Timing is Everything, IV

X, who was in Really Big Trouble with her parents over her progress-report grade, has been working steadily  to complete her remaining Latin work.  When I updated her grade again, it was back in regular X territory, a solid and well-deserved A.  X came by right after school on Wednesday to pick up an updated progress report, and she was as happy – and grateful – as I’ve ever seen her.  “Thank you so much,” she said.  “I really enjoyed your class, and you’re a wonderful teacher.”  Then she and a friend started talking about their weekend plans, and I teased them that, if they ended up in a situation with One Phone Call, their Wonderful Teacher would not be helping them with bail money.

We all laughed at that.

It wasn’t an easy year – for X, for her friends and classmates, for me, for my colleagues, for anyone.  So X’s affirmation was especially meaningful.  So intelligent and capable, X hasn’t ever been challenged in the classroom before; it took some time for her to apply her athletic mindset of growth and improvement to an area where she’d never needed that before.  But in the past few days and weeks, I’ve seen signs of the amazing, capable, focused person she’s becoming, the person she’s always been inside.

That’s the core, the heart of what we teachers do:  we help our students become who they truly are.  And even though Wednesday was a long, hard day, I saw much evidence of success.  There was the email conversation with D’s mom, who so desperately wants to let her daughter learn from mistakes, but is afraid the mistakes will cause lasting damage.  There was the celebration when B discovered he, too, had raised his grade to a well-deserved A, and when I told N she had as well.  There was the time when U, of all people, spontaneously asked for the Rotating Review station her group hadn’t completed, when she quickly grasped what needed to be done and explained it to B and M.  There was the quiet, thoughtful way that U (of the Switch Incident last week) asked for permission to do something.  In the afternoon, there was the celebration when M, a senior in the upper-level class, completed her Individual Response and noticed how much she’s grown as a reader and writer of Latin since we’ve known each other.  After school, on our way to dance class, there was the reflective conversation with my own daughter, as we talked about teaching and schools and learning and so many other things.

In the middle of everything, I had a moment or two to read my Google+ stream and found this post about The Minerva Project, which I promptly reshared.  If you haven’t heard of Minerva (the project, not the goddess), it’s a fascinating attempt to redesign and restructure the liberal-arts university experience … and while I applaud the idea, I have some concerns about the implementation.  Laura picked up on one of my concerns:

Trying to save the lecture by means of software strikes me as an awful waste of resources. Any of these professor-centric attempts do not appeal to me – it’s looking in the wrong place for real educational power.  I believe instead in looking to the students as content creators, and offering them software that helps them to create and share online, not software that monitors their obedient consumption of lecture content.

“Obedient consumption” – that’s the 20th-century dream, at least if you own or manage a factory!  But in a post-industrial world, learners young and old deserve so much more.  And Roz, responding to the claim that Minerva will “psychometric tests to find students who are self-confident leaders, and intellectually and emotionally mature,” noted another problematic assumption:

I am not convinced that ANYONE has invented “psychometric tests” that can measure gifted kids from OTHER CULTURES.

We all know that the body of research which (we) academics use today is heavily skewed to English speaking, male dominated, Western cultured developed countries ONLY. There is very little research done (yet) from the lens of OTHER cultures, OTHER languages, OTHER countries, or OTHER forms of literacies besides traditional text in English.

Hence, while Minerva (or any other establishment) might have sincere intent, unfortunately, the reality is that only a fraction of the real global population will ever gain access to this opportunity.

The root problem still needs to be addressed:

The GLOBAL body of KNOWLEDGE (that we function within) needs to be reflective of the actual GLOBAL POPULATION. This can only be rectified if there is TRUE DATA that is driven from the GRASSROOTS through OPEN CROWDSOURCING.

And for this crowdsourcing to be truly reflective of the GLOBAL POPULATION, educators must first empower everyone to gain access to the INTERNET and then, more importantly,  empower the grassroots (from ALL cultures, ALL nationalities, ALL walks of life, etc) to become CONTENT CREATORS from bottom up.

But that is still not enough. We must then give that cycle of content creation a couple of years to EVOLVE, during which, educators must observe, analyze, harvest, and publish findings from this NEW body of knowledge.

Only then, maybe, one day… there might truly emerge a “psychometric test” that can measure ALL gifted kids in the world…

The 20th-century dream was about standardization, too – standardization imposed by well-meaning, well-trained, well-compensated Powers That Be.  It looked like the only way to build community – or something like it – in a mass-production age.  But in this post-industrial world of ours, community and diversity aren’t opposites any more.  I saw – or dreamed I saw – a blog post about that in my Google+ stream last night.  Did you see it?

During this week of testing, with more testing to follow soon, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about both the limitations and the hidden curriculum of tests.  If we really believe they measure something important and lasting, why all the last-minute cramming?  At lunch Wednesday (sadly not with the “science ladies”), A Ms. X was fretting about whether she’d “covered and reviewed” everything that might be on The Test.  After school Another Ms. X, exhausted, was proud of how much “I reviewed those kids.”  She “reviewed them,” it seems, for two solid hours, with a packet and “group work” and games … and everything!

No wonder X, D, U, and the others struggled to accept responsibility for learning and actions!  They’re surrounded by a world where Ms. X “reviews them” … and everything!  No wonder it took from January to May for the mid-morning class to build a learning community!

If asked, the Ms. X Brigade would be stunned.  How could I question them when they “get good scores” with  packets, group work, review games, and everything?  But despite their complacent attachment to “what’s always worked OK for me,” when I look at Ms. X and her companions, I see every factory-system right before its fall.  First the process becomes the goal, then people game the system to “get the results,” then you settle for “what’s always worked OK,” then the customers start leaving.  Especially when they get criticized for being “bad and lazy,” blamed for not understanding how much We do for Them.

What will we need to do, we builders of joyful community, when the factory-systems collapse, leaving decent, hard-working people like Ms. X and Mr. Y bewildered and terrified?  How will we welcome them, too, into the very different world of joyful learning community?  How will we help them, too, become who they truly are?

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Published in: on May 23, 2013 at 10:10 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. “What will we need to do, we builders of joyful community, when the factory-systems collapse, leaving decent, hard-working people like Ms. X and Mr. Y bewildered and terrified? How will we welcome them, too, into the very different world of joyful learning community? How will we help them, too, become who they truly are?”

    We will welcome them to the Post-Apocalyptic Cybernetic Age, featuring joyful development of the Ninth Intelligence.


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