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, June 20, 2012

Elliot W. Eisner's views on education


My dear friend and mentor, Susan, who will be teaching her course on cartooning and tessellation at Institute For the Arts, as she does each summer, recommended that I read The Kinds of Schools We Need: Personal Essays, by Elliott W. Eisner. The fine arts, many would argue, has been herded through the slaughterhouse of accountability by non-professionals, and fearful educational leaders have reconfigured art assessments in utilitarian, non-developmentally appropriate ways, just like the SOL tests.





Just as I peeled the meat off the bones of Van de Walle's classic on math last summer, a skill I learned from classical scholars at Georgetown University, this summer I have been methodically picking apart Eisner and ruminating on his thoughts on education in the same deliberate manner. I will begin regularly sharing my new understandings of Eisner's recommendations as I complete my first reading of these classic essays.


The new buzz word in assessment is "rigor." This past year, students were assessed in the newly reconfigured format with heightened rigor. Don't be surprised if calls for closing "failing schools" heats up to fever pitch during the fall, as large percentages of students are unable to meet the more rigorous academic standards, and politicians make increasingly rancorous calls for educators' heads. The slaughterhouse mindset is exactly what is not needed in our schools, which are tasked with making learning opportunities accessible to all, and tailoring curriculum to a full spectrum of learning styles, interests, abilities, and developmental needs. If you want to see rigor, spend a day in Susan's art class at IFTA this summer, which is run according to the highest professional standards, and promotes the kind of high level thinking and buzz that too often is absent from schools. Susan would argue that spacial thinking and mathematics transfers to developing better math and science students. Unfortunately, Susan's way of thinking is in the minority.

I still "owe" Max Weismann the courtesy of reading the selections on education Max sent me last summer, a commitment that I made before getting accepted into Marymount's PDS program, a commitment which swallowed up an entire year of my time. Interestingly, Eisner was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I am quite sure Max Weismann, co-founder of The Center for Great Ideas along with Mortimer Adler, knows Eisner personally and would be familiar with his thoughts on education. I am curious to learn Max's views on Eisner, and hope he would share his thinking with me, unless I have somehow offended him and he as written me off as a shabby, shallow thinker, or someone with bad manners, or a "loose cannon, which is possible, because I have sometimes been "guilty as charged." As loose as my thinking often is, a freedom I revel in, I respect the great ideas and the level of rigorous thinking that Max advocates, and want students to want to be exposed to the great ideas, and want to teach the disciplines and habits of learning so that students can learn how to access them.


Eisner's thinking matches Van de Walle's emphasis on multiple representations of thinking in mathematics and authentic experiences, but Eisner expands the conversation to a well-constructed, comprehensive defense of the arts, which many including Eisner feel have been relegated to second-class status in our schools. The Kinds of Schools We Need also dovetails with Marzano's emphasis on non-linguistic representations, but Eisner makes a convincing argument that students need to be shown how to access multiple literacies. I am particularly curious about eliciting Max's classicist response to Eisner's case for multiple literacies, and the kinds of thinking different kinds of experiences engender.


Judging from the large percentage of disengaged learning behaviors I witnessed while doing my student teaching in a local high school, the one-size-fits-all model is utterly failing a large percentage of students, possibly the same 30% figure originally seen in Nation at Risk. To be fair, at the local high school, I also observed some  assessment philosophies that generated the multi-representational thinking that Eisner argues is urgently needed, as in this "Wordle" description of Tom Buchanan, during a unit on the Great Gatsby:






When I submitted my cover letter to the major school district recently, I described my two major goals as a teacher: to inspire students to want to learn and to show students how to learn the disciplines and habits of learning. My teaching philosophy is rooted in the tradition of Cardinal Newman, who championed the idea of a liberal education described in The Idea of a University, which I feel Max would support.


Over the summer, I am laying the groundwork and constructing components consistent with my developing philosophy of education. Considering the effects of pacing guides, which can have a chilling effect on creative teaching practices, I need to prepare my kits in advance of knowing exactly what I will be teaching. Thus, I will use what I learned from Dr. Ball in constructing balanced literacy components, and use what I learned from Dr. Rajdev to construct balanced math components, and use what I learned from Professor Eacho on applied behavior and curriculum-based assessment, use what I learned from Dr. Melideo about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and use what I learned from Dr. Thompson about how to properly do academic research. Professional development is a never-ending, costly process that involves a preparation of both mind and body, a cultivation of a teacher's personae, and continued practice with best instructional practices.


Since summer is a time for renewal, in a later post, I will share my thoughts on purchasing professional clothing from The Men's Warehouse at Springfield Mall, just as I will share my experiences with my diet and exercise. I will continue to share authentic experiences, such as experiences with contractors, mechanics, parts houses, construction projects, sports, etc., because my reflections fall under the purview of describing life as a non-conformist educator. Later, I also hope to post writings on family history, which contain the seeds for future stories or even movie scripts. Poetic License is my intellectual playground. Thanks for reading!