Friday, August 13, 2004

Life in School

The Experience Designer sent me over to a wonderful writer named Dax-Devlon Ross. I was fascinated by his account of his second day as a public school teacher following his first reading some advice from education revolutionary John Taylor Gatto:
"Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can."
Ross responded by scrapping his carefully planned lesson for the day and reading Against School out loud to all of his classes. What a start to a teaching career! Gatto's stuff really sets school up as the antithesis of lifestylism, a system designed to beat the creativity and self-determination out of generations of children. It's harsh, but definitely provides food for thought.


Garth said...

Reading some Gatto eh? I came to appreciate Gatto's take on education while prepping for a course called Principles Of Teaching. I read an article by him that listed the six lessons that public educators teach:
1. Stay in the class where you belong.

2. Students should turn on and off like a light switch

3. Students should surrender to a predestined chain of command.

4. Only the teacher or school can determine what curriculum you study.

5. A student’s self-respect depends on observer’s measure of the student’s worth.

6. Students should be taught that they are being watched

Those six reasons are why I hated school - I never felt inspired or pushed to explore. Instead we were conditioned to do what the teacher thought was correct. I teach in a very different way...I don't want students to just think critically but creatively & experientially. Every assignment I offer I want my students to be able to adapt to their given situation or interests.

I really like what John Gatto’s “The Educated Person” says:

An educated person:

1. Writes his own script through life. He is not a character in anyone else’s play, nor does he mouth the words of any intellectual’s utopian fantasy. He is self-determined.
2. Can be alone. He is never at a loss for what to do with time.
3. Knows his rights and knows how to defend them.
4. Knows the ways of the human heart; he is hard to cheat or fool.
5. Possesses useful knowledge: how to build a house, a boat, how to grow food, etc.
6. Possesses a blueprint of personal value, a philosophy.
7. Can form healthy attachments wherever he is because he understands the dynamics of relationships.
8. Accepts and understands his own mortality and its season. He understands that without death and ageing nothing would have meaning. Any educated person learns from all his ages, even from the last minutes of his life.
9. Can discover the truth for himself. He has intense awareness of the profound significance of being, the profound significance of being here.
10. Can figure out how to be useful to others, and in trading time, insight, and service to meet the needs of others, he can earn the material things he needs to sustain a wholesome life.
11. Has the capacity to create new things, new experiences, new ideas.

Hope you enjoyed the quotes!


Jeremy said...

Lots of good stuff in there, Garth. I read Gatto years ago and was alternately inspired and discouraged. I find most of his goals instinctively true, and I believe that the existing system makes it almost impossible to achieve those goals. Ironically, most teachers believe they're accomplishing these things within the confines of the school system, and trying to convince them otherwise is perceived as an attack on their skill and worth.

I'd love to hear more how you're channeling Gatto into your classes...

Garth said...

I think the best way I have integrated Gatto's philosophy into my teaching is that everything I do in class should have some purpose and be able to apply to my student's lives. If I create an assignment for Leadership Development - my students should be able to use that assignment later on in life or even better - right now! I feel accomplished as a professor when a student comes to me and says - your course changed me! My personal mission is to inspire others to discover their calling! We are all created with some apparent purpose. For Mother Teresa - it was helping the orphans of India. For Martin Luther - it was freedom & equality for blacks. What are you called to do? For what or whom does your heart beat?

One of the things I loved about doing my Master's degree was that I knew I would be using the material I created again. The three most useful projects I worked on for my MA were personal philosophy papers on the following - Education; Leadership; & Ministry.

If I can carve out time next summer I want to continue with my personal philosophy papers and tackle a topic such as lifestylism. I too hate having to conform to "the system" - make this amount of money, have this size of house, two cars, 1.5 kids and work a gazillion hours every week to pay for it all. Money does not bring happiness.

A story our pastor relayed to us this past Sunday was about a fisherman who had managed to catch what felt was his quota for the season with a full boatload of fish. A businessman he knew approached him and said - why not go out another time as the season was not over? If he caught some extra - he might be able to buy a bigger boat. Then next season - he could catch yet more and maybe get a fleet of boats fishing and eventually be as rich as him. The fisherman replied relaxing on his bench - why? The businessman said - well if you keep expanding your operation - eventually you will have enough money that can stop fishing and relax. The fisherman smirked and said - I'm doing that now!

The secret to success is not riches or fame but contentment in our given situation.

Jeremy said...

HA haha...great fishing story. It's spot-on. I think lots of people understand that truth instinctively, but feel locked into their current rat-race of newer-car-nicer-house-better-vactions and all that.

I think you've gleaned the core of Gatto for your teaching -- relevance and helping people find their purpose. I think at the post-secondary level, students have more control over their destinies and are more likely to internalize the learning you're enabling. A lot of the railing I've done against the education system is focused on the K-12 system...especially now when I think about my girls being "institutionalized" in education in the next couple of years.

Garth said...

Probably - why I wouldn't survive as a teacher in a public school system! It scares me too Jer - this whole institutional idea of school. My daughters are not that far off from public school as well. I have explored the Montessori approach to education but I'd have to commute my kids to Winnipeg. I still think the biggest impact on kids are parents when it comes to education. Parents that read generally have kids that love to read. Homeschooling seems to somewhat successful from an academic standpoint but the lack of social interaction with other kids puts them at a disadvantage later on in life it seems.

I realize now that I have been a teacher my whole life but in school I didn't have a clue. Why didn't I have a teacher that recognized that? Or pushed me in that direction? Now I am plain whining. Actually there were two teachers that did actually push me - one was Mr. Fisher. He may not have put tons of prep into his class but he knew how to inspire. The other teacher was Mrs. H! She pushed me to write and express myself creatively like no one else. Feel free to pass on my thanks to her!

Keep exploring!

Jeremy said...

Sounds like we're totally on the same page with this stuff. We've got a Montessori school just down the street from our place, so we may look into that option. Waldorf seems really well-aligned with my philosophy, but the closest one is Kelowna, and it's not cheap. We've talked a lot about homeschooling. From what I've heard around here, the lack of social contact is much less of an issue than it used to be -- homeschoolers get together regularly for study/play sessions, and their kids tend to be involved in all kinds of extracurricular activities.

Sadly, economics influences these choices a lot. Even homeschooling has the real cost of having only one income while one parent "teaches", and the private schools are expensive. I tend to agree with you about our influence as parents -- particularly in the first few years of school, we still have the most impact on how our kids learn and interact.

Interesting that you mention Mr. Fisher. I wrote a bit about his influence on my life after running into him in Winnipeg on one of our trips:

As far as not having had teachers who reflected your characteristics back to you and suggested options...I've done a lot of thinking about that one, because I've been working in the career-planning field for a while. The main thing is that most teachers are overwhelmed and can barely keep afloat, never mind considering the self-actualization of every student. Many of them have no experience with career development or alternative options...they came straight out of high school and into university, where they continued existing in school for decades. The flipside of your conundrum is that I WAS encouraged to become a teacher, and it ended up being a terrible match for my strengths and interests. Oh well.