And the time will come when you see
we’re all one, and life flows on
within you and without you.
Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
As much as formal standardized education tries to turn it into a science, life, and the continuing human development which in my opinion is one of life’s most compelling narratives, is really more of an artistic endeavor. It is at its best the creation of a compelling narrative based on the uniqueness of a person’s soul and the life’s context that soul is unfolding and evolving in. It is not so much about following a procedure developed and “perfected” by others, or emulating another’s life successfully lived. It is more like a mural, ballad, novel, television series or other story told, reflecting the unique voice of the artist and their unique playing of the hand they are dealt.
According to Wikipedia, “science” is…
A systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.
Whereas “art” is defined as…
A diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities.
Modern society has been all about science and its organization of knowledge in the form of technology, industrial practice and social engineering. We identify experts who develop the best practice and then we create an institution to share that expertly designed practice with others. If the governing bodies of a society think a best practice is particularly compelling and effective, we may attempt to apply it universally, even possibly mandating that everyone follow it for their own good, or at least for the common good.
For many of us the rules of engagement at work are changing, from the traditional approach of being told what to do by “bosses”, to a new more egalitarian approach where a team of colleagues and peers collectively decide what to do. Those traditional “bosses” are being replaced by “managers” who are more facilitative than directive, conveying to us the basic business strategy from the company’s leadership team, making sure we have the time and resources to implement that strategy, and being available to assist when we need their assistance. From all my own experience plus hearsay from other “knowledge workers”, I understand that this has become standard practice in most of the work done in business operations today.
Yet given that new reality, our education system, which increasingly promotes itself as the means for developing our young people into new workers for our businesses, is still operating in the traditional model with teachers and principals as “bosses” and very little if any egalitarian process. This is a disconnect that in my opinion is leading to our young people being increasingly debilitated by their school experience rather than developing the skills to become contributing members of our contemporary business enterprises.
I recently read Michele McNeil’s piece in Education Week, “Rifts Deepen Over Direction of Ed. Policy in U.S.”, and was heartened by what I read. The piece begins with this overview…
In statehouses and cities across the country, battles are raging over the direction of education policy—from the standards that will shape what students learn to how test results will be used to judge a teacher’s performance.
Students and teachers, in passive resistance, are refusing to take and give standardized tests. Protesters have marched to the White House over what they see as the privatization of the nation’s schools. Professional and citizen lobbyists are packing hearings in state capitols to argue that the federal government is trying to dictate curricula through the use of common standards.
New advocacy groups, meanwhile, are taking their fight city to city by pouring record sums of money into school board races.
Not since the battles over school desegregation has the debate about public education been so intense and polarized, observers say, for rarely before has an institution that historically is slow to change been forced to deal with so much change at once.
I take heart in reading this because it appears that there may finally be emerging a profound challenge to the governance model of public education, an institution designed nearly 200 years ago to be governed in a highly centralized structure by a small powerful elite at the top of its hierarchy of control. Parents, teachers and (heaven forbid) students have never really been part of the governance structure of our public school system. Could there be some danger now that this situation could finally begin to change?
My friend, Peter DeWitt, is a public elementary school principal in upstate New York. He is a thoughtful and caring person, and I think probably represents the best of his public school principal profession, and I think any of my teacher friends would be happy to have such a leader for their school. He writes a daily blog for Education Week magazine online, and his pieces generally wrestle with trying to be a humanistic educational leader within a bureaucratic system of standardization, high-stakes testing, and other mandates and strictures from above.
In his recent blog piece, “Why Would Anyone Want to Be a School Leader?”, Peter writes…
School leadership is hard…especially now. There are point scales to contend with, evaluations based on test scores, and budget cuts that result in the lay-offs of teachers and administrative colleagues. Some leaders who have been in the position for a few years have seen cuts to programs, and have a constant need to find creativity in a very uncreative time… On top of that leaders have students living in extreme poverty, an increase in the students with social-emotional issues, and in some cases are expected to take on the role of parents to students…and their parents…
On Thursday I read an Education Week blog piece, “Survey Finds Rising Job Frustration Among Principals”, highlighting the Metlife Survey of American Teachers documenting declining morale among both teachers, principals, and other school leaders. It rekindled my frustration with the mainstream approach to endless inside-the-box “reform” of our public education system rather than making some real substantive changes. I posted perhaps an overly provocative comment…
Seems like all the participants in the conventional schooling process are hating it more and more! Will we have to let the whole thing go down in flames before we get out of our state of denial and really transform the system, rather than this endless reform?
In my previous piece, “Traditional Wisdom of Child Development”, I looked at how contemporary social scientists are rediscovering some of the wisdom of traditional hunter-gatherer societies, which were for most of our time on this planet the predominant human organizing principle and are arguably a more natural form of human community that the high-technology society that most of us humans live in today.
I got a handful of thoughtful comments on my piece, but I’d like to highlight one that I think was posing issues that really continue the discussion. Amy Costello Wilfong wrote…
It’s not that I disagree with what you’re saying… but the immersion-type parenting you’re talking about is, quite literally, impossible for many people in modern American society. Two (or more!) incomes have become necessary to cover even basic expenses for families in many places, and I just don’t see that changing anytime soon. So the question then becomes, how can we accomplish raising children in an “immersive” fashion when we are forced to spend the vast majority of our time away from them? And how can and should teachers respect these basic principles of child development in the face of ever-increasing scrutiny, judgement, and standardization?
I think this is a well crafted “problem statement” for a key challenge we face as a society. We (or at least our predecessors) have built a society where though we are free citizens and not slaves or indentured servants, many of us have to work so many hours to earn a living wage (if we can at all) that it constitutes a de facto indentureship. Add to that that the massive scale of our society with the disenfranchisement and alienation it breeds, combined with perpetuation of ancient patriarchal “us and them” values, creates a subculture among us that is predatory toward out groups (“them”) particularly poor people, minorities, women and young people. The latter in particular making it problematic for parents to let the “village raise the child”, sequestering kids instead in “schools”, institutions that paradoxically isolate kids from the dangerous real world while trying to prepare them for it.
So given the problem statement, what is the solution, or at least a path forward towards a solution?
For the first 200,000 years of the human species we were all hunter-gatherers, nomadic tribes of people scattered about the Earth living in sync with the natural ecology of our bountiful planet. It is only in the past 10,000 years, with our development of agriculture and herding, that we developed what we like to call “civilization”, which according to Wikipedia is…
A sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally hierarchical and urbanized. In a classical context, people were called “civilized” to set them apart from barbarians, savages, and primitive peoples while in a modern-day context, “civilized peoples” have been contrasted with indigenous peoples or tribal societies.
Though hunter-gatherer societies (the “indigenous peoples” and “tribal societies” of the above definition) still exist in parts of the world today, the overwhelming majority of we humans live in more complex “civilized” societies, where we generally consider ourselves to have progressed and to be better off than our “primitive” kin. That judgement of being better off has come into some question in the past 100 years with our legacy of devastating world wars, genocides, environmental degradation, and a continuing unequal distribution of resources leading to many of us having way more than we need and many of the rest of us having too little.
Others who have researched what life is really like in hunter-gatherer societies (based on archeology and studying those societies that still exist today) have made some surprising and perhaps uncomfortable observations. These include that people generally spend less time working and are happier than in civilized societies. It begs the question, what is the whole point of civilization?