Are Kids People?

We all mattered, long before anyone else acknowledged it.

Are kids people?

Well, this ought to be an easy one.

But it’s not.

Because granting kids actual personhood would kind of mess up a large majority of everything we put them through.

Let me explain.

Some people use maxims to form their line of thinking. Some use religion, and some let their political affiliations decide for them. To my mind, it’s pretty fair to assume that we normally think the way we think because someone probably taught us to think that way.

Now, as we grow and mature we normally abandon some of those ideas and adopt a few others along the way. But, eventually we settle down and get comfortable with our thoughts and attitudes. Nevertheless, I wonder how often people sit down and spend some time actually thinking about their own thinking: the starting point of thoughts, the repercussions of political attitudes, the reasons that drive their reasoning.  

I only make the aforementioned points because it’s absolutely vital that we address our thinking and presuppositions. I say this because most of us, including myself, were probably not really ever taught how to think – because most of the time, people older than us, were telling us what to think.

But now it’s time to think about our own thinking. 

And what we need to decide is whether or not kids are people.

But maybe we should slow it down. Let’s first just start by asking if we even treat kids like people.      

Because I’m not sure we do. 

Our day and age is rife with misconceptions about many things.  Misconceptions are built on prejudice, ignorance, misinformation, and self-interest amongst a slew of other things. But misconceptions can go away – we just need to put in a little time to chip away at these ideas.

One pervasive misconception in this day and age is that kids are not people; that they lack a certain personhood. Seriously. In much of our popular culture, kids resemble something more like property than actual people.  It’s pretty common to think we can do what we want with kids, mold them, shape them, tell them what to do, how to think, and where to be, when to be there and, what’s more, we give them consequences if they disagree with us – just to show them who’s in charge.

We can even beat them if we’ve bred them. Legally.

I’m afraid we have some pretty ridiculous notions to take personhood away from people – but especially kids. We’ve come up with reasons like “Oh they don’t pay taxes,” or “Oh, they can’t vote,” or some other arbitrary idea that requires a certain amount of rotations around our sun. No, people are people - regardless of their age. 

Yes, kids are obviously not adults, but they’re still people.  And yes, kids move slowly, they take forever to make up their minds, and they tend to not smell right.  But that sounds pretty similar to your great-grandpa.  Shall we take away his dignity too because he just doesn’t seem to “get it?” Shall we bend grandpa over our knee and give him a spanking in order for him to get in line? Let’s try this with your secretary who forgot to do their work. Try explaining to the cops, “Sir, I was merely ‘disciplining’ my wife..” – see how that goes.

No. I’m afraid this double standard is one that needs to go.  Kids aren’t just kids – kids are people, folks. Just like you; just like me. And when we have governing bodies, religious institutions and presuppositions that condone us to belittle, shame and coerce those little ruffians – well, we end up with a society that sees it perfectly fine to herd kids through institutions; institutions that inculcate kids with - you guessed it - what to think.

And we start all over.

So, let’s set aside the doublespeak; let’s be disinterested in dogma. Let’s trudge ahead advocating for the individual.  It doesn’t matter what the politics say; it doesn’t matter what democracy says. Nope. It’s not up to governments. It’s not up to adults.  It’s not even up to you. Opinions are opinions; kids are people.

And people matter.

And it just so happens
that we were all kids,
and we were all people,
and we all mattered,

long before anyone else acknowledged it.

Life, Lemons, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

And I’m back on the horse.

October wasn’t a good month. I quit writing, I quit caring, and nothing seemed to matter in the wake of what turned out to be a pretty awful turn in life. While most can attest that the rhythmic humdrum of life helps us to stay in stride, we forget what it can feel like when that cadence changes – or stops all together.    

Now, I’m not here to write about my life; I’m here to convey and explore ideas. Yet, my day, my happenstances, and my occurrences all shape the way I continue to pursue my idea of life.

And for the last month and a half – my idea was to quit.  So I did.

My greatest aim in life is not to share it with others. My highest goal is not to garner praise, sympathy, or accolade. I don’t even care how many people will like this blog post (that’s probably a lie.).

My greatest goal in life is simply to enjoy it.

But sometimes life just blows.

Life is not a roller coaster – roller coasters are ridden voluntarily. Life is not. It just is. It just happens.

It’s hard. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. It’s filled with horror. It’s laden with sadness. It’s mixed with delight, surprise, and celebration. It provides us with ethereal moments of rapture. It vexes us with hardship and chaos.

It just is.

So what do we make of it?

