Sunday, January 24, 2010

learning is messy.

When Ted Sizer, author of the classic "Horace's Compromise" was describing a school responsive to each child's needs, a principal noted, "That will be very messy." Ted responded, "Yes it will. Learning is messy." And so, I would personally suggest we just get over it and make allowances for a good dose of messy in today's classrooms and schools, nothing of course that a good clean-up at the end of the class won't fix.

Creativity involves taking things apart... Cutting things into pieces... Making things... Learning from real life... Spilling glue and paint... Kids get dirty... They make noise... The desks are in the way of working sprawled on the floor and must be moved. There is a natural administrative resistance to noise and disorder, and yet it is through chaos that the opportunities for problems solving behavior enter the classroom, and through which problem solving skills form roots in the lives of children.

I am reminded of my friend Zeek's very first day teaching high school art class and his principal's words before students arrived, "Keep your students quiet. Don't let them make a mess." I am also reminded of the artist who told me of giving tools to her grandson, but having them refused by the child's mother. "He would make a mess." I am also reminded of Bob Dylan who when asked about the length of his hair replied, "We all have hair the same length, but some have it growing on the inside where it fuzzies their thinking." Can it be that we all live within the balance of chaos and order but that for some the chaos is in their brains where it fuzzies their thinking? You've heard the term hair-brained? Perhaps it is most fitting to those who have no understanding of children and would screw desks to the floor, and expect children despite their most natural inclinations to be quiet, and thus miss the opportunity to use those most natural inclinations to the best educational advantage.

We have choices to make in the education of our children. What is our level of tolerance for the things that make messes... like wood working for instance? What is our level of tolerance for things that make noise... like wood working for instance? There are forms of education that are quiet and orderly and remarkably ineffective considering the huge investment we have made in them. And then there is learning. It is messy, it is noisy and it is exciting. Exciting enough for example that it makes kids excited to be in school. Exciting enough that they are motivated to keep on learning long after the school doors close for the night, and long after they have outgrown the school and have gone on to follow independent lifelong learning passions of their own.

The photo above shows Kindergarten students playing with Froebel blocks, making a mess, but building their own orderly city. The experts from the University of Chicago believed that their own larger blocks were better suited to the children's work, though it appears these kids are doing just fine.

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