system

My Sweetest Little One--what will her education look like?
My very favorite magazine, right after Teaching Young Children, is the Intelligent Optimist (formerly Ode). This magazine brings us news and stories of positive changes that are working in the world. Changes that make a difference for people living in poverty, or who are sick; it brings us innovative ideas. The most current one has an article about the innovations coming from shantytowns, and slums in Africa. An article in the November/December 2012 magazine, titled Warrior of the human spirit by Jurriaan Kamp (who is also the editor), is about Margaret Wheatley and her ideas about changing the systems for the better. She sees this world we live in as a place no one wants to live in. We don’t want poverty, hunger, violence, and global destruction. Wheatley believes that we cannot change the system, we have to start all over on a new one. This article reminded me of how I sometimes feel about teaching in public schools.
Since becoming a credentialed teacher I have found that all of my education seems to be meaningless because we have pre-made curriculums to read to the students, tests that are being used to prove that teachers can teach (something they are not intended for), and military like practices for walking around campus. The great theorists that I have spent hours upon hours reading have no place in today’s schools. Vygotsky’s theory that children learn by being pushed to a place just slightly higher than they are now capable, by teacher or other students, is non-existent in school. What I see instead is students who are all taught the same thing, at the same time, in the same way; they are bored or distracted because they are either not ready for this information, they are already beyond this information, or they don’t learn this way. As a well-educated teacher, who has had many great professors and role models I often feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the system.
This article about Margaret Wheatley gives me hope in a strange but alluring way. Wheatley states that we cannot change the system; it has become a “emerging phenomenon”. She tells us “You can never change emerging phenomena by working within them. You change by starting over.”
I have felt this way for a while, that we must start over.
Our schools are not beneficial to EVERY STUDENT, only a percentage and that is not good enough. I even have complaints about the buildings, no running because doors open out, and hall ways that are long and impersonal, the playgrounds are manufactured and paved, and there is not enough time for play. This is an old outdated system based on a factory model that needs to be replaced.
The article discusses not giving up but seeing our work as important for other reasons than making a huge change to that system. I have felt this, I teach, neither because I make a lot of money, nor because I can make a change to how we all teach. I teach because I love to see the spark of creativity and curiosity turn to knowing. I teach because this is our future and if I can create a learning space of collaboration and cooperative creativity I have done my part to make a change in the future. If children leave my classroom with the skills of compassion, empathy, and perseverance I have helped create a better future for these children.
It doesn’t matter that the mainstream teachers and educational system don’t value these yet. They give praise for my students knowing how to identify letters and numbers. For how they line up and behave so well in circle.  We live in a literate world, children will learn to read, children will learn to do math. Many parents are now un-schooling, and these children are learning these skills just fine. However, empathy, compassion, and perseverance are in short order in our society. That is what I want to focus on, that is my “right work”, and I will continue to do it for as long as I can.


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