You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 14, 2014.

cinnamon-roll-oatmeal1Go read The Bowl, the Ram and the Folded Map:Navigating the Complicated world by Elodie Under Glass.  It is fine narrative post with plenty of interesting bits and sheep!  It is wool worth your while.  However, these paragraphs in particular, caught my educational eye as they articulate not only what happened to me, but what I see happening to those I teach.

“Science is traditionally taught by blowing the minds of students who struggle to understand the workings of pepper grinders, and leaving them to pick up the pieces for themselves. The students then reassemble the fragments of their minds incorrectly, retaining the sexy and surprising bit, and filling in the rest of the gaps with porridge before going out into the world and smugly misunderstanding everything they see in it. Naturally, what they observe in the world does not match the porridge in their heads. Sometimes the students reassess their minds and realize that the world is infinitely more complicated than porridge and that most of their education was a series of easy lies, in which case they are usually doomed to be writers or scientists. Conversely, if they insist that the world actually matches the composition of their porridge, such that the observable world is wrong, then they will go on to be successful and influential.

This is why people still insist that evolutionary biology underlies gender theory, and why they genuinely and honestly think that seasons are caused by the Earth’s elliptical orbit moving it closer to the Sun.

(it seems that there is a certain type of historical accuracy that only makes sense if it matches a historically inaccurate picture of the world.)”

My university days were long, dark, and cold.  Socially meh, but then again social has always been on the “meh” side for me.  Let’s use the term  “methodical” to describe my educational experience, as in, I need “x” coursed to get “x” educational degree so I can get teach students stuff they are not interested in learning.  I graduated in 1999 taking the seven year approach to a 4 year program, coming out the other side with bright shiny knollege!!! coupled with important educational ideas and lofty notions of helping children reach their collective potentials.

All of which came crashing down around my head with my very first desk being tossed in my general direction by an angry student one day. Backstory first. Ever the romantic, I took the subjects that I was interested in during my University tenure: Philosophy, History and Psychology and some English because I needed a minor.

My first teaching gig? In areas where I knew stuff?  Hardly.   It was a week at a school/ranch in rural Alberta specializing in troubled boys who, let me assure you, are not one bit interested in learning what I had to offer.  I learned very quickly that the primary attribute required for teaching was patience, coupled with a side of patience then with some patience sprinkled on top, finishing with a delightful dollop of patience for dessert.  Behavioural education is a bit of a different beast than the regular educational stream.  Less focus on the traditional curriculum but much more focus on character and routine building and other humanizing activities.

I’m disgusted with what people do to their children.  The experiences of frustration, anger, and pain whipsaws these kids into cold reactive silence.  Their emotional scar tissue protects them and, at the same time, holds them back because progress and maturation requires taking risks which doesn’t happen when you have been playing defense all of your life.  Cue all the anti-social destructive habits that make the pain go away, but land you in such lovely institutions as the ranch where I began my teaching career.

I’ve made it into the urban school board now as a supply teacher once again (woo) and stare at the long slog of building relationships and contacts that might get me hired somewhere.  I’ve been there and done that once before, and I’m not sure that I want to do it again.  I’m not sure is up with all the anecdata, but it was needed to get to this point to answer what the quote from Elodie was getting at – education doesn’t happen unless you undertake it yourself.

The University of Alberta offers off-season courses, amenably called the Spring/Summer semesters in which you can take 12 week courses squashed into a 6 week period.  The learning is intense and the requires dedication and perseverance inside and outside of the lectures.   Unlike my undergraduate days, I simply loved going to these classes, engaging fully into the learning process and tackling problems that ideas that broke my brain.

Loved it!   The stress, the deadlines, the editing, polishing and reediting of essays and position papers, countless hours of review etc,  it was great.  I excelled in almost every class I took and now look back with a some pride.  I did well now, as opposed to my degree studies because of the traits and knowledge learned outside of the ‘formal’ learning.  I had no idea how the world worked until I read Chomsky and Zinn.  I knew little of the struggles of women until I read BrownMiller (and am currently working through important works in the feminism canon), I knew little about the middle east until I read Tariq Ali and Robert Fisk.

These authors and many more fed my curiosity and growing sense of disgust and unease with the world.  None of the knowledge that broke me into the world was ever found in the dim halls of my high school or the too warm/too cold lecture theatres of the University.   It was a voyage sponsored alone, until I met and began to interact with my future partner, whose knowledge and scientific prowess/rigor far surpassed my own (still does, I’ve learned not to argue with awesome), goaded me into upping my intellectual game and going further than I thought possible.  I owe a great debt to her for helping me build my intellect and foster the rational-academic aspects of my personality.

So how do you square being a teacher with the fact that you are stuffing a hodge-podge of oatmeal into your students heads and then with hoping that somehow they manage to find the path *despite* what you’ve taught them.  Past bandying a few phrases about winnowing out the chaff or some sort of survival of the fittest bunk, I’m not seeing much sunshine in this particular situation.


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