Sunday, April 19, 2015

moving beyond the artificial construct.

Finland is embarking on a noble adventure as I described yesterday. Their idea is to teach by topic, rather than subject so that an integrated theme of exploration will serve as a centerpost with the traditional subjects like math, science, reading and history gathered round.

My head of school, Charles Templeton, told the following story:
Once there was a school for animals. The school board was comprised of Ms. Eagle, Ms. Wren, Mr. Squirrel, Mr.Shark, Ms. Perch, Mr. Toad, and Ms. Moodiwart (an elderly mole, the digging kind not hot peppers with chocolate). The Head of school wanted to change the curricula so that the young animals would be equipped to forage for food upon graduation. As you can imagine, somewhat of a row soon began. Ms. Eagle and Ms. Wren wanted flying to be taught to all the students and have it made mandatory for graduation; Mr Squirrel thought that hopping from one tree to another should be a mandatory credit; Mr Shark and Ms. Perch thought it unfathomable that no one had thought to add swimming as a mandatory class; Mr.Toad thought hopping was a good idea but not from tree to tree and he also sided with Ms. Perch and Mr. Shark on the swimming idea; and finally. Ms. Moodiwart turned toward a wall to address the board (moles are rather blind) and said, "Can none of you see that digging is the most important skill that any of our young people will take with them into the future?" So a new curricula was added. So Ms. Eagle and Ms. Wren's children barely passed flying because they took that class right after their hopping and swimming classes. Mr. Shark and Ms. Perch's children excelled in swimming, but could not stay in the air for long but because a coach was teaching the class they managed to pass. In hopping class they flopped more than hopped. Of course Mr Toad and Mr Squirrel's children could hop to China and back and aced their hopping class, but Toad had to cheat in flying class by having one of the birds fly him around. Then there was poor Ms. Moodiwart's grandchild, who failed miserably in every class, except for digging. He was an Olympian in digging class. So, it is pretty easy to guess what happened at the end of the year, everyone wanted the curricula changed, again.
The problem with most adult plans for education is that they fail to keep the child's interests and natural capacities in mind, and then for the sake of efficiency, adults erect artificial constructs to guide the children and their interests where the adults think the children need to go.
"Theory," says Vives, "is easy and short, but has no result other than the gratification that it affords. Practice on the other hand, is difficult and prolix, but is of immense utility." Since this is so, we should diligently seek out a method by which the young may be easily led to the practical application of natural forces, which is to be found in the arts. -- John Amos Comenius (1592-1670)
So what shall adults practice in school? The challenge is that of understanding the limitations of a theoretical approach and putting the art of teaching into a practice form. Then, to make matters worse, Mr Templeton informed me that Ms. Gazelle has recently joined the school board. Perhaps that will solve the problem. All would surely agree  that all animals should be taught readiness for the eventual elephant stampede. Charles told me that his version of the story was based on one by George Reavis. Perhaps the most appropriate consideration would be to engage the children safely in the challenges of real life. Putting the hands to work does that.

 I have begun work on a book about making tiny boxes.

Make, fix and create...

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