Wednesday, January 07, 2009

the sound of one hand clapping?

How do we stop duping ourselves? How do we restore direct scientific, experiential engagement with reality? The Zen story of one hand clapping is an example. The teacher asks, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" And the student runs all over trying to figure it out. Is it like a bell?" he asks. "Is it like a bird in flight?" he asks. And yet a hand passed through the air in direct demonstration would have provided an immediate answer to his quest. We have created schools in which children are pushed immediately into abstraction, causing them to believe that so much is beyond their capacity to understand, so much hidden and obscure and that so many other students are more intelligent or more capable, rather than just more deeply engaged. Once we have accomplished that tragic circumstance, those children are doomed to sit disengaged, bored and feeling incompetent throughout their school careers. Many of the bright ones rebel and become disruptive of the education of others. Throw in a few days absent and a few more tardy, and learning becomes even more abstract. But put the hands in place and things change.

When the Mosely Education Commission report found in 1903 that American School success relative to that in the UK was the result of the practicality of our education, and our avoidance of the testing tyranny dominating UK schooling, we were given valuable information which we have proceeded to ignore.

So we have students who would not wonder about one hand clapping. They have no enthusiasm for the quest. And the shame of it is that most Americans don't either. We all know we are smarter, and more deeply engaged in learning when our hands are at work. But we seem unwilling to make the commitment it requires. We would rather run all over looking for the sound of one hand clapping.

But we can put hands (all of them) back in schools. Today the 5th and 6th grade students will finish their book racks and begin using the wood shop in their study of anatomy. How will they do that? Stay tuned and you will see.

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