Mixed Messages?

After the Long Meeting Tuesday morning, there was a Shorter Meeting in the afternoon, and within ten minutes, in discussing consecutive agenda items, my colleagues and I heard two totally different messages.  There’s a new Important Mandate – a really good idea, I think – requiring some CPR training for all students before they graduate, effective with our current junior class.  Powers That Be, it seems, kept promising that they’d get around to sending somebody out to do the training.  But that hasn’t happened, of course, and More Local Powers thought it might be prudent to go ahead and do the training now, avoiding a last-minute rush – and potential disasters for students who didn’t complete the requirement.  But here was the question: since teachers don’t have to be trained in CPR in These Parts, who would deliver the training?  Good news had just come from On High: you don’t have to know CPR to give the informational training, and that could be done at a separate time from the hands-on work.  So, in a few weeks, Ms. X and Mr. Y will be teaching something they don’t know.

The other agenda item had to do with planning and preparing for the new semester.  Remember, Someone said, that you do need to think about what you’re teaching and make sure you understand those concepts, especially if the curriculum has changed and new items have appeared.

And nobody seemed to notice the mixed messages.

But as I think about it, I wonder if the messages were really mixed after all.  The 20th-century educational paradigm requires teachers and schools to filter and dispense factual and procedural knowledge, but it doesn’t require understanding – or even long-term recall – by school, teacher, or student.  As long as you do well on the test, that’s the important thing, and you can do well on the test by last-minute cramming.  In a heartfelt blog post that George recently shared on Google+, the author seems to long for those vanished days when teachers were “the keepers of important knowledge and insight,” when they would “give an account of the transformative power of reading” something important for the first time.

When exactly were those vanished days, I wonder – and so did several other folks who commented on the Google+ thread?  And why would somebody other than the reader need to give an account of the experience of reading something?  Lead a discussion, perhaps, or provide some background or enhance the experience – those are things good teachers routinely do when their students read important, challenging texts.  But give an account of the reading experience?  I hope I’ve misunderstood the author, who seems like a thoughtful, caring teacher.  But what I took away from that phrase is a terrible arrogance – a notion that The Teacher somehow provides the experience, pouring it into the heads of students incapable of experiencing things for themselves.  Mr. Adams, the author of that blog, at least assumes that the “teacher standing in front of the classroom” will have the knowledge and experience he or she is to provide.  But in a transmission model like that, it’s really not necessary – and that’s why there are Teachers’ Annotated Editions of textbooks, pre-made PowerPoints, and helpful “publishers’ tests” and test-creation software.

We won’t be transmitting any knowledge in the Latin Family today.  The Latin I class will be firming up its knowledge and understanding of some basic actions and classroom objects through a direct-comprehension activity in small groups, and then – after we practice saying the words and noticing the patterns of the Restored Classical sound-symbol system – we’ll be building “The World’s Largest Timeline,” placing as many important events as we can in chronological order and looking for patterns and connections with “Roman stuff.”  The information is either already there, from World History classes we’ve taken, or easily accessible online; what matters is the synthesizing and the creation, the analysis of the raw information and its transformation into meaning.  The upper-level classes will be finishing off their Cumulative Vocabulary Review Thing, which called for classifying words into various categories (we’re almost done, but need a few more minutes today) and then graphically showing connections among as many familiar words as possible.  There again, the information is out there, easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.  What matters, once again, is making meaning … and, with all respect to Mr. Adams and his heartfelt blog post, that’s not something you can do for someone else.

Making meaning happens individually, but it also happens in community – and that’s one reason why we’re starting out as we are, building a joyful learning community from the very beginning.  It’s hard, of course, because Ms. X and Mr. Y are busy studying up on the material or, if they’re “too busy” with “too much to cover,” delivering the content, textbook in hand, information transfer the only goal.  But as we move ever further away from a world where transferred and forgotten information is enough, ever closer to a world we can’t yet imagine, I don’t see any other way forward besides learning community.  And on this chilly morning, with these still-eager groups of learners, that seems to be enough.  If nothing else, I hope the message is less mixed than the ones I got on Tuesday!

I wonder what new insights and discoveries we’ll make together today!


Published in: on January 23, 2014 at 11:42 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So often I feel like common threads of thought are floating in the atmosphere, Justin. This is the exact issue I’ve been dealing with–multiple messages that are mixed. Perhaps this is the sign of our times, times of rapid pace and quantities of information/communication. Is apt communication more important now than ever, and what is apt communication?

    I love this line in your post, “Making meaning happens individually, but it also happens in community – and that’s one reason why we’re starting out as we are, building a joyful learning community from the very beginning.”

    I think the answer lies in collective communication protocols, process, and conversation. What do we value in our learning communities with respect to communication, and what do we need to serve children well? I think it’s okay to teach information you don’t know if it is a shared student-teacher exploration and everyone is aware of that, but I don’t think it’s okay to pretend you’re the expert if you don’t know the information well–that’s when a consultant or an outside program (like the American Red Cross in the CPR case) is probably a better choice.

    Thanks as always for keeping me thinking. Have a great day!

  2. […] a comment on this Google+ thread about yesterday’s post, Alison asked an important question about the distinction I’d made between knowing […]

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