Thursday, October 01, 2009

Death, violence and conflict resolution

I was watching CNN last night and they were discussing the recent outside-the-school violence in Chicago which resulted in the killing of an honor student, Derrion Albert. The video tape of the brutal event is horrifying. The police sergeant interviewed on CNN suggested that among the proposed solutions was a greater emphasis on conflict resolution in schools. One could only hope. What good are standards if kids end up killing each other?

We have had conflict resolution at Clear Spring School from the time before my daughter Lucy (now a third year at Columbia University) started at pre-school at age two. I remember one night when Saddam Hussein was in the news during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and American forces were gathering for the first Gulf War invasion of Iraq. Lucy, at age 3, being aware of the pending conflict asked, "Daddy, why can't they just use their words?"

American politicians and business leaders have been so concerned about international competition (which we are losing) that they have attempted to impose student and teacher testing as means to force improvements in school performance, and have thus overlooked all the important things that kids really do need to learn in school. Like how to get along with each other and care for each other, and nourish each other's growth. And thus, as I have mentioned before, we have become a nation of idiots.

Some may remember Robert Fulghum's book, All I really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. It was at one time a best seller. And Friedrich Froebel, inventor of Kindergarten must be spinning in his grave as kindergartens have become hollow shells of what they once were, and as learning through play is forgotten and Kindergarten testing of the 3 R's begins in earnest.

There is a simple alternate model that we could look to for inspiration. Finland leads the world in PISA testing, while the US ranks 25th and below in various categories. In Finland, students don't start reading until they are 8 years old. Here in the US, we force reading at age 5. That means that in school performance, the Finns do better in 5 years of reading instruction than our American schools do in 8. Are you starting to see the pattern here? If we were to return to primary education as taught by Friedrich Froebel. We could teach students how to get along with each other and build effective democratic communities and still have plenty of time to catch up with the rest of the world in reading and math, which after all are not related to total time spent in the classroom but to maturity and readiness.

When I was in Helsinki in 2008, I visited the University of Helsinki wood shop where future Kindergarten teachers were learning their woodworking. It was a wonderful class with young soon-to-be teachers learning the qualities of the materials and the use of basic woodworking tools, so they would be able to supervise students doing real work.

We can do something about all this beyond mourning the tragic death of an honor student in Chicago. Take steps. Begin discussions. Tell people about this blog. Read Robert Fulgham's book. Take time with your own kids (or grandkids). And best of all, do some wood working. The values we learn from making things with our own hands align us with the creative force of the universe. From a place of such alignment, kids are busy making things, not hurting each other.

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