A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Leap onto the Lily Pad

Leap onto the Lily Pad

While we were walking in the woods this morning, Mabel and I came upon a man named Larry and his boxer, Dixie. We struck up a conversation about dogs and family and education. Larry told me about his brother in Georgia who has taught Science in a High School for many years and is so frustrated that he's thinking about quitting. We started talking about problems in education. I told Larry that I felt the source of the problem was the misapplication of business metrics (Total Quality Management) to people, as if we were producing robots on an assembly line.

Since I have a business background and know how to use statistical analysis appropriately, I cringe at the way educational leaders routinely misapply such powerful tools. As someone who loves mathematics and baseball and building things, measuring things is one of my great passions. When it comes to measuring people, however, particularly children, my spider sense goes off violently.

Having recently launched a Kindergarten class as a long-term sub, having worked with the nicest, most supportive, most creative team I've ever collaborated with, I'm convinced that the salvation of American education is in the application of Kindergarten philosophy instead of business philosophy to the business of developing people.  Yesterday, as we were leaving, Mrs. B and I were talking about the books we might write one day. Mrs. B's title was, Do you like my ship? (It doesn't have any guns) My title was In Kindergarten, there is no box. If American education is so perfect, what happened to American creativity, which is what the Japanese people who popularized Total Quality Management used to admire most about Americans? Mrs B. said, "Kindergarten teachers are different, all the children are wriggly. " She wondered, "Children are so happy walking down the hall in Kindergarten, I'm not sure what is happening after Kindergarten?"

As a male career switcher, I am the black sheep whenever I enter a school, but I connect naturally with children. The saying, "to err is human" has become anathema in our schools, which is probably why Total Quality Management (TQM) has struck such a chord with educational leaders. I recently read a passage from Chip Wood's classic, Yardsticks, which states that to correct a 6 year old when he writes a symbol backwards might be exactly the wrong thing to do. A major difference between me and many other educators is my approach to error. I say, "Great try! What are some other possible answers?" Too often, educators find fault instead of celebrating gestalt.

Ethan and I connected during Writing Workshop, a scripted program developed by the Master, Lucy Caulkins. One of Lucy's earliest lessons is, "we do our best and then we move on." Ethan became comfortable taking risks in his writing. His drawings tell stories about his experiences making friends at school, taking family vacations to the mountains, etc. and he is writing meaningful sentences. He is consistently recognizing beginning and ending sounds and using them to decode and construct words. Wow!

In saying goodbye to my students, I invited them to safely continue their conversation with me. I set up a way for children to safely correspond with me through their teacher. When I was studying classics at Georgetown University in the early 80's, I learned that authors and readers are part of a conversation spanning centuries, oceans, and even languages. When a person becomes literate, even dead people can converse with them. In studying educational philosophies, I've learned that skilled readers don't blindly accept what is written. Instead, a skilled reader always brings his or her own history to an author's message. Now more than ever, we need to be developing people who can think and hold a conversation, not holding people up to someone else's artificial standard.

Over the next few days, I'll be planning out my next move. I'm excited about the connections my students and I made during my last adventure. The pace of my blogging will pick up for a while as I seek my next adventure.