When life throws happenings our way, we can take them in stride; we can let them fold us over.  We can step over them or we can let them drag us along. And really, I think all choices are appropriate depending on the circumstances. When life sucks we need to acknowledge it. We need empathy, not ignorance. We need acceptance, not blind optimism. We need compassion, not fatalism.

Yet. Eventually, we move forward. We must.

Yes, there is loneliness, depression, abandonment, and tribulation.  There’s a myriad of oppression, misfortune, and disillusionment.  At times, the life we breathe simply chokes us with sadness.

But then again, there’s this little thing called hope that takes up residence in our hearts.  It gives us clarity, recalibrates our dreams, and shapes the vision for which we aim. It paves the way for resilience -it tears its way into our outlook – but only if we want it to, let it. It helps us to determine our next steps, and it helps us to sharpen our focus on the present.

Albeit, only if we want it to. Choose to.

We have the choice of what to do with the present. And in this present, we get to choose which mode of operation will prevail. We choose to be bitter or better. And again, there is no wrong choice – but whatever choice we make – whatever bed we make, we must lay in it. And its up to me how long I lie.    

So here’s to lemons, horses, and fatalists: may you forever be over-simplifications and not models for living.

As for me, I’ll pursue the idea that life is - as always – what we make of it.  Life is not merely what happens, but how we act as a result. It is not the story we tell ourselves, but the narrative that unfolds before us. Life is the outward response to our choices and the unavoidable circumstances that come in between. Life is now. It’s the only one I have. 

The Internet Stole My Ability To Teach

I went out of town a couple weeks ago.  And, like any good teacher, I tried to provide my sub with actual lessons, rather than endless piles of worksheets and drivel that are often commonplace in the absence of the instructor.  So, as I was wondering how to write up my sub plans, I decided to take a chance on instructing my kids with the help of the good ol’ internets.

Earlier in the school year, I was having quite the time giving instructions to one of my classes.    This class was rather notorious for being a difficult group, but its was mainly because it rather large size.  All in all, the attempts to instruct this class thus far in the year weren't exactly stellar moments in pedagogy.

So, there I was planning for this class when it simply occurred to me that I should just pre-record my instructions ahead of time for this class.   Rather than instructing them from the front of the room, I decided to give my directions right there in front of them – on a computer screen.  In class, we use a site called Edmodo, (a Facbook-ish site for students) so I posted the link right in front of them to watch on their own computers. I had the students put their headphones on, pull up the video on their screens, and had the students watch my instructions via my video.

It was amazing, really.  I really can't believe the change from one week to the next.  It was almost eerily quite while each student started watching the directions.  It was even the case after the students had finished watching the video, they simply got to work and were very much engaged in what they were doing.  So with that said, this type of instruction has now become a staple when instructing this class.  In fact, while I was out of town recently, I decided to pre-record all of my lessons, for all of my students, and had them play them in my absence.

This really makes a lot of sense to me.  If at any time, instruction can be tailored to fit students better, it actually helps to humanize the students in the entire schooling process.  No more is it simply listening to the teacher drone on and on; it gives the students a chance to control the instruction.  If at a point a student fails to understand the concept, they simply pause the video and re-watch it until it makes sense.  It puts the learning on their own time and at their own pace.

It also has benefits for the teacher as well.  A lot of students enjoy learning from the videos and don’t necessarily need as much of my individual attention as other students.  Therefore, if a student is struggling with a concept, chances are I’ll have a lot more time to help that learner through the process.  All in all, it turns the teacher into the position they should be most often: a facilitator of cognitive processing.  “A guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage.”

Now, I have already heard all the disagreements against this approach to instruction.  Last year, I had to address them all when I flipped my math classroom.  I had to deal with old paradigms and perceived ideas of what teaching looks like in the classroom.  Change comes hard, especially when most of us have shared an experience of school.  What’s more, because we’ve had the same shared-experience, we often believe it to be the only way to conduct a classroom.

So, with all that said, is video instruction the answer to all things education?  Of course not.  And also, let’s not assume this is new to education.  It’s been around quite a while, yet the process is much easier to implement these days.  It is a technology that we need to utilize and implement.

Technology is neither good nor bad.   Technology just is.  It’s the advancement of ideas.  It’s the manifestation of shared ideas.  Sure, technology can be used for evil purposes (we have governments and their wars to thank mostly for this) but it can also be used remarkably well for good.

If we take this idea that incorporating technology may lead to better instruction, I think it wise to clarify one final point:  I’m not merely using technology to teach, I’m actually utilizing technology in my teaching.   I’m embedding technological advancements within the lesson to further facilitate the cognitive processing in students.   I’m using technology to drive the lesson, but I’m not letting it do the steering.

