Thursday, February 2, 2012
Education that works...
Mission Statement Trying to teach anything without being familiar with supporting theories about what education is (or should be) invites trouble, usually administrative. Education, especially public education, relies on an often perverse chain of command. Here’s why: those at the greatest distance from classrooms control teachers, their underlings, with policy and (often stifling) regimentation.
To argue against either administrators or their rules is usually futile. Tyrannical supervisors, presidents, or principals have mastered the art of control; outspoken teachers are easy targets.
However, enlightened adminstrators settle for results the same way cagey managers celebrate bunt singles. If it works, it counts. Even if it’s not pretty. Or well organized. Or pre-planned. Whether they say it or not, such adminstrators accept that, most often, a successful end justifies the mean.
Dictates from such educational leaders are, usually, realistic and clear: instill a love of learning, encourage students to want to be avid readers, teach them (or inspire them) to be better writers. I can imagine an educator of that ilk saying, “And if you don’t tell me that you can’t do it, I’ll give you all the leeway you want. Just show me results!”
I would argue that such open ended oversight is as likely to work as any that is much more contained and limited in scope. To let teachers teach requires that administrators ensure a suitable environment. If both teahcers and their administrators were ardently focused on their particular spheres, both would fare better.
So would the students; they would know what expectations were rightfully theirs. They would earn their education for themselves rather than to please teachers (and administrators). They would (re)learn how good it feels to learn.
To that end, I announce to my classes that we will function as a group, as if our brains were coupled, joined together in order that we create a dynamic connection. “Together, we can make this world a better place,” I tell them. “I am fortunate,” I continue, “because the school gives me the best minds to work with---yours!”
Finally this: “My goal is to help you achieve yours. Please tell me what your purpose is for being here, in Humanities 165. Together, we will achieve it. I am here to help you attain that goal. If I’m successful, 100% of you will earn A’s this semester.”
Many of them do. Indeed, their term papers discuss the impact that Solly Ganor’s book, Light One Candle, our text, has had on their lives. For the majority, it’s life changing on many levels. They want to become readers again, want to be better writers, want to share with Solly all that they have had to overcome, and all of their dreams that are returning.
When I send those essays to Solly, he confirms the importance of the messages they relay. And I relay his response to my new students. They are amazed; before my eyes, I see their growth take place.
That’s how, in my most humble opinion, education works when it works well. Messages from Solly, a Holocaust survivor, sustain the learning process. His latest is a masterpiece (to this teacher’s delight):
I have read the essays of your students and once again I am overwhelmed by their emotional reaction to my story. They seem to understand and fully appreciate what I wrote. When I was writing the book I was constantly groping for words to express the inexpressible. There was so much more I wanted to say but felt that my experience during the Holocaust can not be expressed in a
human language. Perhaps because what happened to us was so inhuman. Therefore, I am constantly surprised and delighted that what I did manage to say in my book provoked so much understanding and insight by your students. I am especially touched by their personal stories and how my story effected their own lives and gave them new hope and understanding that no matterhow hard life can be it isn't really that bad. When I wrote my book I was just compelled to tell our story and it never occurred to me what a positive effect it would have on my readers: Their thinking, their feelings and their attitude to their own lives. I am in the middle of writing my third book and am stretched for time with my publisher in Germany, but I will write to them. In the mean time, please
express my deepest gratitude to them for writing their wonderful essays,
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