Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I just want to make something!

I am a lot like my student Tyler, 8th grade. He says,"I don't want to spend so much time thinking. I want to make something." When I ask, "Make what?" of course he has many ideas. First is a sword, and when I tell him, no, he asks, "What about a shield?" and from the ensuing conversation with Tyler and others, I discover that they have many ideas of things that they could make that would impart greater meaning in their lives.

From the pure intellectual perspective, most would say that the making of objects is of little importance. "We want our kids to become scholars, not tradesmen." But what is really going on in the making of stuff?

I am reading Jerome Bruner's book, The Culture of Education and I won't trouble either of us with a deep incursion into academic thought. Some of it is what a craftsman already knows in his or her bones. Bruner distinguishes between education as "computational" process and education as a means through which cultural values and considerations are imparted to children. The computational model is based on what we see in the processing of a computer. As an oversimplification, you put stuff in the brain, the electrons buzz through circuitry, and ideas and concepts pop out on demand, processed and in prescribed order.

When you look at schooling as a process of culture, you see that at its core is a simple concept that can be described as meaning. Kids catch on right away whether meaning is there in their schooling or not, and in too many schools children find too little meaning in their educations. If a process of education is to be effective, it must involve what could be described as a dance in partnership with meaning.

How do we go from our current model of schooling to the effective engagement of our children in self-motivated life-long learning? While it could be nice if universities and professors could come up with answers, I suspect the truth is something about which one might best ask Tyler. Schools can be the place in which meaning is discovered. For that to happen, it is required that teachers listen. Making things is something that nearly all kids like and introduces greater meaning to their educations. In order for schools and schooling to become truly cultural, we must use them to engage our children's quest for greater meaning in their lives. Human beings, throughout our long history, have been the unabashed makers of things.

If we were to reshape our schools as workshops and laboratories, we would provide the means through which greater meaning would be found in our school culture.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:08 PM

    The idea of developing both the hands and the brain doesn't seem so mysterious to me. But schools don't get it, and think the two are to be kept separate in education.