The advancement of technology should always be tied-in to education.  The stick in the dirt gave way to the pencil.  The calculator replaced the abacus.  The overhead project was probably the latest classroom staple to die – and hopefully the one-teaching-style-fits-all mentality will soon follow in its footsteps.

* * * * *

A quick note: Below are some good resources to spruce up your instruction with the latest and greatest (almost all are free) educational gadgets.  If you’re interested in using more technology or flipping the classroom, check out some previous posts.

Screenr (Internet/ Computer based)

Screencast-0-matic (Internet/ Computer based - and yes, that is the actual name)

Educreations (iPad)

ShowMe )iPad)

Explain Everything (iPad)

Doceri (iPad)

Nearpod –(iPad & Computer)

The Art of Shame: Shaming Kids Into Compliance

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

- Haim G. Ginott

* * *

Let’s talk cars.  When most people buy a car, they either do a little research on a car they like or they find a great deal that just can’t be passed up.  Perhaps people aren’t as ignorant as I am, but to be honest, I could hardly tell you anything about makes and models of cars on the road.  I really don’t give them much of my attention, so I know very little when it comes to the latest and greatest thing on four wheels.

Nevertheless, I can tell you this: whenever we look to buy a car, I seem to see that same car model everywhere once I start driving.  For example, one car my wife was interested in lately was a Honda Element.  So, of course, what did I start noticing when I was driving?  Yes, Honda Elements.  Profound?  I sure hope not.

My point is, once we are made aware of a particular occurrence or object, we’re that much more prone to spot it.  The same can be said for behaviors.  Once we identify negative behaviors in our own interactions, it’s a little easier to identify those same negative behaviors in others.

My aim today is to write on negative behaviors that often drive-by unnoticed in our schools, and perhaps in our very own teaching.  Namely, I want to focus one of the most pervasive, and destructive components still very common in today’s classroom: shaming students into compliance.

I think we all know what outright shame can look like and sounds like in a school.  I’m sure we’ve all seen that Nazi-like teacher rip into their students simply for showing up at school and continuing to breathe.  Blatant shame is as easy to spot as a blatantly bad teacher (side note - both unfortunately, are protected by tenure).

Yet, I think it wise to even notice the small ways in which we still shame students.  It can sound like this, “You need to go to your desk and put your head down and think about what you did.”   “Sara, you’re going to be needing to explain to your parents that I’m giving you extra homework tonight because you just cant seem to follow directions.” And, “Johnny, you go to the end of the line because you just can’t seem to understand how a line works” (these three examples were all said in front of the whole class – and aren’t all that uncommon in the school setting).

Sure these aren’t flagrant degradations, but I’d argue that if we are willing to shame kids in little ways, we’re probably fine to justify its use in other ways.

Now, I must admit, (pragmatically speaking) shaming students is quite effective.  Nope, nothing works quite like good ol’ humiliation in front of one’s peers.  Yet, if a principal tried to shame a teacher for “blurting” during a staff meeting, there would be hell to pay.  If an administrator tried to publicly shame a parent for taking too long in the bathroom, there might be a little issue at the next PTO meeting.

So if we know that shame has no place in adult interactions, why are we so prone to use it with kids?  Is it because they can’t really fight back?  Is it because we can simply get away with it?

Actually, I think we’ve deceived ourselves into using it in much more subtle ways - suggesting it’s some scientifically verified approach to pedagogy.  We mask shame with terms like “discipline” and “management” or as part of a “behavioral system.”  We use shame in quick-fix situations. We use shame because it’s powerful and it’s instant.  We use shame because it’s easy and it’s effective.

It’s also amateur.

That’s why I’ve decided to remove shame from my pedagogic toolbox altogether.  Shame is toxic.  It is an adult-justified version of bullying. It’s weak.  It’s petty.  It’s wrong.  It is a component of control that is no longer part of my best practice.

And how could shame even fit under the guise of "best practice?"

Shame As a Tool

So here’s the deal.  We teachers need to take shame out of our toolbox.  If we allow shame to be a tool in the toolbox, it fundamentally changes the way we teach.  It fundamentally and irrevocably changes our interactions, our communication, and our relationships.  This remains true even if shame is our last resort.

If shaming kids is a last-resort practice, it still remains an option - and that changes everything.  

The new iPhone just came out, and my archaic loner-phone is about to be replaced! To my mind, I seem to have two options when it comes to possessing the new iPhone.  I can work hard, get paid, borrow money, set up a charity to receive money, or do just about any number of things to get enough money to purchase the phone.

