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

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recommended Children's Books that Teach Values

Recommended Children's Books that Teach Values

Today, I will reread an article from The Great Books Academy entitled, "What is a School," by Jacques Barzun. I will reread it again and again until I have a better sense to which I agree and disagree so that I can fully participate. Barzun states that the purpose of a school is to "remove ignorance." While I cannot say that I agree with Barzun's prescriptions for removing ignorance, I cannot disagree with his choice of guiding questions for the discussion:

[T]he first of our concerns is How does a teacher teach? Next, How does the learner do his part? Followed by, What should be taught? Then, How to test the knowledge acquired? Next, Who should run the school? followed by, What role for the parents? And lastly, What should go into teacher training?
Decisions about how to teach need to be based on what we know about how learners learn, i.e., best practices. One thing is certain, an engaged learner learns faster and more effectively than someone who is not engaged.

Questions about a learner's responsibility involve a question of a learner's values, which leads to important decisions about values. Do schools have a responsibility to teach values? Or, is it the parents job?

What should be taught and who should teach it involves cultural values, but how does a pluralistic society decide upon its core curriculum? Traditions and the political climate are inescapable factors driving decisions about what ought to be taught.

Other key factors involve fundamental shifts in the relationship between people and their environment.  In a 1967 article entitled, The Root Curriculum, the author, a Stanford engineer, made a case for restructuring education based on learning disciplines appropriate to where society is going, as opposed to tradition alone.

I've been pondering how to develop a new genre (or is it an old genre?) that involves rewriting traditional literature in new settings to teach values. That's how I found the website that I posted here today. I'll be looking to compile lists of these kinds of websites and materials as a starting place. I'll be working on the rules of genre. Once I learn the rules, I should be able to teach children or anyone else how to write them. If the purpose of the school is to remove ignorance, one of the first things from which ignorance needs to be removed is the extent to which values drive instructional decisions. Learners must become fluent in our society's values.  Values are to the lighthouse, as learners are to the mighty Missouri when it ironically ordered the lighthouse to yield. What better way to engage learners in a conversation about values than to have them write and draw and act them out?

For me, reading has always been about the conversation.  Just as T.S. Eliot created modern poetry in response to Dante and a modern world tone-deaf to classical traditions; just as Dante created new literature in response to Boethius, Augustine, John, Paul, Vergil, and Homer, and in response to the current events of his day; even young readers can be introduced to the notion of a chain of conversation and fashion their own responses.  I hope to begin working with a professional illustrator as this future writing project gathers momentum.

I am so happy to have returned home and found that I received an unsolicited comment on my Blog.  Mr. Wong kindly provided a link to the full text of Barzun's article, "What Is A School?" To answer Mr. Wong's question, sometimes I use a reading strategy analogous to a grazing cow.  I post as I chew the cud. Last night, I skimmed and scanned Part I of the article provided by the Great Books Academy.  Tonight I'm grazing again, reading and responding as I go.  Last night, as I read Barzun, I had fundamental disagreements with specific prescriptions based on my experience "in the field" and prior academic readings.  For example, Barzun's statements about phonics do not take into account excellent research about developmental stages and the three cueing systems upon which the balanced literacy framework was developed; moreover, I've witnessed how Kindergarten students initially connect the idea of letters to their names (whole word) and uppercase letters to the first letter in their name.  Whole to part phonics: how children learn to read and spell, by H. Dombey and M. Moustafa, provides a more nuanced view of phonics than Barzun, in my opinion.  When I read the analogy Barzun used to describe what teaching is and what teaching is not, however, I was hooked on the analytical framework Barzun provided.  His questions provide an excellent starting point.

Too often young learners are subjected to what Jerome Bruner, in The Culture of Education, called "the thousand images"; like the traveler in an unfamiliar land asking for directions, as described by Barzun, children are too often fast fed a diet of decontextualized information; not surprisingly, many American children "get lost" or become disengaged and refuse to submit to institutional torture.  Effective teaching involves what Robert Marzano calls, "building background knowledge."  According to recent studies in brain science, "synapses that wire together fire together" and "too fast doesn't last" (the source of the brain science quotes are from Dr. Norman Doidge, as cited in an earlier post).  Thus, the traveler who is provided guidance (i.e., background knowledge) as opposed to raw data alone is more likely to find his destination.  Speaking of destinations, learning is a journey and the destination is as much a matter of cultural values as it is a matter of changing relationships.  A quality education enables learners to make connections, which exponentially increase the velocity of thought.

We will graze again.