Stepping into Summer, V

In the last few days, at least four people have recommended Dave Burgess‘s book Teach Like a Pirate to me.  And a number of other friends and colleagues recommend Doug Lemov‘s book Teach Like a Champion.  I’ve skimmed through Lemov’s book several times, but haven’t read it thoroughly, and I’ve only just started reading the free Kindle preview of the Burgess book.  Even from these superficial overviews, though, it’s clear that the two books envision dramatically different roles for teachers and structures of schools and types of learning and paradigms of the learner.

Probably the most critical review of the Lemov book I’ve seen is this recent post from,  which mentions Lemov as part of a more general indictment of a “missionary mindset” among young, idealistic teachers who think they can change the world by working for a few years in troubled urban schools.  I’ve addressed what I call the false missionary complex before, both in this space and on Google+here and here.  Lemov’s book had troubled me, more for its underlying mindset of control by the teacher than for any of its specific techniques, but I don’t think I had really made the “missionary connection” until I read the EduShyster piece.   I’m not sure whether I find it sad or funny, though, that so many criticisms of Lemov and the missionary zeal of young, idealistic “reformy types” comes from more “traditional” educators who, all too often, have an equally missionary zeal for imposing their very different conceptions of the One Right Way on “those poor unfortunates” they work with.

There’s an old expression about pots and kettles that comes to mind.  And I don’t want to fall into that trap.

The common thread between “reformy types” and their bitter opponents, I think, is that both see factory-paradigm schools as The Solution to a problem.  They define the problem differently, and the solution looks somewhat different, but both see Schools As They Are – the factory-kind, the ones that process young people with identical time and variable results – as the One Right Way to accomplish their very differently-worded goals.  And, of course, when someone else is highjacking your solution (how else could one view it?) for a totally different purpose, we all know how to respond: with name-calling and shaming, with Us and Them, with all of the techniques we learned in the factory-classroom and the factory-playground.

And the fights go on, because that’s how factory-conflicts work.

Meanwhile, according to Debbie, who’s really started reading Teach Like a Pirate,

Well, this morning I see that +Laura Gibbs also posted something about pirates….so I clicked on the book link you posted and purchased the digital version of Teaching Like a Pirate.
I have just started reading and I am already loving it. I am shaking my head In agreement and seeing how it meshes with a workshop I facilitated last year…. And I have been contacted to present at a conference next year -any topic….I now know my topic :passionate programming with a touch of joyful community.
Thanks to all the pirate messages.
Before she bought the book, she had this reflection, too:
Earlier this week someone was complaining about their child’s class. something about a waste of time playing pirates etc when there was real learning to do.
And I remembered a teacher who we saw regularly at our teacher/parent support centre. She taught Gr 6-8 and they did a pirate theme every year. They learned SO much as she brought all types of learning into the fun activities. It was amazing. I had the pleasure of listening to the kids speeches one year. Very impressive — and VERY engaged learners.
And then, today, at the children’s event, who do I see, but the teacher. I hadn’t seen her in over 10 years, I ‘m sure. And so we talked “Pirates” and her new venture: geocaching. Taking the fun game and turning it into a learning activity. First they have to find the cache then they have to decipher clues and then they have to solve a problem. (For example: the box holds a measuring tape and the directions. Stand with your back to the tree and look across the river to another tree. Determine the height of the tree.)
She also did a theme at her school re: Egypt. The kids built the inside of a pyramid in the gym, with an entrance and tunnels made out of boxes. The boxes were painted with meaningful hieroglyphics and at the centre, someone dressed up at King Tut. Parents were guided through the tunnels and the kids shared information galore with the guests. Brilliant. Engaged. Powerful.And inspiring!
Doesn’t that make you want to start thinking about next year and taking some time from your “free summer” to do some classroom planning??!!

And Brendan, reflecting on the pirate theme, added,
I think it’s the (perceived) interests of educators that are most threatened by the prospect of active student choice and agency, and therefore students challenging the traditional power dynamics of teachers and schools.  In many cases, it’s also the students themselves who feel threatened by the prospect of agency, and the responsibility and complexity that implies.It certainly seems easier to let things be.  But, the world is changing.  Students need new skills, and have access to new kinds of information.  The same is true of teachers.  Figuring out what to do about this, and how everyone can adapt and provide (and obtain) value in a changing world, will take new modes of communication.  It’s happening, little by little.

So, how can safe spaces be designed where people can share their struggles and goals, and look for ways to create abundance, rather than using scarcity as an “excuse?”

Actual pirates probably aren’t that much fun to be around, but the pirates of legend, lore, and movies have attractive features of joyful community – and an attractive tendency to fight against the forces of standardization – that make them a powerful symbol.  Pirates of legend and lore, and their land-bound counterparts like Robin Hood, form diverse bands in which all sorts of people are welcome.  They prey on the rich and advantaged, while providing both hope and sustenance to the poor and unfortunate … but unlike false missionary types, the pirates of legend and lore don’t tend to see themselves as superior to the folks they serve.  In fact, quite a few pirates begin life as poor, unfortunate types themselves, and their piracy represents a kind of entrepreneurial climb (a point that Burgess makes, much better and more succinctly, even in the few pages of his book that I’ve read so far).  Legendary pirates are all about sharing, too, about building abundance for themselves and for the communities they serve.
So, builders and sustainers of joyful community, what do you think?  Champion, pirate, or some other governing metaphor?
Published in: on June 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] I mentioned the two paradigms of teaching like a pirate or like a champion in Friday’s post, I wasn’t expecting to have much more to say on the subject.  But it seems […]

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