Or I could just steal one.

So, let’s say that stealing a phone is an option, but I will only use it a last resort.  Exactly how hard am I going to work for money, if I still have theft as a last resort?  If, at the end of the day, I’ve decided that it’s perfectly fine to just steal the iPhone, will I really try all that I can in order to pay for one?  Will the fact that I find it morally justifiable to steal the iPhone affect my overall attempt to work for it?  Of course it will.

Let me try my hand at another example.  Let’s say I need a job.  I work hard to build my resume, comb through my LinkedIn profile, and work hard at nailing some top-notch interview skills.  But then let’s just say, if the employer doesn’t offer me the job, I’m going to try to blackmail her through some trumped-up harassment charge.  If at the end of the day, blackmailing is a viable option, exactly how hard am I going to try prepping for that interview?

The same goes for shame.  Even if we have shame as our absolute last resort, it still fundamentally changes everything we do.  If we still keep shame as a last resort, it enables us to use it en lieu of everything else.  If it is still in the toolbox, it is still an option on the table.  

One bad tire affects the whole car, folks.

I hope this doesn’t sound too radical.  For God’s sake, I hope this sounds completely rational.  Nevertheless, I know if I presented this to some teachers they would probably argue, “Well how else can I get little Jimmy to cooperate?”  I would probably answer, “It’s not cooperation if you’re using coercion – it’s manipulation.”

I’m not sure about you, but cooperation and creativity trump coercion and manipulation in my book.  If schools are to be centers for learning, which would you rather have your child learn?  Critical thinking or unwavering compliance?  Cooperation or coercion?  Self-worth or shame?

If we take shame and coercion of the table, all we have left is creativity.  Yes, situations will arise that will require us to think differently, but isn't it a good thing if coercion is never an option?  When we stifle coercion, creativity thrives – and in the end, I think we’ll be amazed at what flourishes in its wake.

Feel free to add your thoughts, stories, or comments below.

 

School: What If Kids Actually Had a Say?

Think back to your school years. How much of a say did you have back in your "days of learning?" What went on during the day? How much of the classroom content was decided before you even walked in the door?

But what if school had been a place where you actually had a say in what you learned?

Finding the right content for the classroom is a healthy problem that should always redirect our approach to education. I would go as far to argue that finding content for the classroom is probably one of the most important roles within our society.

Yet, to simply assume there is a “right” content for every classroom, for every age level, and for every student, might just be one the greatest myths we have come to believe when it comes to schooling.

Even mentioning curriculum and content for the classroom brings up a wide array of opinions on the matter. We can find many teachers who think school districts are too heavy-handed in their involvement in the classroom, and other teachers who find the amount just right. While on the other hand, one would be able to find plenty of teachers, unfortunately, who just want to be told what to teach in their classroom. Give me the book, give me a script, and give me the authority (see factory work).

One problem with a mandated and bureaucratic approach to education is that school becomes too centralized. Once something is centralized it often becomes systematized. If education becomes too centralized, then the introduction of new ideas becomes stifled. Why? Because any idea that runs contrary to the systemic approach gets tossed aside.

Well, what about the ideas that make it through? Those ideas are often plagued with two main problems. First, by the time those ideas make their way to the classroom, they become nothing more than a way to systemize the learning environment. Secondly, the ideas become so riddled with bureaucracy and oversight that their effectiveness is usually more harmful than beneficial.

Believe it or not, the Department of Education does not have a Great Idea sector that churns out brilliant ways to fill our schools with good ideas. No, good ideas happen organically. Good ideas aren’t systemized and mandated; they are shared and re-shared. Good ideas are spread through cooperation, not coercion.

Creativity blossoms when coercion is taken off the table. How do teachers spread ideas? It’s simple. Teachers find good ideas by asking other teachers, looking on Pinterest, reading blogs, perusing the internet, and attending seminars. Teachers know the best ideas happen through cooperative interaction.

Therefore, if we can acknowledge that good ideas spread best organically, can we also acknowledge that good ideas spread best if they are relevant? In other words, if we view education through this paradigm of cooperation, we must also consider the relevance of ideas for our classrooms.

Chiefly, we should ask what great ideas are being introduced in the real world that we as teachers need to introduce into our classrooms? What ideas are relevant to the lives of our students? What content will our students find applicable to their lives today?

Now, if you’ve agreed with me so far, I’d like to stretch this idea a little further. If we agree that introducing new ideas is paramount in education, and that ideas are best spread through cooperation and not coercion, then shouldn’t we agree that organizations that try to control and mandate those ideas probably aren’t exactly the best source of content for the classroom? Moreover, if heavy-handed mandates aren’t good sources of content, does that make you, the teacher, a better source?

