Tuesday, August 31, 2010

doing good

Just returned from a refreshing day of curriculum planning for our very exciting year long study this year, and my husband is home from his first day with students, so the conversation around here is quite lively tonight!  We are also preparing for our son's first day of Kindergarten next week at a Waldorf school (our daughter will be starting nursery at the new school too!).  Waldorf is a private school guided by the work of Rudolph Steiner.  It is about as opposite as you can get from public education in America, so this promises to be a very interesting school year for all of us!

Our discussion (as is usual) turned to test prep mania and the devastatingly disappointing direction "Race for the Top" is taking us, and I have a few thoughts to share.

First, there is no "race" in learning.  A race requires winners and losers.  If there are no losers, there's really no point to the "race" now, is there?  So this alleged ed reform actually demands losers, and who exactly are we willing to give up on in this country?  which children get to be the losers in this race?  On the flip side, if every teacher in the country meets or exceeds "bonus pay" requirements, is the government prepared to fund all of those bonuses?  Of course not, so again, there must be losers.

The question I think we, as parents and as teachers, need to ask is, "do we want children to be computers, or do we want children who can re-invent computers?" Computers regurgitate facts and figures, robotically decode (rather than read), and perform on demand.  Creative problem solvers and inventors solve problems and create products that matter to society.  As we look toward the future, skills for the 21st century fall into the latter category.  So it is all of those robots, who, incidentally, will most likely perform very well on standardized tests, and will, in the end, not win this race.

Just to clarify what I mean when I talk about not winning: I mean a generation that is consumed by manipulative advertising and media, a generation that can go to college but reads less and less--because a joy for reading was never developed, and a generation unable to cope with the serious environmental and societal problems that are already getting worse.

My husband works with a teacher who travels to the Dominican Republic every summer "vacation"--(a true teacher is never more than one thought away from the classroom by nature, hence the need for frequent and extended breaks), with her family to build houses, construct wells for clean water, and other  work towards bettering living conditions for poverty stricken families.  He commented on how amazing her stories are from these family experiences, and that her children authentically learn to "want to do good."  This makes me think of what "doing good" means to our students...or really what we (as a society) teach our kids "doing good" means.  Doing good on a test?  Doing good for others?  Doing good for the environment? Doing good for yourself and your family?

Personally, I'm not in a race.  And that is not an easy choice to make in public education today, but it's the only one I can live with and feel like I am "doing good".

I have so much more on my mind--still want to do a final reflection on last year & weaving!--but for now I have to figure out how to turn a holy mess of a classroom into a welcoming learning environment before next Thursday!

Monday, August 16, 2010

how do you know?

While I remain steeped in summer bliss--warm days, staying up late, letting the day unfold, the beach....every now and then September creeps into my mind.  I'm updating the look of the blog and have more plans of how to use it next year, but for now I want to reflect on a question my son asked me tonight. Over dinner, (yummy grilled pizzas--love having time to cook!), he asked, "Mama, how do you know so much about nature?"  I paused to think about this answer honestly.  I replied, "Because I ask a lot of questions about nature and I read about nature, but mostly I think because I observe and think about nature a lot."  As soon as I answered, I began thinking about implications for teaching and learning...asking questions, reading, observing, thinking...this is how I want to spend my days in the classroom this year, and I hope to create an environment which will support and encourage and facilitate this for my primates too.

I find the first part of his question--just "how do you know?" sparking ideas about assessment too.  I asked him, " How do you know I know a lot about nature?"  He answered, "Because you talk about it a lot."  Talking....

So that's my planning for the new school year so far.  I look forward to days spent asking questions, reading, observing, thinking, and talking with a new group of interesting individuals.

But for now, I'll spend a couple more weeks happily trailing behind this duo with my best friend & love of my life....