Saturday, January 23, 2010

being trusted to succeed

The following is from James S. Coleman's 1961 book The Adolescent and Society:
Modern adolescents are not content with a passive role. They exhibit this discontent by their involvement in positive activities, activities which they can call their own: athletics, school newspapers, drama clubs, social affairs, and dates. But classroom activities are hardly of this sort. They are prescribed "exercises," "assignments," tests," to be done and handed in at a teacher's command. They require not creativity but conformity, not originality and devotion, but attention and obedience. Because they are exercises prescribed for all, they do not allow the opportunity for passionate devotion, such as some teenagers show to popular music, causes, or athletics.
Can we create schools in which students natural inclinations and passions are put to work? The passage above describes one aspect of motivation, that of ownership. Kids like to do things that define themselves as unique, that set them apart and express some level of autonomy, worked-for success and earned trust. Most are wise enough to know that success that comes too easily has little meaning. Working hard for something provides a sense of ownership, a sense of pride.

Are teachers and adults any different from students in these regards? If we want creative students can we make them so by failing to trust teachers with the opportunity to take risks and be creative as well? My wood shop classes are often a risk, a gamble. I learn new things and I am grateful for the opportunity that some teachers may not have.

So, how do we fix things? Will testing teacher performance do it? Can holding them accountable for the delivery of canned curriculum do it? Can we raise teacher performance in other ways? What if we were to treat teachers with greater dignity and respect in the first place, trusting their creative capacities and the nobility of their motivation? That is the very special gift I receive in teaching at the Clear Spring School. The Finnish educator's response to a question about standards applies to both students and teachers. "If we want the elephant to grow, we don't weigh it, we feed it." If we want teachers to grow, is feeding them money enough? Or should we add to the diet, dignity, trust, and a creative environment in which failure is an expected point on the path toward success?

The photo above is the cover of Penland's Summer catalogue, showing intensity of learning, and what nearly every high school student in America would prefer to study hall. You can find classes to fit your interests and aspirations at the Penland School of Craft.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:41 AM

    "What if we were to treat teachers with greater dignity and respect in the first place, trusting their creative capacities and the nobility of their motivation?"

    What a concept. The lack of dignity and respect is why I'm retiring at the end of this year.