Well that depends. It’s not just about a school finding content for the classroom; nor should it just be up to the teacher. If the teacher simply dictates what is taught and what is not, then the classroom educator turns into that autocratic distributor of content, and is fundamentally no different than any bureaucratic approach.

I would argue the most important factor in deciding classroom content is actually the students.

The whole purpose of school should be centered on students – not content. Schools need to weave content into student desires, not the other way around.

Simply stated, kids will want to learn about what they want to learn about. Everyone likes learning, because learning is easy. The hard part is when we try to get every kid to learn the same thing – especially when those content areas may not be applicable to their lives (at least not yet – but sometimes not ever).

So, this year I’ve taken this theoretical approach and turned it into a reality.

This year, I’ve resolved to start discussing this idea more often with my students in my classroom. I’ve asked them what they’ve liked, what they haven’t liked, what their interests are, what they’d rather learn about. I aim to seek their feedback, and seek it often.

You know, businesses are always seeking our input, and they are always looking for our feedback. The local pizza joint is always asking us to fill out questionnaires or do quick survey. They are always looking for ways to improve their product. “How was your pizza? Was it hot? Was it correctly made? What can we do to better satisfy you?”

How often do we do this in schools? How often are we asking students, “Hey kids, how’d I do today?” “Did I yell too much?” “Was I fair in the way I treated you?” Did we learn about something you wanted to learn about?”

So on top of that, there is this one last thing, it’s that my interaction with buying from the local pizza joint is completely voluntary. I get to choose whether I want their service or not. They are not the only pizza joint in town, so they have to continually seek improvement and improve the quality of their product. If they don’t, then I’ll go elsewhere. If a business doesn’t want to meet my needs, then I’ll find one that does. Business models built on customer satisfaction are businesses built for perpetuity.

Then there are our schools – whose patrons’ attendance isn’t exactly voluntary. They really don’t have much of a say in what they will be learning, how they will be educated, or who will be instructing them. I don’t want to equate school to business, but if a business ran on this principle, they’d go belly-up in a week.

So the closing question(s) is this: if we have this involuntary situation where students come to consume ideas – shouldn’t we be trying to provide them with the absolute best ideas possible? And, is it a great idea to mandate and control those ideas? And most importantly, shouldn’t we try to let students play a part in deciding what they will be learning?

But here is the good news: there are actually schools trying to do this. There are teachers who are renewing what education looks like. They are taking on these challenges. They are incorporating new ideas and thinking outside the norm. They are the teachers who are revolutionizing our schools. They are making education meaningful and relevant. They are the teachers who think for tomorrow. They are the teachers who bring about meaningful change in our world.

They are the teachers whose ideas are worth spreading.

Definitions Die Hard

Too often, we treat education like a thing, rather than like an ever-expanding idea.

What exactly is Education?

To my understanding, Education (let’s leave it as a proper noun for now) cannot simply be just some thing. It is not just some field of study or some product of a social institution. The problem with believing Education is just a "thing" is that we confine it to its very definition. And once we confine something to a definition long enough, people start to assume that if anyone suggests something contrary to the definition, it is an outright attack on what people have come to believe as true.

For example, if one mentions the word “education,” more often than not, it would conjure up thoughts of our current educational system – schools filled with classrooms, brick walls, grade levels, etc. This is because the large majority of Americans received some type of formal education at the hands of either a public school or a private school, or one that operated quite similarly to the two.

So, to even suggest we take a different approach towards Education in our city, state our country, may raise the ire of many who have come to believe that the way we’re doing it is inherently correct – because really, what other way is there?

Just because we share such a common experience, does it make that experience fundamentally right?

We all get mail from the US postal system, does that mean that all written communication should always be delivered through paper envelopes and mailboxes Monday through Friday? Or have we tried out a few new ideas when it comes to communication?

Great ideas beget great ideas.

Should we treat Education as a thing, or more like an idea? If we let Education simply be an idea, we unbridle it and allow it to do amazing things for us. Education is an amalgamation of ideas. It is a complex mishmash of human thought and existence up until this point in time. If we see Education as an idea, we will continually be reforming the way it looks, because ideas are always improving.

Think about your current cell phone. Now, think about the Zach Morris phone. At some point in time Martin Cooper had collected enough great ideas to manifest the creation of mobile telecommunication. He surveyed the existing ideas, saw an opportunity to improve the way we communicate, and created something which was only previously imagined. He saw what could be; not what was.

