More Than Meets the Eye, III

I ended yesterday’s post by asking,

How can we build a joyful community in a slowly dying factory designed to sort and process vessels and gardens ?  How can we move teachers and learners off the adversarial assembly line and into a mutually supportive circle around that Fire of Truth?

I still don’t have an answer, but Tuesday gave me a few insights.

Two of three classes had enjoyable, productive days.  They were a bit distracted, with that happy feeling of close to the holidays – but they mostly enjoyed reading the day’s stories (this one and this one for Latin I, this one for Latin III), creating questionsabout them, and answering, editing, or adding as they sent the questions around.  The Latin III class also created their own illustrations since Lucy, the Tres Columnae Project’s illustrator, was busy preparing for her upcoming wedding.  Those classes felt like a joyful community.

But in between, there was a strange, sad, disturbing episode.  O, U, C, J, D, E, and C  had apparently decided their stories were “too hard” or “too much trouble” … or something.  To be fair, O did read a bit, and so did E.  But the others almost immediately tried to start a loud, loud game of “Never Have I Ever.”

So loud, so distracting that no one else could concentrate.  And the topics were heading in an inappropriate direction.

“Rarely, if ever, have I ever” been so surprised, disappointed, concerned.  I told them to stop … and, to be fair, they did.  But they seemed genuinely surprised that anyone (actually everyone else) was affected … and was mad at them.  Even B and B, who can get silly and unfocused sometimes.  “What were you thinking?” B asked.  “Don’t you realize,” I asked, “the impression that anyone – anyone – would get about you if they heard you right now?  Your actions sent such a loud message that no one could hear – or believe – your words of apology.”

Then, too late, they were sad and surprised … or something. Later on, I remembered something I’d said yesterday:

That’s not how O, E, E, and U expect to be talked to.  That’s not how you talk to a vessel or a garden.

Ms. X and Mr. Y, secure in their sense of mission, their role as human service providers, never ask students – whom they see as lowly vessels, passive soil, helpless and benighted service recipients – to think about consequences; they just impose them.  They don’t ask students to control themselves, either; that’s Ms. X’s job.  That’s the sad legacy of Taylorism: thinking about stuff  is the manager’s job, while workers are seen as inherently bad, lazy malingerers.

But those metaphors of teaching are problematic, too.   It wouldn’t make sense for a vessel or garden to manage its impulses, to think about effects of actions.  If you talked to a vessel at all, you’d tell it to stop leaking.  Plants may grow better when you talk to them, but  you wouldn’t explain things to a garden.  After years of yelling, labeling,  and getting treated like dirt by Ms. X and Mr. Y, perhaps U, C, etc., don’t think they can control themselves.  Or maybe they’ve never been asked.

Ms. X sees her students as gardens, and gardens do grow.  But it’s hard to develop a growth mindset when you’re constantly labeled as bad, lazy, loud, and impulsive.  It’s easy, all too easy, to live down to the label.

Responding on Google+, Debbie noted that the garden metaphor has little to do with real gardeners and gardens:

As I read your blog today I kept envisioning the changes that are taking place in the gardening world. While the straight rows of organized plants are still the favoured gardening practice, the shift is happening to embrace that natural ways, to create a mix of vegetation that mimics that of nature but tweaks it in a way that is desirable by the gardener. Knowing which plants work best together, how one plant supports another while getting something back in return helps the productivity of the garden while reducing the risks and barriers.
The gardener tends to the garden, providing water sources, mulches, nutrients, shade and sun as required by the individual plants. The gardener watches for patterns and then builds on the strengths and intervenes to make adjustments that reduce the negative factors.
The new-age (or old-age, if you think back a generation or two) is not about forcing a plant to fit into your garden space but to adapt the garden space to support the individual plants.

And Mark built on the metaphor:

Farmers who are successful don’t make a lot of noise about their success because they realize that much of their success has nothing to do with anything they did. They can’t control rain or sunshine and even in details like pest control and fertilizing, much of what they do is paradoxical and at first glance does not seem to make sense. No till farming that leaves the land un-plowed after the previous season’s growth is a good example of this. Doing less turns out to be part of the solution for creating more….

There is another  interesting example from farming history that parallels what we now are experiencing in education. During the dust bowl period and during years after this period ended, farming was tough….

In our government’s agriculture department scientist had discovered several new concepts. One concept was contour farming…. With the dust bowl drought now something for the history books, farmers continued their straight row plowing and planting and this led to erosion and seeds were washed away while never producing any crops.

When those from the agriculture department tried to convince farmers that contour farming was the real deal they resisted….

… just like Ms. X and Mr. Y resist changes to their paradigm of straight row teaching.  Who will be the cooperative extension agents for them?  Who will patiently sit with them, listen to gripes and fears, help them try different approaches?  Who will invite them, persuade them, cajole them to join the circle?

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Published in: on December 12, 2012 at 11:38 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] it metaphor week?” Debbie asked on Google+.  Maybe it is.  Yesterday I asked about metaphorical extension agents going out to persuade skeptical Farmer X and Farmer Y […]


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