Thursday, April 24, 2014

the hands, control and control of the emotions...

6 crocheted balls in a wooden box.
My sister had told me earlier in the week that her 6th grade students in public school were incredibly mean to each other.  She said that they are constantly bickering. The students in her classes are those who have been identified as behind grade level in reading. In fact they've learned to hate reading, and my sister has the challenge of doing whatever she can to turn the tide.  Her job is the incredibly difficult one of fixing what has been broken and neglected in the early years of their schooling.

Yesterday my lower elementary class arrived in wood shop in a lather. One student was angry with the whole class, but most particularly with one other student who had been insensitive to him since pre-school. Schools used to offer time to students learning to get along with each other. Now, with extreme efforts to get kids reading early and before they are ready, we have sacrificed the time that would have helped kids to get along with each other, and put useless and destructive reading emphasis in its place.

The skills of navigating ones way through the conundrums of social interaction are the most valuable ones that students can acquire in school. At Clear Spring, when one student is emotionally distraught, we simply drop everything, and the class deals with it. We can do that, because we have small class sizes, and because we know that our students' social skills are far more important than the clock, and rigid adherence to lesson plans.

Normally in schools, when a student has an emotional "problem," he or she would be isolated from the group, and made to feel that he or she has a "problem." In our case, we use such opportunities to build cohesion within the group. Students have the chance to listen to each others' words and learn how to better get along with each other. And if students are helped to find the means to work things out, they will have greater trust in each other and a basis for collaboration.

The point is not to make everything easy for kids in an environment that is always emotionally safe, but rather to give them tools that will enable them to be emotionally secure where ever they go in life.

It was interesting that when the students managed to talk things through and enough calm had returned for the kids to get to work, (and as I reported in yesterday's post), the breakthrough of sincere apologies came when the aggrieved party was standing at the lathe, turning wood for the first time. There is a way that the hands soothe raw emotions just as sand paper can smooth rough wood.

A relationship exists between the control of the hands in making things, and the control of the emotions. Just think for a moment... feelings and feeling. We use the same language for each because they are very closely related, and when you purposefully leave the hands out of schooling, kids that dislike school and play power trips upon each other out of frustration can be the result. After all, as human beings, we love learning. That is innate. Being schooled is another matter entirely.

Today in both my upper elementary school classes, I tried to get the students to learn by looking around them more and at me less. I noticed that they are looking at me for whatever it is they need, whether its a tool or to describe the next step. My objective has become that of doing less as they learn more. As harsh as my attitude may have seemed to them, I've asked them to get better at solving their own problems.

Make, fix and create...

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