Since then, because we shared even more ideas, and because people valued those ideas, in only a few decades people are now wearing their phones right smack dab on their face.

It's amazing what ideas, diversity, and value can do.

So, with all that said, how has our approach to Education changed lately? Are we welcoming new pursuits and new approaches? Do we foster an environment of relevant learning? Or are we merely exchanging old ideas that are never really improved?

The key to any advancement is the ability to imagine; the ability to imagine what could be.
It’s questioning the current reality, the current thoughts, stigmas and dogmas, and pursuing something just a little bit different. It’s allowing yourself, and others, to try out a new approach. It’s how life improves. It’s how things get better.

Are we imagining and pursuing what could be, or are we settling for what already is?

Shall We Beat Our Students, Or Just Drug Them Instead?

What needs fixing? The focus of our students, or the focus of our approach?

You would be surprised what we find morally acceptable to do in order to “make kids learn” these days. I often hear folks harken back to ye old days when it was perfectly acceptable for a teacher to whack students in order to get those little ruffians to pay attention or to follow directions. Thankfully, we have progressed just enough here in the States so it’s not an everyday occurrence that children are beaten at school. Amazingly, you’ll find more than a few adults who still think a stranger with a teaching degree should be allowed to use violence in a classroom in order to get children to do what they’re told. But then again, progress comes slowly, folks.

Now, we could agree that violence is not exactly a first-rate pedagogic practice. Nevertheless, I wonder why we still think it is perfectly permissible to drug our students into paying attention. Is physiological manipulation less violent because it’s less visible?

The question is, would we rather beat students into submission, or drug them with chemicals? The defenders of this would say that using drugs like Ritalin is the lesser of two evils; and completely necessary to focus student learning. Yet, I’m pretty sure that the lesser of two evils still kind of falls into that “evil” category (especially when it falls under a Schedule 2 substance, alongside cocaine, morphine, opium, and barbiturates).

America consumes 90% of the entire world’s Ritalin production (here). That’s right, 4.4% of the world’s population pops 9 out of every 10 pills of those mind-altering pharmaceuticals; drugs used primarily to sedate kids into some “learning” state of mind.

To be fair, perhaps the kids here in the West are just that much harder to work with. Perhaps all those worksheets are just a little too exciting for kids to sit still. Perhaps weekly tests stimulate the frontal lobe so much that kids haplessly fall victim to fidgeting in uncontrollable spasms of delight.

Or maybe kids are bored with school.

So, if that’s the truth, I see two divergent paths: We can keep doping kids through the drudgery of standardized classroom approaches, or we can actually engage kids at their level; with things they are interested in learning about. That might mean we need to reexamine our curriculum, our school day, our practices, and a lot of other hard changes.

But it’s worth it. Our kids are worth it. Our future is worth it.

Learning isn’t hard. Learning is easy. Learning is innately stimulating; no drugs are needed when there is intrinsic interest involved. You and I don’t need drugs in order to mentally engage in something we already find interesting; why would it be any different for kids?

Living for Good; Abandoning the Greater Good

I spend a good portion of the day living up in my head lost in thought. While it can lead to ill-timed and unsightly mouth breathing, I do find it comes with a few benefits. Namely, it’s turned me into a contrarian of sorts. You know, that annoying guy who is always disagreeing just to disagree. But contrarian has a nicer touch, so I’ll stick with that. It’s not that I want to disagree; it’s just that I find new ideas make better bedfellows than old ones.

I have been thinking about what it means to have a life well lived. I think it would be a joyful life. It would be peaceful. It would not wish ill on other people. It would not want to rule over others. It would not support endless wars. It would not subject people to opinions through law. It would be a peaceful coexistence. It’s that thing we knew existed back when we were kids – when the whole world was a wondrous thing. Back when we had dreams in life; back when we imagined what could be.

But we lose sight of it. Parents beat those ideas out of our head, because society beat it out of theirs. They were not brought up that way, so they cannot imagine anything differently. We have been told our whole lives to fall in line, and to surround ourselves with insular crowds who think like-mindedly. We’ve been told that individual thought and rationality doesn’t really matter. We’ve been told our ideals are too idealistic; that virtues belong in storybooks but not in real life. We’ve shattered the idea that people are capable of making good choices on their own. We’ve invented institutions precisely to manufacture what people should think, what people should know, and what people should believe.

One belief is something people often refer to as the Greater Good – whatever that really means. People suppose it to be many different things: the progression of society, the advancement of thought, the evolution of human interaction, and the propulsion of popular ideas. Whatever we believe it to be, I think it wise to end its masquerade.

