Monday, May 18, 2015

a loss of words...

uncrafted boxes, one open for examination
My apology. This post is rather long for one titled, "a loss of words," but part of it is recycled from an earlier blog post.

Robert Macfarlane describes the loss of words related to landscape and to the natural world and suggests a rewilding of our language is needed. No doubt as the publishers of the Oxford Junior Dictionary continue to reduce content of traditional words to make room for new words like blogger, and broadband, as our children's minds are actually narrowed rather than widened, and as there is truly nothing broad-minded about broadband, we are also losing words that have to do with the making of things. Without going into an exhaustive study of the junior dictionary, I have no way to determine the exact extent of the loss, but a review of the language as it still exists continues to tells us that we've never actually been "human beings," but are "human doings" instead (when we function as god and nature intend).

And so, the question must be asked, "How do we create schools that will benefit all children?" Is there a formula for it? These questions are nothing new. John Amos Comenius, 1592-1670, considered the father of modern pedagogy (the science of education) observed:
Boys ever delight in being occupied in something for the youthful blood does not allow them to be at rest. Now as this is very useful, it ought not to be restrained, but provision made that they may always have something to do. Let them be like ants, continually occupied in doing something, carrying, drawing, construction and transporting, provided always that whatever they do be done prudently. They ought to be assisted by showing them the forms of all things, even of playthings; for they cannot yet be occupied in real work, and we should play with them.
There is a rapid rise in the use of Ritalin and Adderall to control classroom behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Certainly some girls are diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication for it. But the the largest number affected are male. If Comenius was making his observations today, in watching boys, he would note the same qualities in them now as then, and suggest that we make use of their natural inclinations to their educational advantage. One cannot help but wonder if the structured learning in our schools is at least partially to blame for ADHD and the underperformance of boys. That schooling works for some may justify its existence, but that it doesn't work for others should call into question its methods. Howard Gardner popularized the notion that we learn in a variety of ways, that we each are smart in some ways and not others, and yet, there has been no direct implementation of his concepts in American classrooms. So, how do you go about such needed change? I call it the "strategic implementation of the hands" and create my own acronym "SITH." Make everything children learn "hands-on" meaning of course that it must engage the real world, the child's physical senses, and the opportunity to respond to learning through the arts. Simple enough. But it will take work, and it will take change.

The local paper this week proclaimed that students in Berryville, AR are learning "hands-on". In middle school science class they launched a weather balloon to take photos from up in the air. And as much as I applaud them for doing something real for a change, to actually interest the kids in watching something real take place as a classroom activity, there is a difference between simply watching something as a class and actually doing something in each child's hands that can be equally real, and even more real and inspirational to each individual student. Hands-on makes a great headline, that appeals in the newspaper, because you'd have to be dead from the neck down to not know that hands-on learning is best. On the other hand, hands touch every aspect of human culture and should be utilized in every facet of learning, not just for holding one end of a weather balloon as it is readied for rising into the atmosphere.

Again, I applaud Berryville middle school science class for a step in the right direction.

Having mentioned ants in the quote from Comenius, I have to mention the local election. This week our city overwhelmingly supported a local civil rights ordinance to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. Religious conservatives fought a good fight against it, first prohibiting the local Methodists from participating in the "I love Jesus Parade", and then when they lost the referendum, accusing local supporters of civil rights of having put maggots in the mail boxes of those who were opposed to the ordinance. They also accused the supporters for the ordinance of being outsiders. And yet, if they were from around here, and had observed more closely, they would have noticed that what they thought were maggots were simply ant pupae, and that each was being carefully attended by a full grown ant.

This time of year, the ants look for someplace dry to protect their babies, and mail boxes may receive an invasion. In fact, you could say that the ants, in protecting their babies, are simply exercising "Christian values," just as any parent of any species might do under the same circumstances.

Make, fix and create...

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