Life is not about contributing to some Greater Good; it never was and it never should be. The Greater Good implies that you, individually, don’t matter. It says, “Whatever the majority of us think is far more important than your two cents.”

No, life should be spent caring for the individual – not the whole. I know who individuals are; who is the whole? When I focus on the Greater Good, I focus on some arbitrary idea. When I focus solely on the whole, I lose the individual; I lose sight of each one of us. I lose sight of the importance of individuals. I lose sight of being an individual myself.

So what happens, when some day, far on down the road, by random twists and turns - what happens - when someday I am that dissenting individual who disagrees with the majority? What happens when I decide to disagree with whatever the Greater Good says?

What happens is actually tragic. The propaganda machine I spent my whole life feeding comes back to destroy me the moment I oppose it. The Greater Good societal system I built breaks down exactly when I needed it most. Why? Because society is told to not care for me unless it benefits the Greater Good; I alone am not the Greater Good.

Actually, I would argue the only real reason we justify doing things for ‘the Greater Good’ is because most often, it benefits ourselves in some way. The Greater Good does not benefit all, because it cannot benefit all; it leaves out countless individuals. It only benefits the majority; it disposes of the minority. The Greater Good is intellectually lazy, it is ignoble, and it is irrevocable.

Surely we wouldn’t live in a day and age like that would we? Of course not. Our President received 62.6 million votes in 2012. Surely those voters weren’t trying to control the 59.1 million who voted differently. And surely those other 59.1 million voters weren’t trying to do the exact same thing. That wouldn’t happen here. Americans would know better than to try to control one another with institutions and power structures.

Right?

We’ve literally bred this nonsense into our own society. We’ve lost sense of the individual. We’ve lost our ear for individual opinion. We no longer will listen to individual thought different than our own. Fox News thrives on this. So does MSNBC. So do religious institutions, and so do governments. If people clang their version of Good loud enough, the lemmings will come running.

We try to control the idea of The Greater Good by controlling popular thought of the people. In fact, the Greater Good is just that; it’s Popular Thought.

It’s simple, really; at some point we humans need to stop trying to control one another. We need to stop manipulating one another through Popular Thought, monopolies of force, crony laws and legislation, and with institutions designed to inculcate. We can do better - and some day we will.

Many will say that it’s impossible. Many will says it’s irrational. Well, it’s not. The color blue and the refraction of light exist because it is woven into the physics of the universe. Bad ideas only exist because we want them to. And, as a long as individuals wish to control others through power structures, we will unfortunately continue to let those ideas exist.

Nevertheless, we can let ideas die. Good ideas come and go. Great ideas are only good ideas, once a better idea comes along. So I have a self-proclaimed great idea: let’s pursue peaceful interactions – without making excuses. Let’s not lock people in cages for opinions different than our own. Let’s not threaten people with force because we disagree with their ideas. Let’s not manipulate money or markets. Let’s let people live peacefully. Let’s let people interact voluntarily. Let’s not instill morality through violence. Let’s not wage war against one another. Let’s not wage war against minority thought.

So, I propose a change.

Yes, of course the transition will be messy. It will look nothing like we’ve been told. It will run counter to everything we’ve been taught by our society and institutions. But, at the end of the day; at the end of our lives – if we could make a decision that impacted our children’s children - if we were given even two choices

1) What we have now, or
2) The way it could be,

why, on earth; for the sake of your kids, for the sake of all 7 billion of us, why would we ever settle for the first option?

Are we that naive? Are we that hopeless? Are we that powerless?

The good in me says no.

Does this sound like teaching, or is this more like factory work?

I've never been to a museum where all the art pieces were the same.

I've never logged on to Netflix to discover that all the movies are in the same genre.

I've never been to a potluck where everyone was encouraged to bring same dish.

But, I have heard of schools where they wanted all teachers to be the same; to teach the same lesson, in the same way, on the same day, to get an standard product from the students.

So, does that sound like teaching, or is this more like factory work?

I know of brilliant teachers, that if only given a little more autonomy, could transform their emasculated classrooms into a World’s Fair of Ideas: A symbiotic atmosphere where learning is as intuitive as breathing. Where a consumption of ideas is intrinsically driven and kids are too busy learning about their interests rather than being bored enough to start picking on one another. It’s a place where cognition is fostered by care, not created through coercion.

These teachers know that getting kids to learn is easy - but systematizing the process isn't.

They are the same teachers who fight off those feelings of afternoon apathy; who meet the needs of mandates, but don't allow those mandates to dictate their instruction. They are the teachers who know kids don't learn all the same way, so they don't approach their everyday pedagogy the same way.

They are the teachers who are eternal optimists. Who choose to believe a time is coming where parents will hail the significance of teachers, where the society will value education, and where educators are paid according to their skills; not seniority and rank.

These are the heroes, these teachers, who choose to fight for the individual personhood of kids; who treat each child with individualized care and attention no matter how systematized things become. They are the teachers who boast of variety, welcome all diversity, and break through hostility.

These are teachers.

This can’t be taught. This can’t be replicated. This isn't factory work.

Bankrupt ideas: Polaroid, Blockbuster, Borders, Detroit, & Your Local School.

Technology is the advancement of thought and collaboration; sometimes it even comes with touch screens. 

The year is 1450. The greatest thing since cold, stale bread is about to happen: books. Some hipster genius named Johannes Gutenburg brews up the idea to make the written word available to everyone. Soon, we have books upsetting the applecart; this new invention now enabled almost anyone to become literate and learn from from one another. Books were the new technology of the day and the world was greatly improved. Fast forward half a millennium and this old technology is facing its demise.

Now, thou shalt not label me a book bigot. I am a fan of the printed text, but I use books to illustrate a point of discussion: technology changes things; because you want it to.

Economics and Education. How are the two related? In a free market, if a consumer demands a product, most often, a product is produced and sold for what would be considered a fair price according to its market value. If the markets shift, and a consumer no longer wanted the said product, then the producer has two options: 1) Change the product to suite the new demands or 2) No longer produce that product and face the economic consequences.

Let’s take Polaroid for an example. Chances are if someone isn’t old enough to drive a car, they will probably never know how mammoth this company used to be. Nevertheless, Polaroid did not stay relevant. They produced something that was no longer desired, and they did not adapt to the changing market. We could say the same about the music industry, Encarta, Blockbuster, Borders, Detroit, and even, perhaps, your local school.

So how does this apply to education? Many people see technology (think touch screens and all those internet gizmos) as a threat to education; it will change the way we do things, change the way kids learn, and change the way we go about instruction. Yes. Perfect. Exactly. Why are those a threat?

Actually, the biggest threat technology poses to school is the idea that it belongs somewhere other than schools. If schools operated in a free market of ideas, relevant technology would have been adopted years ago. We wouldn’t be having debates on “What technology should be in the classroom?” because any school that didn’t use the relevant advancements of the day would cease to have an enrollment.

But we know that our current approach doesn’t run that way. Nope. It’s normally one big top-down mess. One could argue there is no real competition of ideas between one school and the next. Most schools are generally run the same way, approach education the same way, and are not really competing with one another unless we count those God-Almighty, State-mandated, standardized test scores (which in effect, creates an impetus that actually drives schools to be more similar; negating a healthy competition of ideas that ultimately results in mediocrity).

What would it look like to educate kids in today’s world? Well, perhaps it would look a little more like the ever-changing world we have always lived in; when one idea gets old, a new idea replaces it. When that new idea needs improvement, then someone creates a way to take it one step further.

But unfortunately, it’s still commonplace to hear many within education dismiss this thing called technology. They’ll say it doesn’t belong in the classroom; that no real learning takes place. But when this happens, educators are putting severe handicaps on students if the educators are not using technology in their classrooms. Technology is readily required in almost every job outside of school. Students who aren’t receiving those technology skills now face a severe disadvantage when they graduate into the marketplace.

Now, with all that said, do I think technology is the answer to all questions? No, it’s a tool; it's a way to advance ourselves with collaboration. The purpose of infusing technology into schools is so that education stays relevant to the world around it. In the same way, is being literate the answer to all of life’s problems? Of course not; but it is a skill necessary to make an inkling nowadays.

So here is the crux: This can't just be about technology; this is about the way we view education as a whole. Are our schools willing to introduce new approaches? Are we educators allowing new practices in our classrooms? Are our communities encouraging our schools districts to stay relevant to the world outside of education? What and whose ideas are driving your local school?

Polaroid, Blockbuster, Borders, and Detroit: they are all bankrupt. They no longer produce desired goods. They went out of business because they lacked vision, clarity, and lost sight of what the public wanted. They failed to create what was desired.

When an organization or entity no longer gives us what we want, they end up going away. Our voices, our opinions, and our desires create this change. So when these organizations or entities are no longer wanted, we write off their ideas as antiquated or irrelevant. The future does not just happen; we create it.

Do schools need to go away? I would vote no. Nevertheless, perhaps the way we school needs to be a thing of the past.